Twice in my career, I’ve had to answer the question of what to do when you get laid off.

In 1980, the psychiatric hospital where I worked half-time eliminated all the part-time jobs. I was laid off. I had just had my first child and we had just bought our first house. It was awful.

In 2009, when the economy was tanking, the consulting firm where I was working laid off one-third of its consultants in one day. It took me one week to realize that there were no jobs for someone in my field — no one was hiring. It was awful.

But in both cases, it didn’t stay awful.

What to do when you get laid off

I was recently invited to speak at a webinar for employees of United Airlines, a company in the midst of major downsizing.  Having been there, I welcomed the opportunity to share what I had learned, both personally and professionally, about how to survive this miserable experience.

My book, Curating Your Life, was published in April — just as layoffs came roaring back into the U.S. economy. In it, I wrote about the times when life forces you to “re-curate” how you manage your energy. In recent months, all of us have had to re-curate in response to COVID-19. People who were laid off without warning are struggling with a double curation challenge. They must deal both with the pandemic as well as figuring out what they’re going to do next.

It’s awful.

But there are tactics, tricks, and resources to help you make it through. Here are some of the key pointers I shared with the United Airlines employees:

How to get laid off gracefully

Your first task is to manage your fear. One person who had been laid off said, “I’m over 50 and I’m scared to death. I’ve done the same job for the past 25 years. Why would anyone want to hire me?”

To move forward, you have to get out of your own way and project confidence. Find supporters — your cheerleaders, the people who think you’re great and will help you. Ask for help. Get rid of the “Obnoxious Roommate,” that negative voice in your head who tells you what a loser you are. That voice is wrong! Think about your past successes. Get out and help others — it’s a great way to feel good about yourself.

Then, start “re-curating” and figuring out what you’re going to do next. Assess what you’re good at, what you want to do, and where the opportunities lie. Think about your “transferable skills,” the competencies you have learned in your previous jobs that are valuable in other roles as well. For instance, a great airline gate agent is good at staying calm, listening attentively to customers, and rapidly providing solutions. What employer doesn’t want those skills in a new hire? Think broadly about what you have to offer and where it could be applied.

Layoffs can be an opportunity to re-invent yourself, to move into work that is meaningful and satisfying to you. What are your values? What interests could you parlay into a job? What gives you energy? 

I got laid off, now what?

I’ve said it three times — being laid off is usually awful. But time and again, I have seen people use this experience to create something better for themselves.

The first time I was down-sized, I started my private psychotherapy practice, where I was infinitely happier than I had been at the hospital. The second time, I started my consulting business. Once again, I’ve been having way more fun and doing better work in the past 10 years than I would have had I stayed. Other people have told me similar stories, many of which are in my new book.  

If you’re a leader who would like help your company navigate layoffs — or if you’ve been laid off and want to know what’s next — contact us at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com.

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    Love this – you are spot on, thank you. Especially
    appreciate the statement, “…you have to get out of your own way and project confidence.” Yep. Moving forward isn’t for the fainthearted…it takes a lot soul searching and as Twyla Tharp says, “scratching.” Best always —