Build Your Wings on the Way Down

May I share a story with you? Many of you have heard it before, however, today I was reminded that it may be time to tell it again. For those who need to hear it. If you’ve recently lost your job, you may want to read on to hear how things get better. It may take some time and work, but they will get better. If you’ve ever experienced job loss, I’d love for you to keep reading and share your own experience(s) that can give hope to others who may be stuck in the muck of the newly dismissed.

I recently had a wonderful 90-minute catch-up with a friend/colleague from my past whom I hadn’t connected with for some time. When I asked how life was in his world he replied with, “Well, what happened to you happened to me.”. He proceeded to tell me how his job of 17 years was made redundant last year, and he was let go. Clearly, that wasn’t the wonderful part of the conversation. It was news I never want to hear from friends, family, and colleagues as I know how negatively impactful it can be. It’s often unexpected and can be hard, confusing, and embarrassing. Losing a job can be traumatic and bring out hurt, denial, shame, anger, depression, and a host of other feelings. The blow to the ego is one of the most painful wounds. The conversation with my friend this morning is one I’ve had many times since being let go myself in January 2020.

I find the most frustrating emotion folks feel after losing their job is shame. My heart hurts for those who feel they must have done something wrong. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. In most cases, people are let go through no fault of their own. Re-orgs, acquisitions, automation, and sometimes even jealousy or spitefulness on the part of those in positions of power, can all lead to being dismissed. All of which have nothing to do with the person being let go. Read that again.

“Shame should be reserved for the things we choose to do, not the circumstances that life puts on us.” ~Ann Patchett

Shame can lead to keeping emotions bottled up and not seeking help when it’s warranted. Shame is often connected to not sharing what happened and how we’re feeling with family and friends. By not sharing our story with those who know, love, and respect us, we deny ourselves a critical element of the healing process. We also deny those family and friends our trust and the opportunity for them to help us heal and move on. It’s time to bring the conversation out of the dark and into the light and remove the stigma associated with losing a job.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ~ Brené Brown

My own experience of being dismissed goes back to my management position at a local hotel in my mid-twenties. When I was suddenly given notice, I was stunned and blind-sided. I left immediately with 2-weeks severance and applied for EI. As I look back now, I recognize how young and inexperienced I was at the ways of the world and I was, in a word, devasted. For the most part, I licked my wounds in private. It took me four months to deal with all the emotions, take stock of who I was, create my skills inventory, and re-evaluate what I wanted in a career. Once I dusted off my ego and determined what I liked and didn’t like about the job/career I had chosen, I did a complete shift and entered the world of information technology, a newer industry at the time.

As it turned out, being let go prompted me to intentionally seek out my next path, which ended up being rewarding in ways I never expected. I felt like the little bird who was comfortable in the nest and had to be pushed out to fly. And fly I did. I had built relationships before with my coworkers and regular hotel guests, but the tech business is where I really learned and grew in the areas of relationship building and development. It’s also where my passion for giving back through charitable work took root. And wow, did I have some fun along the way.

The Canadian company I worked for was acquired by a large international organization and, what happens so often during mergers and acquisitions, a reorganization took place. And I was let go. Again. This time I was prepared. I was confident in my skills, knowledge, and successes. I had built a strong network of colleagues and clients, many of whom became friends. I knew what to look for, understood my employment rights, and knew how to negotiate. I didn’t have time to sit down to figure out what to do next. My phone rang the next day with job offers from two tech education firms and I got to choose my next position. As is often the case, the dismissal was a gift, and the next part of my professional journey was more fulfilling than the last.

The position with the tech education company led to my long career in academia, which felt like home. I was having a positive impact on people’s lives by helping folks find career advancement and transition opportunities through education pathways. I continued to hone my business development, management, negotiation, and relationship-building skills. I got to travel, something I always loved. My non-academic career in academia included promotions, lots of changes (the only constant!), many accolades, and a plethora of great experiences. Then, after almost eighteen years, my position was eliminated, and I was dismissed without cause. I felt like the bird in the nest again, who had to be pushed out to fly. By now, I was very experienced, in more ways than one, and I simply knew this was going to be the biggest gift yet in my professional life. I trusted the process and the fact that the universe brings us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.

By being let go in January 2020, I was able to avoid having to figure out how to do my in-person, front-facing job during the work-from-home requirements of the pandemic. Those aspects of the job I wasn’t crazy about? No longer an issue. Ha! I was afforded the time and space to update my education in a field I’m passionate about. The experience got me thinking more creatively about this latter part of my career journey and what I wanted it to be. Being dismissed gave me the opportunity to forge my professional path and design a role that suits me. That’s when SeeShell Consulting (and soon, the International Coach Coalition) was born. At fifty-something, I’m an entrepreneur for the first time. Not what I had planned for or expected at this point in my life but, wow, it’s my happy place. I have new energy, passion, and purpose that makes me feel vital and relevant. Now, I feel like I’m really home.

The moral of the story? You are not alone. Feel all the feelings, recognize and name the emotions, find your way through them, and how to move on. And prepare for the incredible journey ahead. Most of the people I speak with who have been let go have ended up somewhere better. A more fulfilling position with an organization that aligns with their values. Better pay, more balance, and other positive lifestyle elements. Trust the universe has something beautiful lined up for you.

I have directly experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly (cue the movie song) of job loss. I have seen companies handle the “letting go” process poorly, legally efficiently, and with care and compassion. And I have experienced the hurt/shame/anger that can accompany losing a job as well as the growth mindset that embraces the opportunity and appreciates the gift it can be. If you’re struggling and looking for a safe place to explore your feelings, discover your gifts and opportunities, and find the motivation to shift your mindset, please do reach out. I get it and I’m here to help.  

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying:
 “Sometimes you have to jump off the cliff without knowing where you will land”. 
I prefer my version:

"Sometimes you have to be pushed out of the nest and build your wings on the way down."

Shelley (Shell) Langille, CEC, ACC, is an executive and career coach who specializes in, among other areas, helping people “let go after being let go” to find closure and new opportunities after job loss.

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