If you’ve recently lost your job, it’s likely you’re asking some pretty serious questions: Why did this happen to me? What am I going to do next? How long can I make it? These are natural early responder questions that we ask ourselves when any crisis comes our way. Just under the skin of some of these questions may lay some serious resentment. You may be experiencing feelings of betrayal, anger and despair. Betrayal that someone didn’t come through for you as expected. Anger that you are paying the cost the for company mismanagement. Despair that you’re not sure what to do next, how to do it or how long all the uncertainty will last. Life, as you knew it, got unexpectedly put on hold. I know about these things. Intimately.
A number of years ago, when I was in corporate America, I experienced this emotional trifecta. The business unit that I had founded and led was being dissolved as part of a larger restructuring. Up to that point, I was having the time of my life, leading one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with to package and deliver software in a way that the company had never done before. I had plenty of reason to harbor resentment—and for a long time, I did.
About six months later, after I started my own business, I noticed something peculiar. My zeal and enthusiasm for my work was beginning to return. Creative ideas about possible ventures and opportunities were beginning to flow as if a faucet had suddenly been opened. My old self was back and I wondered where I had been. With the newfound ideas came a renewed sense of freedom. I didn’t need to have my ideas approved by anyone. Just me. That was when it occurred to me—I was detoxifying from my previous employer. Unwittingly, my thinking had been constrained to the practicalities and politics of the corporate culture I served. Absent of that culture, ideas began to flow and so did my joy.
Since then, I’ve talked about the need to detoxify with a lot of people who have experienced job loss. It’s one of the most important first steps you can take when you get a “notice.” In fact, failure to enter detox can severely limit your future opportunities. As Alexander Graham Bell wrote, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Based on my experience here are five things you can do to detoxify from your last work experience:
- Immediately stop asking “why.” Why questions are largely unanswerable and patently unhelpful. They either lead to resentment (“Why did/didn’t they…”) or regret (“Why did/didn’t I…) and only serve to add more toxins to your thinking. For more thoughts on this, read my post, “Did you just hit a pothole?”
- Practice telling yourself the truth. One of the attributes of a toxic environment is that it perpetuates mistruth—those lies and half-truths that diminish your value and worth. Politically charged or highly dysfunctional environments are especially hostile breeding grounds for mistruth. Let’s face it, you’re not indispensable, but neither are you without significant value.
- Actively engage in community. One of the best ways you can practice truth telling is in the presence of community. Meet with friends and others who will ask forward-thinking questions, challenge your assumptions, and offer helpful resources to get you thinking creatively about your next opportunity. As much as possible, avoid hanging out with other displaced co-workers. Too often, the gatherings of the “ex’s” turn out to be gripe sessions that only stir up more toxins.
- Rediscover your purpose. A positive community can play an important role in helping you rediscover what really makes you tick. Invest time to pray, think and experiment with new ideas, asking for help from your community along the way. My post “Lost your job? Don’t make that call…just yet” explores this theme further.
- Own your own stuff. Finally, reclaim full responsibility for your future. Begin to see yourself not as an employee or prospective employee but as the owner of a business—you. As a CEO and owner of your business, you make the decisions about how you serve your clients, either as a one-client employment relationship or a multi-client contractor arrangement. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting about how you can engage yourself as the CEO of You, Inc.
Help add to my list. What are some of the things you’ve done to detoxify from a prior work environment?