Everyone seems to be losing his or her job these days. It’s a professional rite of passage. Maybe you’ve been fired, laid off, or moved to a less-desirable role? Maybe you’re just quitting for something new? Whether you’re going out the door with a chip on your shoulder, a vow of vengeance, a tear in your eye, or a sigh of relief, take a moment to reflect. There’s a lot to be learned. I’ve left several firms, and even under good conditions, the experience has been short on gracefulness but long on education. I’ve also had to say goodbye to a few who’ve worked for me. Trust me—breaking up is never easy.
1. Some of your critics are probably right.
There’s not a kernel of truth in every critique but the criticism that most enrages you may very likely be the truest. In my first job out of graduate school, I was told at my three-month review that I behaved too much like a cowboy. Guess what, I did. I’d spent years flying solo on my doctoral dissertation and international adventures. Following a firm’s rules was anathema to my MO. But learning when to do so is a critical skill. I only realized that extreme cowboy-ness was a potential Achilles heel when I got stung in my review. What would it hurt to step back and think about whether or not there’s any merit in some of your reviews or criticisms? Having an honest third party with whom you feel safe enough to be vulnerable provide a sounding board will help you get real. For me it was my best friend from law school. You may also learn how not to make the same mistake twice. And you’ll certainly be smarter in job interviews going forward.
2. No one ever handles a break-up gracefully.
Just like ending a romantic relationship always gets messy and unpleasant, so too does leaving a firm, even if it’s of your own volition. Manage your expectations about the awkwardness and cut yourself and your former colleagues a little slack. I worked alongside an esteemed senior lady with a sterling reputation who was so devastated at being laid off that she wrote a mass email laying out her betrayal. The sentiment was real but the audience wasn’t appropriate, particularly since she sent it to many of the firm’s clients. Given twenty-four hours to cool down, she probably would have changed her mind about the tone and forum, sending a to-the-point goodbye note to a select few. If she could make that mistake, anyone could.
3. How you exit can trump your worst review.
Even while cutting everyone some slack, recognize that you have a great opportunity to leave a good taste in everyone’s mouth—no matter if you quit or got fired. Try to handle yourself with professionalism and maturity. That doesn’t mean you can’t be excited about your new job or fight back and make your case, but getting defensive, myopic, or even (god forbid) petulant makes your exit seem like a good thing. One former employee was so defiant and insubordinate in the face of a difficult performance review that he threw tantrums like a toddler, which made for an unpleasant working environment for everyone and only buttressed the arguments for his dismissal. But when you do mess up, remember number two: No one ever handles a break-up gracefully, or at least not all the time.
4. Even great employees can have bad employment relationships.
Don’t let one bad play ruin the game. Everyone makes mistakes (including firms), and even the most intelligent, talented, and committed individuals can find themselves in a bad fit or bad economy. In fact, losing your job is today’s professional rite-of-passage. I’d be hard pressed to name a single colleague in their thirties who hasn’t lost a job. Maybe that’s because I work with a lot of people on Wall Street, where jobs ebb and flow, but losing your job can be a coming-of-age moment for your career. It doesn’t mean you’re not valuable to some firm, at some time. Indeed, I’d garner that it’s not personal, just business. Meaning …
5. Don’t let the experience define you.
Take your time to rage and weep (in private), then analyze and reflect (in private), and then let it go (both publicly and privately). This is hard advice. You may need some kickboxing to take out your betrayal or good girlfriends to pour you a pint glass of wine, but say your peace to a safe crowd and then release it. Holding on will only bring you grief. I know. When I had a pretty fitful exit, I held my fury like Gollum fondled his precious Ring. I constantly replayed all the conversations and twists of bad luck and imperfect behavior. It was like incessantly chugging Clorox. My stomach gurgled, my insides rotted, and I was of no use to anyone, least of all myself. I’m embarrassed to say how much longer it took me to let go than it should have. But when I did finally release my disappointment, months after I’d quit, I realized how much emotional energy and time I’d wasted . Particularly since none of it was as personal as I thought it was. And the sweetest revenge is always good living.
6. Get back on the horse.
The best therapy to a broken resume and the best antidote to a lost job is just putting one foot in front of the other. Hit the job market with your new found wisdom and degree from the school of hard knocks, and try, try, and try again. Maybe even try something different. One of my friends got laid off from a major bank and ended up starting a gourmet health food store; her happiness is infectious. One of my friends was fired from a second-tier law firm only to end up at the premier law firm; they saw something more in her. One of my friends quit modeling to start a family, only to find she was more in demand as a modeling mother. Life works in funny ways, and this is just another part of your story. So grab hold of that bucking bronco, roll back your head, and yell “Giddyup!” with all your might. You might even have a little fun on the ride!
Originally published on Damsels in Success