During the 15 weeks from mid-March to the end of June, 49 million Americans filed claims for unemployment due to COVID-19. 49 MILLION AMERICANS.
For the first subject themed post of my series, Happily Even After, it seems to start with something that has at least been relevant for a very large portion of Americans this year- job loss.
Let’s dive right in.
As someone who has bled ambition straight from the womb, having a meaningful career where I can make an impact on my company has always been of great importance to me. It’s not the most important thing in my life, particularly now that I’m a mom, but it’s a very big part of the proverbial pie that is Krista.
Since 2008 when I began law school, I have held 7 jobs that have encompassed my legal career, each with an increasing level of responsibility. One was a paid internship that turned full time. One was a job I took as an admin just because I wanted to be “in” with a certain company, which turned into a Director role within six weeks. I was recruited out of yet another position by the same recruiter that recruited me into it, which I’m pretty sure is frowned upon if not straight up unethical by the recruiter, but I digress. Another I stayed in for nearly five years.
I’ve “lost” one of those jobs, and have left the rest on my own volition. The one that I lost though, gosh that hurt.
It was a job that I had poured my blood, sweat, and tears into, going so far as to delay taking the bar exam for it following law school graduation because I was in the middle of such an important project. That’s quite a sacrifice by any account to be summarily dismissed. This particular company provided me incredible opportunity to dance with the law for the first time starting in my second year of law school. Unfortunately, the majority owner was a pretty terrible person. And I won’t go into his questionable financial decisions that led to us parting ways, but I was strong armed into resigning. I was young. I was naïve.
Nonetheless, it was pretty devastating for me at the time.
I remember feeling like everything I had been working towards was in vain. I remember thinking that this was worse than the end of a relationship. It was the first and only real job loss I’ve experienced and it really shook me to my core. I remember telling friends that I probably would have stayed in that position forever because I felt so competent and safe.
“You might not always end up where you thought you were going, but you always end up where you were meant to be.”
Hindsight is 20/20 though. Knowing what I know now, I had almost no possibility for future growth and 100 out of 100 times I would tell you I wouldn’t redo my career progression if I could. Each job, each job change… led me to exactly where I am right now.
Losing A Job Can Mean Losing You
Having struggled with relating to others as a codependent for most of my adult life, it might be an obvious next thought that I associate my worth as a person with my success in my career. Fortunately, I’ve been careful to avoid that trap. I’ve been beyond blessed professionally to work for companies big and small, public and private, across various industries. Each has given me an opportunity to do work that was important and challenged me.
One way that I have managed to not be consumed with my job or let it define me is by having moved around every few years. There’s a finite time early in your career where you can hop around a bit, taking some salary jumps, and diversify your experience. I chose to do that. That also has the tangential benefit of not letting you get too immersed in any particular role so that it becomes part of you.
Because when you lose a job, especially if it is not by choice, having your personal value and sense of worth intertwined makes losing a job even worse- it means you also lose yourself.
Another way that I’ve kept professional Krista separate from my value and worth as a person is by being open about failures as well as successes. I’ve had incredible opportunity to think like an owner and even act like an owner in various roles I’ve had… that has come with failures big and small. Being as public about those as I have been about my successes reminds me that I’m still human.
Mentoring new lawyers has also been a magnificent check for my ego. I’ve coached students in law school moot court competitions and high schoolers in mock trial competitions – each time I’ve done that I’ve been blown away by how smart these kids were. That is a great way to stay grounded.
WHY IS LOSING A JOB SO HARD?
Losing A Job Can Feel Like a Breakup
If you’re not expecting it, losing a job can feel like your high school boyfriend dumping you two weeks before prom or your best friend moving across the country. Particularly if you’ve been in a position for awhile, you have made friendships, you have the institutional knowledge of who to call when certain issues arise and where to find the files that no one else can seem to locate. You have established yourself as reliable and credible to your peers and trustworthy to your management. You’ve beat the learning curve and become somewhat of a master in your position.
The fact is, employers are kind of like significant others. We spend more time with our work colleagues (in normal times) than our families. Most of us spend more time at work than we do sleeping. So separation rightfully feels like a breakup.
The Idea of Starting Over is Daunting
When any or all of the above things are true, and they’re suddenly stripped from you by virtue of losing a job, the idea of having to start all over to get that back can seem like a mountain that you don’t want to climb.
I don’t know if this is possible for everyone, but for me- I’ve always combatted this by shifting my perspective. I have attempted to look at the idea of starting over as a chance to be a better version of myself, taking the lessons I had learned from the previous experience and incorporating into Krista 2.0 or 5.0 or whatever version I am now.
If the idea of starting over makes you nauseous, might I dare suggest that it is possible a bigger deal in your mind than it will be in reality. You know the tried and true mind over matter mantra- it just might be true here too.
You know what? Whenever I have changed positions in the past, I have found myself welcomed into a new role with open arms. My new colleagues are ecstatic that someone is filling a vacancy that they were probably covering and they’re glad to to not pick up that slack anymore. It also helps other people to feel more important and more senior when they have a chance to help the new person get up to speed. I know I have always been happy when I was no longer the new person and could show the next new hire any number of things. People enjoy that, and will welcome you too.
HOW TO FIND YOUR HAPPILY EVEN AFTER JOB LOSS
Now that we know why this is so hard, let’s talk about some practical ways to cope and how to get on your way to finding your professional happily even after.
Like any other loss in your life, it’s important to grieve the loss of your job. Whether your split was voluntary or not, there will be things that you will miss about your job, and it’s a sign of emotional maturity to process those.
I’d suggest that dwelling on what you’ve lost might not be helpful to you in the long run, but it is important to honor what that job was to your life.
Earlier this year I left a job that I had been in for nearly five years. It’s hard to look at it as a job, really. It felt like so much more. I t was particularly difficult since the entire group was separating and leaving for other opportunities as part of a restructuring. Most of my colleagues within the legal department have stayed in pretty close contact since that time, but I know that they would all agree with me in saying that we have really had to grieve the loss of what we had together. It was such a close knit group that went through such a significant period of growth and change together that not grieving its loss would feel disrespectful.
Don’t Internalize Rejection
It’s hard to not take personally the loss of a job, but sometimes we would be best served to remember that companies are not people, and while we are going our separate ways, it is usually not personal. Even if you made a bad decision or messed up and that is what led to your separation, that decision is based on the company’s need to follow procedure, turn a profit, or maintain consistency, not because you are a bad person. You are not your job, and losing your job does not and should not reflect whatsoever on your worth as a person.
Do What You Need To Get By
Earlier this year I was moving across the country to be located near the job I had started a few months earlier. That happened to be two weeks into a mass shutdown across the country due to the global pandemic. It was pretty terrifying. At the same time, one of my company’s two parent companies filed for bankruptcy three days prior to my move, leaving my job and those of my colleagues incredibly uncertain. It was a very trying time.
During the months that followed, I was so blessed to be able to stay employed. However, I was absolutely prepared to do whatever I needed to do to earn income should I find myself laid off or furloughed, as I was expecting. Florida unemployment weekly compensation is less than half of what Pennsylvania’s weekly compensation is, and a month’s worth of unemployment benefits is still less than half of my rent each month. That wasn’t going to cut it. I was prepared to join a document review ( a significant down step for an attorney practicing for a decade) or hell- work at Target if I needed to.
There may be a period of time where you need to accept a job that is not on the trajectory of your desired career path. It might be completely out of your industry and not reflective of the education or expertise you possess. Accept that this is a season, not forever, and do what you need to do to provide for your family.
Reasses Your Needs
This is a good time to figure out what you want! Look at your most recent job- what did you like about it? What made you get out of bed in the morning? Are you in the right career? Are you in the right career but wrong industry? Is this the push you needed to get out of something safe and take a risk? This is a perfect time to evaluate your needs and wants and even take another look at your dreams. Make sure that what you are pursuing aligns with these things.
Get Back on the Horse
After spending some time figuring out what is what, get back on the horse. Just because you fell down doesn’t mean you’re down and out. Get that resume ready- and not just half assed. Use your network of friends and colleagues and have them review and edit your resume. Reach out to anyone you know that might have a tie in the industry or company that you want to be in and make it known that you are looking. Set a goal for a certain number of applications or calls or emails that you will do each day and get that done before doing anything else if possible. I’ve been on casual job searches for years (I personally subscribe to the belief of always casually looking- I never like to be caught off guard) and have went hundreds of applications without one single call or email from a recruiter. And I’ve been in periods where I’ve thrown out three resumes and gotten three calls back.
The point here is to not spend too much time in any of the other stages. Grieve, but don’t dwell. Assess what went wrong, but don’t internalize the blame. Re-evaluate your wants and needs, but don’t do that for so long that you become financially unstable.
I’m one of those annoying people that has loved each and every job that I’ve ever had. I’ve had so much fun learning and growing and figuring out who I am as an individual contributor and then as a manager. Each job I’ve been in has, in one way or another, been a job that I felt fulfilled by. A job that I thought I would be devastated to lose. And much to my surprise, each time I moved on, the next position I took was even better than the one before it.
It really sucks to be out of work or to lose a job that is meaningful and important to you. However, I challenge you that something even better may be around the corner for you. Don’t keep your head down or you might miss it.
Reach out and find your happily even after.