If you’ve ever been fired or laid off, you know how devastating it can be. Suddenly, a job, a career, an identity that you’ve spent years building has come to a screeching halt. For some, the experience can be every bit as jarring as a divorce or death of a loved one (if not more so). I’ve already discussed those emotions and how to start coping in the immediate aftermath.
But, once that initial period ends, and it’s time to start figuring out what comes next, what’s the procedure? How does one take care of the mechanics of finding a new job or new career, while also dealing with the very real emotional blowback of the firing itself? In essence, how do you rehab your career after what seems like a career-ending injury?
For athletes this is a relatively easy question to answer. Athletes who have serious injuries face many of the same questions: Is my career over? Will I ever be able to play X any more? Do I want to play X any more? For athletes there is a whole industry of physiological and psychological professionals whose very job it is to help these athlete rehabilitate their careers from an apparently career-ending injury.
Until recently, lawyers did not have the same sort of resources. There was no “rehab” for lawyers who suffered what appeared to be a career-ender. If you were fired, you were on your own to fend for yourself. You did the best you could. And, often that meant finding a job that would simply pay the bills and then limping along in dissatisfied silence for the rest of your working life.
However, more recently, a new kind of professional has emerged on the scene — the life coach or personal coach. These professionals are trained to help other professionals who face these real and metaphysical career-ending events and to assist them in resurrecting or rebuilding their careers, whether in the same field or in another field altogether.
Why work with a coach? Well, as any athlete will attest, you need a coach because you need someone who can be objective about your efforts, who can watch you, who can challenge you, who can teach you and, hopefully, through all these mechanisms can help you achieve and accomplish better, more often and more efficiently than before.
I’ve spoken with Elizabeth Cronise-McLaughlin and Lisa Montanaro — both of whom specialize in coaching attorneys with respect to careers — and here are some of the recommendations they have for those of you who may have suffered a firing, a lay-off or other seemingly career-ending event.
1. First, understand the concept that a firing or seeming “career-ender” is not necessarily an end but a transition or new beginning. “Remember that in every darkness lies the seeds of possibility,” says Elizabeth.
2. Second, recognize that there will be an inevitable limbo period between what was and what will be. Says Lisa: “The period after letting go of our old identity is a period of limbo between the identity you’re leaving behind and the new one you’ve yet to form. A period of confusion and self doubt, it’s often easy to second guess yourself, to think there’s something wrong with you, and to believe you must be making a mistake. During this period sustaining motivation for change is a challenge. You have to tolerate what lawyers tend to like least: ambiguity.”
3. Third, begin to “tap into what you want,” says Elizabeth. This can often be very “difficult” she acknowledges. Accordingly, as Lisa points out, “Stay open. Pay attention to your intuition. Don’t fight with yourself about your values. Consider options you might not have considered before. In spite of your background and training to dissect and analyze to uncover the facts, try to trust your gut.
4. Fourth, as you begin to formulate an idea or ideas of what you want to do next, it is important to “tackle your saboteurs” says Elizabeth. As she notes, “[m]any unhappy lawyers know what they secretly want to do next in their professional lives even as they sit miserably plodding along in a job they despise.” The reason they don’t make a change is because of a variety of fears. Some of these fears are real, some are imagined. Accordingly, says Elizabeth, as these fears crop up, ask yourself “‘Is this TRUE? Or is this something that I recognize as a FALSE MESSAGE?’ Realizing the falsity of the sabotaging messages we tell ourselves eliminates their power.”
5. Fifth, remember that this is a growing process. Coping with being fired and moving on from that event will inevitably be challenging, and, often, difficult and even painful. Remember that a result of this challenge, difficulty, and pain can be tremendous growth. As Lisa states: “[A]llow yourself to learn from the experience. Even these painful occurrences can allow you to become clear about what is truly meaningful in your life. It’s also an opportunity to discover your strengths.”
6. Sixth, find positive advisors and role models. As Elizabeth notes: “All of us need support in times of transition. This is not the time to surround yourself with naysaying friends and colleagues who will reinforce the saboteurs already at work in your own head. Hire a coach who will support and guide you through your transition. Surround yourself with friends who believe in you and in your ability to become the person you want to be. Most importantly, seek out those who are successful in a new field who you admire, and ask them how they achieved that success It is amazing how many very successful, seemingly busy people will make time to help out someone who is in learning from their experiences. Tapping into that success is also a wonderful reminder that others have become what you seek to become now.”
Lisa concurs, stating that you should “Connect with others who’ve faced their own turning points. Invite the people who care about you to understand the transition you’re undergoing. Hire a professional career coach or counselor to become your guide on this journey.”
7. Seventh, remain open and flexible. Remember that it likely will require and involve twists and turns along a road or roads till you find the exact fit you’re looking for. During this period, it’s important to remain flexible. As Lisa states: “Turning points are times of reappraisal of your life. During such times we often see things about ourselves that are difficult to face; we also discover new potential within ourselves. When we’re flexible in terms of our perspective, attitudes, beliefs and plans, the process is easier to undergo and we gain more insight.”
8. Eighth, take things one step at a time. Remember that your old career, even if it was one you hated, took time to build. As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day.” Similarly, your new career will not materialize overnight. What you are doing is a “big thing.” Doing “big things’ can be daunting and overwhelming to the point of even paralyzing people into inaction. Accordingly, it is best, as Elizabeth notes, to take things “one step at a time.”
9. Ninth, don’t quit on yourself. As Lisa notes, perseverance in your new endeavor is critical. As she states, “Give the transition the chance it deserves. You spent years training for a career you wound up not liking. Give the career you think you will love at least half of that time!”
10. Tenth, remember all the times you did well in the past. As you embark on your new job or career path, there will be setbacks. In addition, you’ve just been fired, and so the negative confidence-sucking emotions are still there lingering, sapping your esteem. As a result, it can often be difficult to be confident in your new venture. This is a trap. To break free from that trap, Lisa suggests that you “recall past successes.” As she states: “You’ve likely faced difficult challenges in your career and life. You’ve demonstrated to yourself that you have the resources to face this turning point. If it’s helpful, write down all the difficulties you’ve already overcome in your life. Keeping a journal during this time of transition may be a useful tool.”
So there you have it, a checklist of 10 steps you can take to move on from being fired and move on to bigger, better, greater things. I wish you much success.