In the movies, breakups and firing scenes are always the most dramatic. Next to watching the main character throw a drink in someone’s face, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing her toss the contents of her desk in a cardboard box and storm out. Who needs that stupid job anyway!
In real life, though, things tend to be a little more complicated. Although some companies do hand out pink slips that become effective the same day, others give layoff notices  months in advance, forcing those affected to drag themselves into work every day and suffer the pitying looks of coworkers the whole time.
So how do you stay motivated to do a job that is no longer yours? Why not just play Solitaire  all day and fax photocopies of your rear end to all of your colleagues? If you’re looking to get another job, I recommend not doing that either; such behavior won’t get you very good references. Instead, keeping your spirits up and impressing your boss with your commitment to the task at hand can help you succeed, even after being fired.
Remember Why You Took the Job in the First Place
A layoff presents an opportunity to reflect on your career and evaluate whether you’ve achieved your goals. When you’re sitting at your desk wondering how much longer it will be before you can reasonably take another break, it can be tough to remember why you took the job in the first place. Did you want to provide a public service? Contribute to research? Make money for yourself and others? Have you accomplished what you set out to do?
Thinking positively can help you turn what most view as the worst possible scenario—being fired—into a reminder of your successes. Now that this particular chapter in your career is coming to an end, it’s a good time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far. Make a list of the ways you’ve grown in your current position, as well as how you’ll be leaving the company better than you found it. Doing so will make it much easier to go into work every day and finish up a job that you’ve done well, and that has done much for you.
Envision the Job You’d Like to Do Next
If you can’t think of any goals you’ve accomplished (or you can’t think of enough of them), your pink slip offers you the chance to reevaluate your career path. Again, this should be a period of reflection. Have you not achieved what you wanted because your priorities have changed since you started your job? Or because the job itself hasn’t provided you with any opportunities for growth?
If it’s the job, throw your energies into finding a new position that will satisfy you. Part of that is leaving behind a good impression in your current workplace so that you’ll get excellent recommendations. Interviewers will also appreciate your ability to put a positive spin on a bad situation. Explore what you want to do moving forward and consider new positions that will help you get there. Think of your layoff not as a statement of your failure, but rather as an observation that you would do better personally and professionally elsewhere.
If you don’t feel like you want the same things from your career that you did when you started, or that it’s not what you thought it would be, maybe now is the time for you to switch gears. Being an accountant didn’t work out? Maybe a new life as a massage therapist might be more fulfilling. Or how about finally getting that advanced degree you’ve been talking about for years? A lot of people have used their pink slip as permission to turn their passions into new professions. Do you love reading? What about going back to school for a master’s degree in English literature? Enjoy heading to the gym after work? What if the gym were your work?
As you show up every morning to a job that’s no longer really yours and that you may no longer enjoy, think about the kind of job you would like to have. When times get tough, the annoyances that have always been present come to the fore and are easier to see. After you’ve been laid off, the commute that was always too long, the pay that was never enough, and the positive reinforcement that was never there will really start to bug you. Think about alternatives as you move forward. Could you work from home? Find other incentives than money for the work you do? Start your own business and become your own boss?
Skip the Sob Stories
Speaking of the office environment, nosy colleagues are often the worst part of being laid off. There will likely be at least one seemingly well-intentioned person hovering over your desk constantly to offer his or her “sympathy” (read: gloat) over your lost job. He or she will ask questions like, “What are you going to do now?” and spew platitudes like, “Everything will work out … I think.”
Don’t put up with or encourage this kind of behavior. Any insecurity shown on your part will attract these busybodies like ants to honey. No matter how scared or angry you may feel, smack a smile on your face and exude positivity. You’ll avoid letting anyone make you feel worse, and you’ll impress your former boss, who will likely remark on your poise to future employers.
Make Plans for the Future
And there will be future employers, no matter how desperate things seem right now. With President Obama proposing $210 billion for new jobs, we’re beginning to see a way out of this recession. More importantly, getting the axe can offer a life-changing opportunity to evaluate your career to date, and make positive changes. Think of being laid off as a new beginning, rather than a bad ending That’s the key to staying motivated at this job and the next.