10 Steps To Move On From Being Fired

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.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/3085742865/)

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  • Other than training, and that one of them is legally licensed to practice, how is a life coach different from a psychologist?

    • BL1Y: Well, in the instance of a life coach who also is an attorney licensed to practice law (such as Lisa Montanaro and Elizabeth Cronise-McLaughlin), the Life Coach may well have years of work experience in your field and may, thus, well understand the nuances of your profession in a way that a psychologist would not. By the same token, if what’s really the issue is your emotional and psychological needs, then, perhaps, you do need to visit with/consult with a psychologist.

  • If a coach actually has experience and has achieved success in the area in which he or she is coaching, fine. (I don’t know how you determine that when it comes to “life,” but let’s say you can.) But there is a proliferation of coaches—life, law, and otherwise—who are unqualified to give advice on going to the grocery store, much less life.

    • Sam: Your comments could be said of any professional (lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc). In our service economy, there is a proliferation of all sorts of white-collar professionals, and of course you want to only work with those who are qualified. So, I think you determine whether a life coach is qualified the same way you do with other professionals — you ask for references, you do your homework on the Internet about the person, you ask for their credentials, and you do an initial consultation to see if you think what they are saying to you is worthwhile and makes sense.

  • I can’t help feeling cynical about advising the suddenly unemployed professional that they HIRE a life or career coach to counsel and cheerlead them through the process of surviving this event. How much more value this post would have provided if it had collected and reviewed the FREE resources available to professionals trying to cope with unemployment.

    • Christine: Yes, there are free resources available to people trying to cope with unemployment, and by all means, people should make use of those. And, indeed, if you have links to some, I would encourage you to send them in or post them here. That said, Don’t know if you’ve ever been fired. I have. Anyone who’s been fired will tell you that it is a devastating experience. And, sometimes, to recover from a devastating experience you need the help of others, particularly someone who is objective and not emotionally invested in you and your life. So, while I am sensitive to the fact that the unemployed need to be careful about not squandering their savings, I do think it’s worthwhile to investigate consulting with a life coach who may be able to help someone sort through the firing and the process of finding a new, satisfying job/career.

    • Christine: One other point — whether someone consults with a life coach or not, the steps I outline in my article are steps that someone can take on their own — for free.

  • Thank you for the wonderful tips! I think that this article gives some really great useful suggestions. I would like to add my perspective as both a Coach and someone who spent 20 years in the corporate environment. I’ve worked with many lawyers, although I am not one. The emotions and feelings that lawyers, doctors, etc have are the same as anyone else. Coaching them is not even necessarily about having an expertise in their area but helping them get past the feeling of failure and loss and working on how they can utilize their successes and strengths to feel confident whether they are going on another interview or changing direction in their career. I agree with the comment that people should not be encouraged to spend money on a Coach when they have become unemployed and have no income. That is a very personal decision that each person needs to make. Also, as a Coach, I will also pay attention to signs that someone may really need therapy. I am not a trained therapist and will only continue to work with someone if they are seeking out therapy as well. I view the entire basis of this article as building on your strengths and what you have done well in the past to help you to move forward. Wonderful article! Thank you!

  • By the way, I would also like to add that you should absolutely do your homework when hiring a Coach. Just like any profession, there are some that are not qualified. You wouldn’t hire a doctor, lawyer or accountant without doing some research. Some of my clients specifically seek me out because of my experience and expertise in the corporate environment as well as my coach training. Others don’t care what my background is because they feel that I am approachable and easy to talk to. Just things to think about. I hope that all of this was helpful.

  • I definitely relate to being fired as not the end, but the beginning. When I found myself out of work, at home, and just spending all my hours shooting out resumes’ and cover letters, it became pretty depressing. But then it hit me: I’m a lawyer! I don’t need to be in a firm to practice law. I don’t need to sit idly by and hope that someone gives me a call for an interview just so I can be under the constant pressure and stress that any day I could be let go again. Do you know what kind of firm you never have to be worried about being fired from? Your own. Start your own law firm. You don’t need much money, capital, or even a book of business. Just the drive and personality to get out there and start doing what you’ve been taught to do. My firm started out casually, but with time, I have been able to start building it up to something I can be proud of. If any of you are interested, please feel free to check it out at http://www.SchraierLaw.com . I’m also happy to help anyone with questions about just what they need to do to get their firm up and running by e-mail at SethSchraier@gmail.com.

    • Seth: Good for you! That is so great! And, your experience really illustrates how people can take ownership of their lives and their careers. All the best. And, if you have any further tips for people (or resources they can use) to start their own firm, please do share!

  • sheila

    Great article! I loved the advice from both coaches, particularly since I am an attorney who was laid off last year. The transition has been difficult. However, I have used this time to do what I love and enjoy. Lisa and Elizabeth have shared some excellent tips that I will certainly use….very timely advice.

    • Sheila: Glad this article is of some value. I’ve been fired and know quite well how traumatic it can be. I’m glad you’ve been able to use the time to do the things you love and enjoy. I hope you are able to find a way to make those things the way in which you also make money and support yourself so that you have harmony between what you love and what you do as “work”.

  • Deborah Davis

    Great article! My husband changed careers this year after 24+ years of military service. He didn’t know what road he was going to go down and it could have been quite scary. But working with a professonal coach helped him to identify his strengths, goals, potential, etc… and he has a wonderful “2nd” career now.

    • Deborah: That’s so great! Congratulations t your husband. I’m so glad to hear that he was able to find a second career that he so thoroughly enjoys. All the best to you!