Setback – Now What?!

This past week was unprecedented for me. I had 4 – four – individuals, in 1 week, tell me they had been ‘riffed’ from their current roles. In each case, they are 50 or over AND have been star performers in their respective positions. They were not singled out, per se, as they were caught in the wide swath of layoffs many firms are undergoing due to mass restructuring and overall reductions. These individuals have had strong careers and are worthy, capable contributors. However, now they are faced with (what they perceive as) a tremendous setback at a stage in their life where most – if not all – thought they would be somewhere else. What gives?!

First of all, as most of you know, I am a huge believer that incidental situations are not incidental, at all. In fact, my first book was all about that concept. AND I believe that we are to listen to these “whispers” (or 2x4s over the head!) wherever and however they may show up, as we are being called to attention!

I love the C.S. Lewis quotation: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” 

Most of these individuals (in fact every one of them) were not happy in their jobs. They had shared this with me on more than one occasion. They were plodding along as they were not sure what they really wanted to do – so, “this was okay for the time being”.  I believe this pain of being laid off was/is their wake-up call to get back in touch with themselves. What do they want? How do they want to contribute in this next chapter? 

So, Step 1: Get to know “you” again. What do you love to do? What are you good at doing? AND – how will this tie to something greater than yourself? If you are not sure…then make a conscious effort to figure this out. Meditate. Pray. Hire a therapist or an executive coach. Take assessments to uncover untapped competencies and preferences which have been buried up until now. Take off the blinders and shut out the “shoulds” and “ought tos” – this is YOUR story. Write YOUR story – as no one will write your story better than you.

Step 2: Realize and embrace that we are NOT defined by the job or position we hold. Often we get completely absorbed into our job or company. In fact, I had one individual recently share with me that their identity was indeed the company for which they worked. I get this concept and in fact wrote a story about a person in Seat 5E who shared the same dilmna. This story has become one of the most popular in the book “Is This Seat Taken?” – as so many of us can relate to it. When we leave one fabulous successful stint in a company, we wonder if we will ever have that again. We wonder if we will ever be able to recreate that level of success again. This leads us to the next step in moving forward…..

 Step 3:  Stop comparing this new chapter with the old chapter – good or bad. There is no comparison, thankfully. We are a compilation of all our experiences, and this new chapter will be a completely new life in many ways. WOW – how liberating when we allow ourselves to embrace this concept.

The final step and perhaps the greatest catalyst: Embrace Progress not Perfection. One of these individuals lamented that she is focused on not making another mistake and making this her final position. Whew – what pressure! This can lead to paralysis as we don’t want to make another so-called mistake. My suggestion is to keep forward momentum. Keep exploring. Stay open. Be receptive to even what may appear to be an opportunity which is out of your wheel house. If you are attracted to it, explore what about the role turns you on. There is a reason – of this I am certain. Our intution and inner voice does not lie. Ever. So listen to it. AND remember that nothing is permanent.

Setbacks can in fact be amazingly liberating experiences IF we change the frame on how we welcome and grow into them.

What are your thoughts? What suggestions or bits of wisdom do you have for our readers who are faced with significant change or setbacks?


10 responses to “Setback – Now What?!

  1. Kristin,

    Great article. As you know this was me some 5 years ago and my change from Technology to Education was the best decision I ever made. After 5.5 years I still feel like I am in the first month of the job.

    Thanks for the wonderful words of wisdom.

  2. Kristin, right on point. Having recently gone through this myself, I can attest that this is a time for soul searching and moving toward a future you want, not one you’ve gotten stuck in. The Marcus Buckingham book “Standout” was pivotal for me. He takes “Now, Discover your Strengths” to the next level by providing reports customized to individual test results and providing practical actions specific to your profile. It reaffirmed for me some passions I had lost somewhere along the way. I highly recommend it for anyone in a life transition.

  3. Kristin, This was a wonderful blog. I am a firm believer that adversity can bring out the best in us IF we are open to hearing that message. Key, as you point out, is stepping forward and creating the future you want. That doesn’t mean shortcutting on the grief you might feel, just that you don’t anchor yourself in that grief so long that you drown! Thank you for sharing the threads you see in your four colleagues. I’ll definitely share with others facing similar challenges, even if it’s just having to move to a new office space. Any adversity can be experienced as limiting, and your blog reminds us that it can also trigger expansion and reconnection with our deeper selves.

  4. Kristin — I can testify from personal experience that being fired is not an end, but a beginning. I can say that I was fired from every I’ve ever held — and that’s very close to the truth. For example, I was fired from my front desk clerkjob, and from my job as a furniture store manager. I’ve learned something valuable each time, AND have gone on to bigger and better jobs. The only one that really hurt was losing my job with a major hotel company where I was an in-house lawyer and legislative Vice-President. One of our hotels was located at the World Trade Center site and went down with the two towers. And the hotel industry as a whole suffered significant economic pain in the aftermath of 9-11. Almost every company had to engage in layoffs and I was one of the unlucky ones. However, the company treated me very well when I was laid off, and I ended up in a series of exceptional jobs over the next five years — first, on Capitol Hill, with Senator Fred Thompson, and then, when the Republicans won the governorship in Maryland for the first time in 39 years, I had the opportunity to serve as Deputy Secretary of Transportation and the as the CEO of the Maryland Transportation Authority. (I can even say that I was sort of “fired” from these jobs because (1) Sen. Thompson decided against running again, and Governor Ehrlich was defeated in his bid for reelection and all of his major appointments were out of jobs as well.) One thing that helped was reading a book by the author of The Peter Principle which talked about why people get fired. One reason was incompetence (let’s hope so). But the other reason he gave is that managers will often want to get rid of an employee who is both very competent (boss’s concern over his OWN job) and more concerned with getting things accomplished than in following his/her boss’s specific directions. Naturally, I related to the second reason, because it spared my ego the pain of believing that I was either incompetent or unliked! And over time, I have to say that being fired and learning from the experiences were a useful part of my successful career path.

  5. Hi Kristin, great message here. As a retiree from my previous employer, I have noticed a great number of friends who have faced that same ugly RIF axe over the past 6 months and just last week, a friend of mine who is a young assistant pastor. I have been blessed to be missed by that axe, so far, but I would say that I try to practice the advice you have offered consistently in every role I have had in the past 30+ years. I spend a lot of time reinventing myself to bring success into my next role, especially now with retirement and stepping into a new company. Definitely had to get to know myself from a new perspective. Looking for that new job, compared to the one I had held for over 30 years, helped me understand how to define myself. My new chapter is exactly that, a new chapter. It brings its own set of joys and its own set of challenges, and in that, it is rebuilding, redefining the next generation of me. Keep up the great work!

  6. Hi Kristin

    Great post here. Love the CS Lewis quote and couldn’t agree more. It has certainly been my learning experience as well (pain needing to be attended to) ie it’s something I have come to understand must be the right way to interpret what happens to you. If you do find you are coming across a range of situations where you are being tested in a particular way, then someone is trying to tell you something needs to be worked on. It’s amazing that it took me this long to come to this realisation but as they say, when you are ready to learn, the teacher will appear.

    Your pointers above are great ways of approaching something that can be seen to be so disheartening, devastating in fact, especially if and when your work has defined to a great extent how you see yourself. When you spend so many waking hours, the best part of your day and the better part of your life, defined by the work you do, its only natural that things like this rock you to your core. But your pointers are a useful way of approaching the problem and finding a way to bounce back.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Hello Kristin

    a thoroughly insightful and encouraging post. I am still remaining positive post my “Axe’ incident last September. My optimism way wain by Friday but is always ready for duty by Monday morning

    Best wishes


  8. Great words, Kristin. I love the play/movie “Mame”….”life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death…….open a new window, open a new door”. Looking inside oneself is never comfortable, but so revealing and liberating! Ask those of us who have been there multiple times.

  9. Wow – thank you, all, for your input! This clearly is a hot topic in our world today. We are all in this together….as we never know when the shoe will drop on our friends, family, or ourselves!

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