The first thing you learn is: call it “job transition.”
Losing a full-time job, especially one you’ve held for a long time, is one of the most traumatic experiences you can have. You’ll be shocked. You’ll be bitter. You’ll want to tell people you were fired, laid off, downsized, outsourced, or canned. And you may view this particular bit of terminology — “job transition” — as a silly euphemism.
Trust me, it isn’t. It’s simply accurate. You’re in a transitional phase: out with one thing, in with the next thing. Whether you’re sure about what you want that next thing to be or whether you have no idea (and I fell firmly into the latter camp), what’s certain is that you’re in between.
The day I lost my long-time full-time job, I asked: “What am I now?” The trauma was that I didn’t have an answer.
Eventually, though, I learned to see that question as liberating. Because when you’re not one thing, and you’re not another thing — you can be anything.
Here’s how I got from despair to liberation. Here’s how you can too.
1. Maintain a Regular Schedule.
One of the first things I decided, that first day, was that I was going to get up at the same time every morning, and go to bed at the same time at night, as when I was employed. And for me, that was huge. No one likes to sleep late, or stay up late, more than I do.
But when you’re in job transition, the most important thing you need to do is stay engaged. You don’t know where your next opportunity will come from, but it’s a good bet it will appear during business hours. Someone is going to need the skills you possess. Be awake when they are.
2. Take Care of Your Body.
If you’re like me, you may have spent your years of gainful employment pushing off the work of being healthy. In my case, I was in a stressful business with long, odd hours. I couldn’t possibly make time to get to the gym — and if someone brought donuts to work, well, they were right there. It’d be rude not to eat them.
Well, when you’re in job transition, you suddenly have eight hours of unstructured time in the middle of your day — and no excuses. It’s time to do all those things you couldn’t possibly have done. It’s time to get in shape.
Don’t rationalize that time spent at the gym is time you could be job searching. Exercising every day will give you energy, improve your mood, and make your working hours — because job transition is hard work — much more productive. And in my case, losing 40 pounds gave me confidence that shone through in my cover letters and job interviews.
The siren call of the couch and the fridge will be strong. Resist it. Spend your time on true self-care instead. You can’t afford not to.
3. Take Care of Your Soul.
Taking care of your body isn’t enough. Job transition is a demoralizing time. You’ll need emotional fuel to power yourself through — to remind yourself why you work.
So whatever it is that feeds you emotionally and spiritually, make time to do that. Spend time with family and friends. If you’re an art lover, visit a museum. If you love music, go see a concert. Read those books you’ve been piling up on your nightstand, swearing you’ll crack them open once you’re less exhausted from work. Remember, you no longer have an excuse.
Or you can do something I did, and still do: take a walk outside every day. Find a beautiful spot and explore it for awhile. That’ll take care of your body and soul simultaneously.
4. Leave Your House Every Day.
I’m an introvert, so when I learned that up to 85% of jobs are found through networking, I thought, “Well, that won’t be me. I’m in the other 15%.”
So I worked hard on every job search technique I could think of that didn’t require me to leave my house. I trolled job boards. I worked my social networks. My LinkedIn profile sparkled. My resumes hit all the relevant keywords. My cover letters were downright poetic. And I got nowhere. Only when I got up from my chair and started talking to people did the ice finally start to melt.
That’s when I discovered that the skill of networking doesn’t depend on whether you’re naturally introverted or extroverted. It can be learned. But the only way to learn is to go out and do it.
Start by having coffee with people you know. Then look to expand your network. Find networking groups in your area. Go on Meetup and look for professional events in your field. It might feel painfully awkward at first. But cultivate the grit to push past that initial stage. Trust me, it gets easier, and it’s worth it.
5. Develop a Case of “Helium Hand.”
Remember that 8 hours a day you now have free? One of the best ways to fill it is by volunteering.
At first you might resist: why should you spend hours doing something unpaid when you could be looking for paid work? But volunteering allows you to meet new people and build ties in your community. And one of those people might hire you.
A lot of people will tell you you should volunteer for a cause you believe in. But I think you should look for volunteer opportunities you’ll find fun. In the eternal job-transition struggle of “why should I get out of bed this morning,” fun beats important every time. And if you’re having fun, and you’re enthusiastic about the cause you’re helping, that’ll be some of that emotional and spiritual fuel that’s so crucial to staying positive while you’re in transition.
6. Remember: What You Do is Not Who You Are.
At a certain point in my job transition, I realized that question I asked on my first day — “What am I now?” — no longer bothered me.
True, I no longer had an easy, ready-made answer. I couldn’t just recite my job title or my resume and leave it at that. But being in job transition also allowed me to focus on all the things I am that are not my job. I could look at myself and think, “You know, job or no job, that guy’s pretty cool.”
When you’re out of work, do the work that will allow you to feel that way about yourself. Eventually, you won’t mind being in that in-between phase. You’ll just be what you are, where you are — and you’ll find it much easier to have faith that the right opportunity will find you.