Today is an anniversary for me: exactly one year ago today I lost my full-time job, laid off from a position I was successful at and loved. The last twelve months have been both rewarding and rough. As you can imagine it’s not easy for my husband and me to make ends meet on one salary, especially in tech-happy and expensive Seattle. And if you’re over 45 or 50 years old, it’s incredibly tough to find work no matter your skills, experience, or connections.
For now I’m piecing together an “interesting” professional life, working part-time at a lovely and creative local shop, picking up freelance copy writing and editing projects when possible, and launching my photography business by setting up shop on Etsy. Just to add a dash more excitement and complexity to my calendar, I am also volunteering with several organizations and professional groups. All joking aside, I am grateful to be able to have these volunteer opportunities.
By now you might be asking, “What’s so rewarding about a major job loss and a year of unemployment?” Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about, or at least had reinforced for me, over the last year:
Always trust your gut. Always. Call it intuition, a sixth sense, just a feeling, whatever—it’s trying to tell you something important and you ignore it at your own risk. If I’d listened to my gut two years ago, to what were at first quiet murmurs and later on urgent cries for attention, I might have made some decisions earlier that could have saved me from a world of hurt.
Ask for help, not just a shoulder to cry on. It’s taken me most of my adult life to learn how to lean—appropriately—on others. People want to help, but they need to hear from you specifically how they can be most useful. I have found that taking time to figure out what I need helps me to be proactive and positive, rather than just using a willing friend or family member as an outlet for venting. (A certain amount of venting is necessary and cathartic, but the longer you spend there the less able you are to move forward, and the more weary your friends will grow of listening to you.)
Deploy your very own personal pit crew. I have surrounded myself with a group of people who provide me with honest feedback, help by asking me the tough questions, and just generally keep me tuned up and ready to go. They also remind me how strong I am when I’m having days full of self-doubt or anxiety. These are the people who will have your back and give you advice you can trust.
Know the value of your work, skills, and experience, and be able to speak strongly and clearly about it. This is a tough one, particularly if you’re someone who doesn’t easily talk about your accomplishments or demurs when complimented. It may not be comfortable, but you need to be able to speak about the contributions you (and not your team) bring to the world and not depend on others to do this for you. There are a couple of ways to tease out what you bring to the table:
- Make an exhaustive list of every accomplishment you’ve had professionally or while volunteering over the last 10–15 years. Quantify how you’ve benefited others.
- Take note of every technical skill you have including ones you think everyone knows (like Microsoft Word or Outlook).
- Ask present/former colleagues, supervisors, teachers, friends, and others what they see as your greatest strengths and contributions.
- Revisit old letters of recommendations, job reviews, report cards, greeting cards, etc. Gather these together and put into a file or notebook and when you’re feeling like you’ve nothing to contribute to anyone, reread them. Consider this stash as your own personal affirmation savings account.
If you’re like me, you’ll start seeing some themes popping up over and over. Pay attention to these! As you identify strengths, talk about them. Out loud. To others. I repeatedly put myself into networking situations where I will have to introduce myself and talk about my me and my work. The more I practice the more natural it gets, and it’s specific, honest, and succinct and doesn’t come off as “braggy.”
Reach out to others who need your help. Being grateful means helping bring others along too. I’ve met so many wonderful, highly skilled people that I would be happy to work alongside. I can’t wave a wand and magically create jobs for them, but I can introduce them to others who might also help, I can offer constructive edits on resumes and cover letters, and I can lend an ear and some hope when they’re having a rough day. Effectively, what you put out into the world comes back to you at some point, so invest in making a positive difference.