While U.S. job reports keep scaling upwards — In January, for instance, the economy added 304,000 jobs, nearly double the amount expected — mass layoffs in certain industries continue to make news. The automotive industry suffered several blows in recent weeks — from GM’s plans to cut 4,000 salaried positions this month to Elon Musk’s Tesla laying off 3,000 employees last month. Major media outlets are also taking a hit with Buzzfeed, HuffPost and Vice have collectively laying off thousands of media professionals since the start of the year.
But as devastating as these news reports are, they don’t do justice to the emotional and professional toll of losing a job, which negatively impacts life satisfaction more than divorce or even a loved one’s death, according to a review of more than 4,000 research papers on the topic conducted in the U.K.
For many of us, our identities are deeply linked to our jobs, so losing our employment is a particularly devastating blow. “To suddenly be cut off from such a crucial source of identity can feel very traumatic,” Jennie E. Brand, Ph.D., a professor of sociology and statistics at U.C.L.A. who has studied the negative impact of job loss for the last 15 years, tells Thrive.
Her research points to the many adverse and far-reaching consequences of layoffs, including a decline in people’s psychological and physical well-being, social lives, and family harmony. Even the children of those who’ve lost their jobs experience challenges in emotional well-being and educational achievement, she says.
“What’s the first thing people ask you when they meet you: ‘What do you do?’ We’re a doing oriented culture,” says Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Healing After Job Loss, about why it makes sense that losing our jobs feels so witheringly painful. If we aren’t doing anything, who are we? “It affects our core self esteem, like there must be something wrong with us if we aren’t doing.”
But there’s a deeper issue beneath identity — a primal fear that we may not be able to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.“‘How am I going find another job? Am I going to be able to keep a roof over my head? Will I get another job? Will it also not last?’” are the questions that plague a newly unemployed person’s mind, Wolfelt says. “It reminds me of that C.S. Lewis quote, ‘I did not know that grief felt so much like fear.’”
Still, career experts insist that for many of us, the loss of a job ends up being a blessing in disguise, leading us in new directions that serve us even better than our former positions. “I’ve counseled a number of people who were devastated by the Great Recession, but then went on to find more meaningful and purposeful work,” Wolfelt says, citing a stockbroker who survived 9/11, then lost his job. “In his search for meaning, he decided to go back to school and eventually became a hospice chaplain.”
In the wake of so many layoffs, Thrive culled advice from our experts to create this guide for what to do after being laid off and how to maximize your downtime. Following these 12 tips will land you in a far better place.
PHASE 1: STILLNESS
Take a moment to acknowledge and mourn your loss
“It’s important not to minimize or deny the significance of what happened,” Wolfelt says. Once you’ve fully acknowledged the gravity of your job loss, you can move to the next phases of processing: grief and mourning. Wolfelt, the founder and director the Center for Loss & Life Transition, explains the distinction between the two. “Grief is your internal, private response to loss,” he says. “Mourning is your shared response with the world around you,” where loved ones mirror your loss. Both are vital to recovery.
Reframing the experience of losing a job starts with gratitude, says Michael A. Froehls, Ph.D., a lecturer in the department of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Gift of Job Loss. “Be thankful for the experience of your last job. Your earned a living. You advanced your career. You executed a plan. Toast to the past and then declare victory,” he says. In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, urges us to affirm what we have, as opposed to what you’ve lost, by starting a gratitude list when confronted with adversities like job loss.
Let go of resentment
It’s natural to feel the sting of your loss initially, but if you’re carrying around resentment toward your former employer or colleagues, it’s hurting no one but yourself. As Huffington put it in Thrive: “Listening to your inner wisdom, let go of something today that you no longer need — something that is draining your energy without benefiting you or anyone you love.”
Meditate on this: you’re more than your job
“There’s more to you than your identity in the context of your work life,” Wolfelt says. “Take inventory of the other identities,” he says, especially the ones that nourish your sense of self, like being a parent, sibling or accomplished athlete. “There are other things of value that you bring to the dance of life,” Wolfelt stresses.
Just be for a moment
To settle your anxious mind and illuminate your path forward, step away from all the noise in your life and take a long moment of silence, literally. A study showed that two hours of silence grows new cells in the hippocampus, the region of the brain associated with emotion, learning and memory. Other research demonstrates the power of silence to spur creativity and innovation. You can also use quiet to practice brief, daily meditations. New research shows just 13 minutes a day for 8 weeks enhances memory and attention and reduces mood swings, anxiety and fatigue. Anything you can do to stop frantically doing and affirm the joys of just being — whether it’s sitting in silence, meditating, expressing your creativity, giving love, or simply playing and having fun, Wolfelt says — will improve your overall well-being and clear the way for moving toward a bright new future.
PHASE 2: VISION
Write a vision statement
Sit down and envision your future professional life. Ask yourself questions like the ones Wolfelt poses: “If anything were possible, what would I want in my next job? What would it look like? How would I want it to be different from my old job? What do I want to be responsible for in my job? What types of challenges do I want? What elements will keep me motivated and interested? What traits do I hope my boss or co-workers or team will possess?” Your answers will help you begin to bring your vision to fruition. Wolfelt advises putting your vision statement somewhere where you’ll see it daily to remind yourself of what you want.
Make a list that affirms your current skill set and all you’ve accomplished professionally. “Jot down your personal strengths, your work-related achievements, the challenges you’ve successfully overcome, things like that,” Wolfelt suggests. Leading with your core competencies will boost your self-esteem and reinforce all you have to offer. Next, draft another list that includes areas in which you need to grow, such as gaps in your professional knowledge base. You’ll use this to strategize your game plan for becoming more marketable to your dream employers.
PHASE 3: ACTION
Find some “micro-mentors”
A recent Linkedin survey found that 56 percent of people want professional guidance and 43 percent wish they had a mentor, but the whiplash pace of life today has challenged our ability to find and nurture those types of relationships. “That means you may need more than one person to turn to for advice,” Linkedin career expert Blair Decembrele tells Thrive. “Mentorship as we know it is not as prevalent as it once was,” she says. Alternatively, she says, seek micro-mentors for “informal mentoring moments,” in which you ask advice on things like job searching, salary negotiation, or a variety of job-related questions. Create your own mini advisory board of people in your life who serve diverse functions, whether it’s someone in your professional life, a friend who knows you well, or an acquaintance who works in a field that interests you.
Learn new things
Keep learning about things that are of interest, inside and outside your field. Gaining knowledge within your professional landscape will sharpen your competitive edge, and cultivating skills outside your realm will bring a fresh and innovative perspective to your expertise, and perhaps lead you to new passions. A few ways to grow your knowledge base: Watch Ted Talks by thinkers with wide-ranging expertise. Scroll through more than 13,000 course offerings taught by industry insiders at Linkedin Learning. Enjoy free classes from world-renowned universities through Coursera, or sharpen your digital skills through General Assembly. “By continually refreshing your skills and experiences, you may find your way to a new opportunity,” Decembrele says.
Network and help others
Most jobs — as much as 80 percent, according to one survey — are found through networking. “So get in the habit of networking all the time,” Wolfelt says. That means reaching out to friends and former colleagues, as well as chatting up the guy sitting next to you on an airplane or at your local bar. And tap your alma mater — people often want to hire people from the same university or high school. Join professional groups too. You’ll likely meet people who will put you in contact with potential employers. And strengthen your relationships by offering to help others, whether by making strategic connections between people or sharing professional advice: “For every action you take to cultivate your own career community, take an action to help someone outside your immediate network,” Decembrele says.
“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom,” George S. Patton, the distinguished American Army General, once said. With that in mind, take this opportunity to grow into your best self and manifest big dreams.