Categorized | Advice, Life

Use your time between jobs to rest and re-evaluate

Posted on 14 February 2009

Don’t let layoffs leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who lost her job–let’s call her Ellen. While she was waiting for a new job to come along, she organized her closets, put all her photos in albums, cleaned the house from top to bottom, and taught herself to speak Chinese. Although Ellen is real, it’s hard to believe the rest. That’s because most of us don’t react in this manner when finding ourselves out of work, whether it’s the result of a layoff, firing, or business failure.

The experience of Jim Barker, 30, seems more plausible. Barker was recently laid off by a Seattle technology company. “I supposedly have time to do all the things I didn’t have time to do when I was working,” he says, “but I’ve been doing nothing.”

Stress Zaps Energy
The reason stress depletes us, experts say, is that emotions stirred up by losing a job–one of life’s most stressful events–eat up a lot of energy.

Losing this job has actually given me one of the best summers I’ve had in years.

“When there are changes or transitions in our lives, planned or unplanned, we go through a re-evaluating phase,” says Vickie Chaffin, a career counselor at the Centerpoint Institute for Life and Career renewal in Seattle. “During this time, we experience a loss of energy and go through a grieving stage. There is not much focus or energy on outward activities.”

So how do you get past those feelings–which may include fear and anger–and make good use of this new free time without losing sight of your ultimate objective: to be happily re-employed? What’s needed, Chaffin says, is “support and lots of rest.” But is there an upside to being laid off?

“The upside?” questions Beryl Gorbman, 58, an unemployed headhunter. “You mean aside from having to borrow money or use your savings, and not seeing any end in sight? Yet, on the other hand, you start exploring alternatives, which is quite intoxicating. I’m talking to two companies about guiding tours in Yucatan. And I’ve volunteered for Red Cross disaster relief, something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Barker, who has attended college but not completed a degree, is taking the opportunity to go back to school. He has been helped in part by local programs that allow him to collect unemployment while re-training. “This opportunity–to get funding for school and get paid to go to school–is opening doors that weren’t open before,” he says.

Experts say that economic downturns are good times to enroll in school. Peter Dunne, 39, who was laid off by a Seattle Web company, is also taking that path. He’s enrolling at suburban Bellevue Community College for a five-month program that will train him as a Web programmer. He is eligible for student loans and unemployment while in school.

Dunne also took the opportunity to enjoy the summer, taking a month-long road trip to New Mexico, followed by a week on Cape Cod with friends. “If I’d been working, I would have taken one week off, maybe two at the most,” he says, “but losing this job has actually given me one of the best summers I’ve had in years.”

Getting Life Support
Very few people can sail through a layoff without help. If it happens to you, consider therapy or counseling. Take advantage of any outplacement services offered by your former employer. Look for government programs; some are targeted to workers in specific industries, such as high tech.

You may find that the job you left behind wasn’t right for you anyway. In that case, this is an excellent time to reassess.

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