Setback – Now What?!

This past week was unprecedented for me. I had 4 – four – individuals, in 1 week, tell me they had been ‘riffed’ from their current roles. In each case, they are 50 or over AND have been star performers in their respective positions. They were not singled out, per se, as they were caught in the wide swath of layoffs many firms are undergoing due to mass restructuring and overall reductions. These individuals have had strong careers and are worthy, capable contributors. However, now they are faced with (what they perceive as) a tremendous setback at a stage in their life where most – if not all – thought they would be somewhere else. What gives?!

First of all, as most of you know, I am a huge believer that incidental situations are not incidental, at all. In fact, my first book was all about that concept. AND I believe that we are to listen to these “whispers” (or 2x4s over the head!) wherever and however they may show up, as we are being called to attention!

I love the C.S. Lewis quotation: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

Most of these individuals (in fact every one of them) were not happy in their jobs. They had shared this with me on more than one occasion. They were plodding along as they were not sure what they really wanted to do – so, “this was okay for the time being”.  I believe this pain of being laid off was/is their wake-up call to get back in touch with themselves. What do they want? How do they want to contribute in this next chapter? 

So, Step 1: Get to know “you” again. What do you love to do? What are you good at doing? AND – how will this tie to something greater than yourself? If you are not sure…then make a conscious effort to figure this out. Meditate. Pray. Hire a therapist or an executive coach. Take assessments to uncover untapped competencies and preferences which have been buried up until now. Take off the blinders and shut out the “shoulds” and “ought tos” – this is YOUR story. Write YOUR story – as no one will write your story better than you.

Step 2: Realize and embrace that we are NOT defined by the job or position we hold. Often we get completely absorbed into our job or company. In fact, I had one individual recently share with me that their identity was indeed the company for which they worked. I get this concept and in fact wrote a story about a person in Seat 5E who shared the same dilmna. This story has become one of the most popular in the book “Is This Seat Taken?” – as so many of us can relate to it. When we leave one fabulous successful stint in a company, we wonder if we will ever have that again. We wonder if we will ever be able to recreate that level of success again. This leads us to the next step in moving forward…..

 Step 3:  Stop comparing this new chapter with the old chapter – good or bad. There is no comparison, thankfully. We are a compilation of all our experiences, and this new chapter will be a completely new life in many ways. WOW – how liberating when we allow ourselves to embrace this concept.

The final step and perhaps the greatest catalyst: Embrace Progress not Perfection. One of these individuals lamented that she is focused on not making another mistake and making this her final position. Whew – what pressure! This can lead to paralysis as we don’t want to make another so-called mistake. My suggestion is to keep forward momentum. Keep exploring. Stay open. Be receptive to even what may appear to be an opportunity which is out of your wheel house. If you are attracted to it, explore what about the role turns you on. There is a reason – of this I am certain. Our intution and inner voice does not lie. Ever. So listen to it. AND remember that nothing is permanent.

Setbacks can in fact be amazingly liberating experiences IF we change the frame on how we welcome and grow into them.

What are your thoughts? What suggestions or bits of wisdom do you have for our readers who are faced with significant change or setbacks?