In the past few weeks, as companies are executing layoffs. It’s stressful.
In our professional lives, we strive to come as the best versions of ourselves, ambitious and smart. We’ve got it together. We’ve valuable team members. Unexpected layoffs are devastating. Often our jobs stand in as a measure of our self worth. Our title shouldn’t define our value, but the insidious nature of our culture makes that a slippery slope.
Losing your job is a deeply personal experience far beyond, “just go get another one”. We grieve. We may feel shame, frustration, rage. Feelings that are 180 degrees from our professional personas.
I lead a small design consultancy when recession hit almost overnight. Clients evaporated. Invoices remained unpaid. Proposals were killed or withered on the vine. Working for myself, I didn’t have much of a team to lean on. No severance pay. No health insurance.
Frankly, I froze. I couldn’t accept that this was happening to me. I thought the world and my career would only go up, up, up. After all, I had worked hard to get where I was (unknowingly backed by a booming economy for years).
I was in my thirties but I had no ideas about what to do next. Wasn’t I supposed to know better? Soon, my checking account emptied. To be fair, it wasn’t a large checking account to begin with. I couldn’t accept my new reality and didn’t make many lifestyle adjustments. I had to talk to my landlord about missing rent - an experience that burned with shame. He was kind and flexible. At 80, I imagine he had more of an idea of what hard times looked like than I did.
It was one of the darkest periods of my life.
Re-invention comes at odd hours.
Like so many painful experiences, there’s opportunity bundled with the bad. Our lives have chapters we’d never expect. Plot twist is an understatement. Sometimes we’re the Director and sometimes we feel like an extra in the cast. Waiting it out on the sidelines hoping to stand out and be chosen.
Most of my friends moved away from the Bay Area to places with lower cost of living, or parents took advantage of the moment, shipping them to grad school to sit out the recession.
I’d love to share that my life had a brilliant turnaround. And it did — but in not in the way you’d expect. Not an overnight success.
I started swimming three times a week at a public pool with a gaggle of senior citizens. I worked for my cousin. I did small design jobs. Started a short-lived resume review at the local Starbucks for cash. I did some babysitting. I was depressed, anxious, and stressed in a time when people didn’t really talk much about those things. I isolated, blaming myself for not being better.
In a big move with the last bit of credit on my credit card, I took a coaching training with Martha Beck. I loved it. For a few months, I started offering workshops, wrote a successful newsletter, but ultimately didn’t have enough runway or confidence to stand up a coaching practice. This was almost 25 years ago, coaching was barely “a thing”. But this experience lit a fire that never went out.
Over time, things turned around. I took time to think about what *else* I could to do professionally as being a designer had run its course.
So when I landed a job, it paid much more than I had ever made before and was the very seedling of the next 20+ years of a deep, successful career. I appreciated that job and worked my ass off. The role was different from anything I had done previously but I met people that changed my life in ways I couldn’t have designed.
I worked with a therapist and did a ton of personal work to understand and unpack the whole season I had just lived. I got my financial life in order. I ended a lingering relationship and soon after met my husband. Finding more support was life changing and helped me make sense of so much of the ways I had reacted.
I’m sharing this now because life has seasons. Often we don’t chose them. But we can always work with what shows up. It’s easy to say “we don’t know what’s around the corner” but it’s very true. This is one unexpected left turn in my life - but there have been so many.
If your life took a left turn this week, know that one day you may look back on it as the best thing that ever happened to you. Not everything that happens has to go on your permanent record. It’s not a black mark. Forces larger than you are shaping the world around you more often than we realize. We don’t control everything in our lives.
Your job is to find support, connect, take care of yourself and those you care about and see where the possibilities are.
COURTNEY KAPLAN is a coach offering transformational coaching for the design minded. You can find her at iconicleadershipcoaching.com.