It was another busy afternoon at my favorite local Panera Bread, where a handful of other fellow entrepreneurs, side-giggers, and I hold our “office hours” during the week.
Then while glancing at the front door, I spotted the former CEO of a company I’d worked for in the recent past. I hadn’t seen him for a few years—not since the day he reluctantly announced to a group of us that the company was changing direction and we weren’t included.
That was my first experience of being laid-off. And it changed my life in ways I could have never imagined.
I approached him and we exchanged salutations. He told me, “That day I had to lay you all off was the worst day. I felt terrible about it.”
I replied, “Thank you.” He looked puzzled.
I proceeded to tell him about starting The White Box Club™ and how this new endeavor had transformed that lay off into a blessing for me and the hundreds of others I’ve been able to help through career transition over the years.
At first he was surprised, and then delighted—probably due to my thanking him more than anything. I mean, who could possibly thank you for laying them off?!
But when he understood how that unsettling event became the catalyst for a whole new level of support to be created, he could see in hindsight how so much good had come from something bad.
Often, the biggest, most dramatic events are the ones that shake our foundation the hardest. Perhaps we need these events in order for real changes to take place. Our established paradigms are often based in old beliefs and structures that no longer serve us or are ready to be replaced.
This is change. And this is the reality of how change happens for us, not to us.
So what is the secret weapon and the key to resiliency during times of extreme change?
Our power to choose.
We choose what part of the change to pay attention to—the actual event, or the outcome. And then we choose our attitude about it. Was it a “good” thing or a “bad” thing? Or maybe a little of both? And what has come out of it?
Since the brain is built for problem-solving, not happiness, the fight or flight reaction is natural—a biological reaction to fear and uncertainty. But being able to respond maturely gives us the ability to choose our response to any event.
Therein lies the true power of choice.
Reacting is natural, but responding is thoughtful.21 Keys to Work/Life Balance
How we respond to the events of our lives is everything. This is where our power of choice is used best.
We can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it.
Is this event a crisis or catharsis? Obstacle or opportunity? It’s our choice. And it’s also a perfect lesson in reframing—both looking back on the event and forward to its ripple effect.
Need a boost? Here are a few tips for reframing a layoff or other sudden life change into an opportunity for gratitude:
It is what it is. You might be tired of hearing this adage, but it’s true. Events are neutral—it’s our interpretation of them that hurts. In my example, being laid off was just an event, but the emotions associated with that experience were what made it so difficult. Neutralizing the situation by separating the emotions from the actual event allows us to grieve without assigning personal blame or shame.
New beginnings happen only when old things end. A lay-off, divorce, or even a death in the family creates opportunities for new insights, clarity, and lessons to be learned in the face of loss. This is the cycle of life. For new things to be created, old things must break apart and be repaired, replaced, or recreated. If this change had not taken place, transformation wouldn’t or couldn’t occur.
Gratitude comes from appreciation. Our lives are a continuous process of experiencing new events and creating new memories. Every situation brings us the potential for learning and appreciation—even in response to difficult times. In addition, the past can be a powerful teacher. When we say, “Hindsight is 20/20,” we activate an awareness of our power to see a past situation in a new perspective and bring that wisdom forward into the present moment.
It could be worse. It really could. In fact, many of the things we complain about aren’t really problems but rather first-world inconveniences. And when it comes to life-changing events—like a lay off—we can be quite confident that we will work again. We live in a country where employment is available. And although it may take some time to realign and clarify, we will eventually find work. Travel to an impoverished country where employment isn’t even possible and get a real dose of humility and perspective. We have plenty to appreciate.
In the end, being laid off has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. It has given me a new sense of purpose and direction and has created a means for me to share my passion for supporting people at their point of true need.
Being laid off has ultimately created a new career direction for me—and for that, I am grateful.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg is a career coach, best-selling author, and founder of The White Box Club™—live coaching and resources for people in career transition. Find his syndicated blogs on Thrive Global, Medium, and The Huffington Post. Learn more at connect.michaelcreative.com
Image: Michael leading a coaching session at The White Box Club™