You lost your job. So now what?
I’ve always admired people who have the courage to quit their jobs and start a new business. People like Sara Blakely who walked away from her job selling copy machines to start Spanx, and is now worth a billion dollars. Howard Schultz, who quit his job selling coffee machines to start the company that eventually became Starbucks. Or Michael Kent who left his job in corporate finance and is well on his way to building an online remittance solution to disrupt the big corporate banks.
You can probably think of dozens of other entrepreneurs who quit their jobs when they saw an opportunity to do something great. I wanted to be one of them. Today, I own my own business, but it’s not because I was courageous enough to quit my job to start something better… No, I was fired.
Being made redundant hurt. The experience made me angry and full of blame. But while it was painful, getting fired was probably also one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. You see, you can bounce back from losing your job. Here’s what I learned about shifting mindset, perspective and taking back ownership of my future.
There is an old fable by the ancient storyteller, Aesop, that goes something like this…
“A crow, half-dead of thirst, happened upon what he thought was a pitcher of water. Excited for a drink, he flew to it with delight. But when he landed on the lip of the pitcher, he was dismayed to find there was only a bit of water at the bottom. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t stretch his neck long enough to reach the water. So he flew away in despair, lamenting his misfortune. Then a blue bird, just as thirsty as the crow, spotted the pitcher. Like the crow, she hoped to find water inside so she could quench her thirst. She too was dismayed to see there was only a little water at the bottom of the pitcher. But rather than give up, she gathered up as many stones as she could find and dropped them into the pitcher, raising the level of the water until she could drink and quench her thirst.”
When I think about the people who lost their jobs at the same time I did, I see crows and bluebirds. The crows were dismayed at their bad luck. They were angry that they were being mistreated after years of dedicated service. They couldn’t see the potential in the new opportunity. They took it personally. Why was this happening to them? They could only see difficulty and bad luck. But the bluebirds quickly sized up the situation and got to work.
What really makes the difference between those who struggle and those who thrive when forced into a career change? (Bear with me as I play with the crow and bluebird metaphor to make a few points.)
1. Bluebirds never get comfortable.
If you’re anything like most people, when you start a new job, you’re excited. You’re learning, meeting new people, and working on cool projects. You’re happy you landed this job, so there’s no reason to look for another. After a while, you get a bit passive. There’s less to learn. You’re good at what you do. Your boss praises your work and you earn a raise or two. Things are good. Your work gets easy. You don’t need a new job, so there’s no reason to look. We get too comfortable.
Bluebirds are different. When they start a new job, they too are excited. They learn, work on great projects, and make significant contributions. But they stay in the game. They’re open to new possibilities. They keep their ears and eyes open. They’re not actively looking for a career change, but they know what’s out there. They know who is hiring, where the jobs are, and how technology is changing the way we work. When they’re forced to change, they’re ready for the challenge. They have a head start on landing their next position.
2. Crows stagnate, blue birds create value.
One of the biggest challenges for anyone with a corporate job is the ability to continue to grow. It was Ray Kroc, the man who turned McDonald’s into a fast food empire that said: “If you’re green you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.” It’s easy to think along these lines: ‘I was hired as a designer. As long as I create good designs, I’m safe’. But work isn’t like that anymore. The job you were hired to do evolves; you need to constantly grow your skill set. Today’s designers need to do more than create good designs. They also need to understand conversion funnels and search engine optimisation, and know how to code.
Today’s programmers need to do more than write code. They need to understand user experience and how the products they build go to market. They need to understand business strategy and how their work contributes to the company’s success.
The same is true for today’s attorneys, dentists, stock traders, and managers. No matter what you do, you need to be adding skills and value. Fortunately, this has never been easier. Sign up for an online course, attend the Escape School, or join an Escape Tribe. Try Udemy, Code Academy, or General Assembly (to name a few). It doesn’t matter how you do it—just make sure you are growing your marketable skills.
You should be working into your next job, not just filling your current one.
3. Bluebirds are constantly building a network to support.
Both bluebirds and crows build their networks. The difference, however, is that crows focus on schmoozing people who can help them. Bluebirds connect with those who can’t – or at least can’t in that moment. For them, it’s not about gaining an advantage, it’s about lending a hand. They write letters of recommendation and tell others about open positions and opportunities they know about. They mentor and they teach. Bluebirds give to their networks whenever they can. By giving now, they build authentic relationships they can draw on later when they need them.
4. Bluebirds make their own luck.
Douglas MacArthur is famous for saying, “The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself”. It’s hard to take advantage of a new or lucky opportunity if you’re not ready. In fact, if you’re not looking for it, you may miss it altogether. Keep your resume up-to-date as well as your LinkedIn page or Escape Profile. When your boss or coworkers recognise or praise your work, ask them for a letter of recommendation (paper copies are best, if you can get them). Make sure your work permits and visas are current. And if possible, keep samples of your work so you’re ready to share when an opportunity arises. Post all of this to a website where you can show it off at a moment’s notice.
5. Bluebirds are optimists. They see the bright side.
Although it feels like a kick in the gut when you’re laid off, it isn’t as bad as you first think. Millions of good, smart people have been laid off before you, and they survived. Many thrived. In reality, this may be the catalyst you need to find a more fulfilling and rewarding job. Bluebirds see a layoff as an opportunity to grow. Focus on the things that are right in your life. Friends. Family. Hobbies. Service. Don’t panic. Instead take a few days to process what the change means and what you really want to do next. With a little thought, you can probably think of a few ways to put your skills to better use. Or ways you want to challenge yourself.
6. Bluebirds live within their means. So they don’t panic when bad things happen.
The people who take losing a job the hardest are usually the ones who simply can’t afford it. They’ve been living pay cheque to pay cheque and can’t afford to miss a single one. For them, losing a job means not just a loss of self-esteem, but losing the ability to eat, pay rent, or pay the mortgage. The time to fix this problem is long before a layoff comes. Get serious about paying down and avoiding debt. Start saving now—two or three months worth of savings is the bare minimum everyone should have put away, just in case the worst happens.
If you’re serious about creating a career on your terms or starting a new business someday, then you’ll get serious about saving. Nothing kills a business dream faster than running out of money.
So how did I survive?
It wasn’t fun, especially in the first few days as my stomach turned in knots. But things turned out okay. I took the time to think about what I really wanted. I had some savings, though not as much as I would have liked. Most importantly, I had the support of friends and family who wanted to help.
The ideal is to choose a career or job opportunity on your own terms. To make a move when you’re ready. But sometimes it doesn’t happen like that. That doesn’t make you a failure. It’s a chance to take control. If you treat a job loss as an opportunity, it will be a turning point in your career.
Grab it by the horns and run with it.
Rob Marsh lost his job and survived. He currently works as a freelance writer, focusing on conversion copywriting, branding, strategy and design. He lives in the USA but works wherever his laptop is.
If you’ve just lost your job (or are ready for a career change), check out the opportunities currently live on our site, here.