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How to Move Forward When You’re Out of Work and Feeling Lost

“My attitude has always been, if you fall flat on your face, at least you’re moving forward. All you have to do is get back up and try again.” ~Richard Branson

Let’s face it, losing a job sucks! Over the last couple of months, I have been chatting with friends who have recently been affected by organizational changes resulting in being out of work involuntarily. This is a situation all too familiar to millions of people, frequently through no fault of their own. Often it’s a result of an economic downturn, restructuring, acquisitions, and cost savings.

A couple of years ago, while I was on a business trip, I found out my role would be coming to an end. It wasn’t completely unexpected, and I was actually relieved. However, as an expat it was overwhelming.

Would I have to move back to my home country? Would I have to leave the place where I’d started to build a life? What about my volunteer commitments? This and so much more spun around my head.

Thank goodness for re-runs of How I Met Your Mother. Upon finding out the news, I spent hours obsessed with the saga of Ted and Robin while indulging in cookies and ice cream. After a few days, (and before my jeans got too tight), I picked myself up and started moving forward. I was reminded of some valuable lessons along the way.

Feel the feels.

Likely you will experience a range of feelings. Allow yourself to sit in it. You may find yourself grieving. This is natural; after all, something that was a significant part of your life has come to an end.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross made famous the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Recognizing these stages can help with the coping process.

Breathe. Do yoga. Meditate. Write in a journal. Create a vision board. This will help ground and center you and soon enough, you will start having clarity about how to move forward.

Your tribe will always be your tribe.

Connect with friends and family. Let people know what’s going on. Your tribe will rally and embrace you no matter where in the world they are—or you are. They will love you, encourage you, help you, and still think you’re great, even when you don’t. They will drag you out of the house, drink a cup of tea with you over a video call, and make sure you get to that yoga class. As tough as it is, talking about it helps.

Ask for help.

As a fairly independent person, I find asking for help uncomfortable. In the spirit of “be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” I reached out to my network and asked for help.

One particular situation will always stick with me: I called someone I’d met at an event and told him the news. He asked me to call him back the following week so he could think about suitable connections. Sure enough, the next week, he was ready with a list of ten people that would be valuable to connect with. This blew my mind. He spent time in the following weeks crafting up personalized emails and making introductions. This was a reminder of the human spirit. People want to help—ask!

Create a routine.

 Not having to wake up and be somewhere messed with my routine. Having a routine can help anchor us, while providing structure, building good habits, and creating efficiency.

I found it helpful to design a new routine.

I woke up at the same time every morning, did an hour of physical activity, meditated, and created a to-do list for the day.

I found a neighborhood coffee shop that became my “office.” When I was not out meeting someone, I would go to the coffee shop and work on applications, networking requests, learning modules, goals, and volunteer projects.

I ended my “work day” around the same time daily and would have an evening activity lined up. This helped me have structure, kept my mind engaged, and ensured I was making connections.

Set goals.

When a job loss hits, it is easy to feel as though your purpose has been lost too. A way to counter this is to set goals and reflect.

Setting goals helps provide clarity and gives focus, motivation, and accountabilities. Examples of goals could be setting up a meeting or two per week, fixing up your CV, applying to two jobs weekly, or getting involved in volunteer work.

Goals give you something to work toward, and at the end of the week you can take stock of what you’ve completed and feel a sense of accomplishment. Taking the time to reflect allows you to see your progress and be grateful for the support you have received, and it also gives you something to build on.

Create a personal board of directors (PBOD). 

This was a concept introduced to me a few years ago by one of the members of my own PBOD. They’re a trusted group of people who you can turn to for advice, who will share helpful resources and offer different viewpoints.

As Lisa Barrington explains in her article, Everyone Needs A Personal Board Of Directors, “Your PBOD exists to act as a sounding board, to advise you and to provide you with feedback on your life decisions, opportunities, and challenges. They provide you with unfiltered feedback that you can’t necessarily get from colleagues or friends.”

Companies are careful to select their board of directors, and you should be too. Some roles you may want to consider are: an accountability partner, someone who will ask the tough questions, one of your biggest fans, a connector, and a mentor.

Your PBOD does not have to meet all together. You just have to stay connected to all of them regularly. I speak with at least one member of my PBOD weekly. It helps keep me on track and provides pushes me to think differently.

Play.

This can be a time filled with high highs and low lows. Take time to play. Laughter and play release endorphins in the brain. As stated on NPR’s podcast All Things Considered, adults play for many important reasons: building community, keeping the mind sharp, and keeping close the ones you love.

Explore the city you’re in—check out all of the free things you can do. Spend time outside. Go on a vacation for a few days. It can help you gain perspective and reconnect you to what’s important.

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, Founder of National Institute for Play, “What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around.” Put yourself out there. Talk to strangers. Say yes. Have adventures.

Celebrate.

Yes, this sounds counterintuitive. You’re walking into the unknown, what’s there to celebrate?

It’s not every day you get to put life on pause and recalibrate. Be grateful for the downtime. Think of this time as a gift. Be thankful for the experiences the job gave you. Celebrate the success and the struggles. Embrace the lessons—you will take these with you as you move forward. Be thankful for the relationships you formed and the people who helped you and will help you.

While this period in life may sting, remember, it’s temporary.

Take this opportunity to hit the pause button, reflect on what’s important, renew and build your network, and set new goals.

Trust the process—this journey will add a richness to your life, give you empathy, and will build your resilience. The turbulence might shake you, but space is being created for new opportunities, and chances are it will work out better than you thought. Keep moving forward and enjoy all that this time will bring.

About Tazeem Weljie

Taz is a global strategy and business operations consultant with over 15 years of experience spanning six countries (Canada, China, Guyana, Japan, UK, and the US). She believes in a world where everybody is healthy, empowered and has the option to dream big. She has gained a global perspective and cultural awareness that allows her to build and maintain significant relationships.

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Anas Alaoui

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