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Institutional Distancing (You’re Fired!) Holy Crap! Now what?

April 11, 2020

TL/DR: You’re gonna be ok. There is life after (Insert company here).

Furlough, transition, lay-off, sabbatical, downsizing, rightsizing, freeing up your future, parting ways, R.I.F.-reduction in force, career transition, end of contract, non-renewal of extension, involuntary separation, being let-go, and institutional distancing (I made that one up…) are all ways to say “I’m sorry, you don’t work here anymore.”

No matter how it’s presented to a person, it is scary as hell to hear. It’s so scary that some people will even quit their job just to avoid hearing it. They call it a ‘preemptive strike’. “I’m going out on my terms”, they say. Fear isn’t the only emotion people feel either. Betrayal, anger, surprise, resentment, insecurity, and embarrassment may show up at any time. It’s perfectly natural to feel any of those emotions. The longer you were there, the more likely you will feel a wide range of those emotions. 

Last year, I quit a job that I passionately loved for almost 20 years. It was pretty much the scariest thing I have ever done. I did it because I had a couple epiphanies. Those epiphanies made me realize it was time for a change. As I left the corporate environment and headed out on my own, I learned a few things; probably better to say I was reminded of a few things. I wanted to take some of those reminders and couple them with my past experience to share with my friends who might be going through a trying time. I’ll share them with you now. Please feel free to pass them along to anyone that needs to hear it. 

My hope is that if you are faced with a job loss or are thinking of making a transition, this might provide some comfort and the start of a plan that helps you feel empowered and confident. 

  1. Write down everything you have accomplished: Take a few minutes to outline as many projects, accomplishments, trainings, achievements, and accolades you received at your last job. Don’t leave anything out. Sort them by the roles you held, the functions they served (sales, project management, tech implementation, etc.) and the years you were there. Too often, when someone asks us what we did in our last role, we struggle to put it into words or worse yet, we can only recall the last year or our most recent work. Sometimes the best or most pivotal moments were earlier in our career. Organizing this list will serve as a way to prioritize what should go on your resume’, it will give you examples of things to share with prospective employers, it will remind you of work you loved, and it will remind you what badass work you did across the entire span of time you were at your last job. 
  2. Organize your new list into two new categories: Things that you can do and things that you love to do. Take the items on your list and turn them into things that you could offer to a future employer. For instance- that time your company outlined its sales process and created SOP’s can be touted as your ability to work as part of a project team, add value as a subject matter expert, or contribute to critical thinking during change management projects. Then review the things you love to do. This will give you a clear picture of where to find your next role. You will look for companies that will let you do what you love. It will become your Ideal Employer Profile. 
  3. Upgrade your social media: Take your list and update your LinkedIn profile. You can add projects, training certificates, various experience, recommendations, and things you’ve written. Don’t worry about being too wordy…LinkedIn does a pretty good job of showing your stuff well. Once that’s done, you can export your profile and it’s darn near a complete resume.  After you get all your awesomeness in there, move on to other profiles- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, and Remember, future employers will likely be taking a peek. Here is my profile if you’d like to take a look:  Note that I have customized all of my links to end in MarkWinterSales. This helps with continuity, it’s a wee bit of branding, and it has also helped my rankings for google searches. Typing in my name and city pops my profiles right to the top. Skip this step if you are in witness protection or if you left a dead fish in your office after they fired you. Once you’ve upgraded all your social networks, use them. Make it a point to reach out to contacts on each network every day. 
  4. Remind yourself that it’s not personal: Decisions on who to cut are rarely personal. I’d like to tell you that there is some fair, logical rationale as to who gets cut. Most times there is not, especially when it’s a big group. In fact, it’s quite possible the boss that let you go doesn’t even know why you were selected and was too afraid to ask any questions for fear of putting themselves in harm’s way.  In some cases, organizations will use this time to cut underperformers- if you were already on the bubble and got cut, then be thankful you didn’t have to ride out months of discomfort and action plans. Other times companies use simple math- ‘our performance is down by 50%, therefore we need a 50% headcount reduction’. In this case, they usually pick three groups: 1) non-customer facing support staff. 2) last hired, first out. 3) expensive headcount. this last one is a bit hard to swallow, but I see the logic. If you have an employee that is at the top end of the pay scale and it makes sense to lay off that role, then when you rehire later, they essentially buy back that role at a discount with a new employee. All of these stink, but it’s not personal, don’t carry resentment about how the decision was made or who delivered the news, especially during these recent times. 
  5. You are not defined by your job: What you do or what you did does not define who you are. The more responsibility you had in your organization, the more likely it is that you feel fulfilled or defined by your past role. As you will quickly realize, you are now the Director of Nothing. Your phone will not ring today, you will not get 200 emails, you will not have to lead a conference call, and you don’t have to deliver the TPS report. You are just like everyone else. Now, that may feel harsh but the quicker you get your head around that, the better. Your importance has not diminished in the eyes of anyone that matters though. Your family, your friends, and your work pals all see you as the exact same person. They all love and respect you just as much today as they did when you were wearing a suit every day, talking too loud on your cell phone, and offering to ‘touch base later’ or ‘having your people connect with their people’ or the other stuff that seemed important enough for you to answer that call after they already shut the aircraft door, you jackass. (ok, I’ve gotten that off my chest and I forgive you now.) 
  6. Your former employer owes you nothing. Period: They never did. Provided they gave you your final paycheck, you are even. Sometimes we get very lucky to be able to do a job we love, to work with people we love, or to have experiences we love. When that happens, we associate those positive feelings with the company that we do all that for. Here’s the thing…you can’t have a personal relationship with a company, it can not and will not love you back. And, when you factor in that many of us found ourselves in those companies by sheer luck it makes it even more silly that we think we were in a reciprocal relationship. The only contract you have with a company is that you will work and they will pay you. Sure, maybe you got compliments, got accolades, got promoted, got put on the fast track…all of that was a plus. It was a bonus for hard work, but there was nothing implied about you being untouchable. Business doesn’t work that way. If you feel that way, then it was your misunderstanding. Feeling like a jilted lover  or seeking to get retribution is a waste of energy and will rarely ever end up doing anything productive. You’re going to have to get over it. Here’s the good news…all of the positive emotion you felt was actually driven by a couple things: 1) the self-fulfillment you got from a job well done. 2) the recognition and camaraderie you felt from people whom you respected and who you sought to be respected by. Great news! You can still have both of those things. Make peace with the idea that you loved the work and the people. Commit to sharing what you loved somewhere else and don’t look back. 
  7. Use this time to tip the scales: We all talk about work/life balance, but people rarely get there. Our greatest priorities are generally family. However, most people admit they spend the majority of time at work. Use this time to invest in your priorities. Fix things around the house that you’ve been putting off, go for a walk or bike ride with the family, clean or organize things, pull out and organize the million pictures and videos you’ve taken, or set up that game/movie night you’ve been putting off. All of these things will enrich the life balance side of things and by the time you go back to work they will have become habits you’ve gotten used to and likely not want to change. 
  8. Be in the moment. This moment. Right now.: This past January we took a vacation and it was one of the best ever. The amazing time I had didn’t have anything to do with the location or theme parks or the amount we spent or where we ate…It was amazing because it was the first vacation where I fully attended in almost 20 years. I was physically and mentally present the entire time. I wasn’t worried about deadlines, I didn’t feel like there was a call I was missing, I didn’t have to check in, I didn’t have to get the laptop out every night, I didn’t have to find a quiet place to take a call while everyone else was on the rollercoaster, in fact, there were times where my phone stayed in the hotel room all day. I was in the moment. It was amazing. I hope you get to experience this one. Since then I have tried to be in the moment. I don’t multi-task while on conference calls. I make phone calls and make sure it’s just the two of us, no distraction. My head is generally clear, my mind is focused, and I feel more productive as a result. I encourage you to enjoy this moment. 
  9. Take care of yourself: Your next big adventure is right around the corner. It is out there. When it appears you’ll want to be ready for it. Sure, you’ve gotta eat right, drink in moderation, exercise regularly, and you’ve gotta shower fairly often, that all goes without saying. You also have to get up to speed on your craft. The way your last company did it may not be the way the rest of the world does it. If you are going to make yourself desirable in the workforce, you have to come to the table ready to show your stuff in a way that’s going to make a sudden and immediate impact to the company. Companies coming out of this slump will not have an appetite for a slow return to market. You will not have much time to acclimate or learn new ways of doing the things that your last company was slow to adopt. Use this time to get up to speed now. In fact, see if you can get ahead of things. Read trade publications, listen to podcasts, do online research, take a training class, watch a YouTube video, and if you can afford it- upgrade the tools of your craft like your computer, software, certifications, etc. Use this time to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and professionally. Get ready to jump on the next bus while it is in motion. 
  10. This one is yoursYou get to decide what goes in number 10. My number 10 was to start a company that allowed me to do what I love with people I enjoy working around. I’d assume yours will be different and I wanted to be sure you had room to add it to the list. 

Ok, that’s the list. What we have here is the start to a pretty good plan. A good plan will help create confidence and will help you craft a message of what actions you’ll be taking to find the next  great job. Share it with those in your family and network. When those folks realize you have it under control they will feel better too, and they may be able to better understand where they can jump in and help. 

In the meantime, if you were impacted by recent downsizing, don’t panic. Hang in there. I promise there is a fulfilling career on the other side of that cloud of doubt and worry. Once you make that cloud disappear, you’ll find your next adventure. Reach out to me if you need to vent or need a friend to bounce ideas around. 

If you are thinking of making a jump and are scared to do it, then I’d say take a step back. This is not a time to make panic jumps. You owe it to yourself to make a well calculated move. Here is a litmus test…can you talk to your boss about the move you’re thinking of making? If not, then you may not be doing it for the right reasons. Now, I suppose you could have a crappy boss and in that case, talk to a spouse, a friend, or someone who will give you an unbiased opinion. Do not jump out of fear. Jump because you are reaching for new heights. 

For those who haven’t experienced institutional distancing there’s nothing on this list that can’t be done now. Reading through the list and practicing what you can will not only make you better prepared in the event something happens, it will likely make you a better employee right now. 

Going through these things will take some time. It won’t happen overnight. Some of them you will have to work at. Here’s a promise….if you work this list you will start to feel better, you will feel more confident, you will feel energized, you will have a more positive approach, and you will be ready to tackle your next big adventure when it shows up. 

Also, please shoot me a note and let me know what your number 10 is. I’d love to hear about it. 

If you’d like to connect with me, you can find me in all the usual places like my LinkedIn profile, FacebookTwitter, and my website: WinSource Group.

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