I ran into more corporate castoffs this weekend than usual. I recognized many from Hewlett-Packard, former colleagues from my years there. But Northern Colorado is teeming with corporate castoffs from Agilent, Kodak, LSI Logic and more.
“Castoffs” isn’t always accurate. Many people leave voluntarily. Nevertheless, the days of lifelong one-company employment are gone, and since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, big NoCo employers have been shedding talent.
When I encounter an ex-colleague, the conversation eventually turns to, “So what have you been doing since …”
And you know what? The answer is almost invariably positive, even energizing. New passions, hobbies, careers.
But first, losing a job means more than losing a paycheck. It can mean losing your identity and self-esteem. An overwhelming sense of aimlessness and disorientation blindsides you the first day you wake up with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
But I’ve noticed something about corporate castoffs who survive and thrive. My philosophy is more anecdotal than scientific, but I believe the following nevertheless: Those hit hardest by a layoff are in the best position to redefine themselves and achieve a kind of renaissance in their lives.
Why? Because somewhere underneath their yearslong singular identification with their vocation lies opportunity. The key is to reveal it.
Perhaps in their distant past, before all that purpose-driven education put them on a sanctioned career track, they had a passion. Maybe they loved numbers that add up, innovations that solve problems, art that evokes emotion, words that change minds, or causes that improve lives. But that passion got misplaced among years of meetings and buried under mountains of memos, dawn to dusk, from one fiscal year to the next.
I exited the career superhighway in 2000 and have cruised country roads ever since, part of a smaller, more close-knit company. I’m still going someplace but slower, and I enjoy the scenery more than before. Maybe that’s why I periodically hear from recently unemployed ex-workmates asking for advice, as if there’s a secret answer.
There isn’t, but I still recommend a few things. First, slow down. Have you got enough savings to sustain you for a few weeks or months? Good. Second, don’t instinctively chase after the same type of job you left behind. Think more broadly. Third, abandon the ego. Your happiest workday might be found on a lower rung of the socio-professional ladder. By a certain age, can’t we stop trying to impress people? Fourth, consider what you might enjoy doing, but not in terms of titles and pay grades and industries and employers. Think in terms of daily activities, challenges and satisfactions.
Above all, treat this as an opportunity. My sister once shared a quote I’ve treasured (edited here): “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.” — Johann Wolfgang Goethe
With sudden unemployment, one can’t help but focus on what was lost. Backward vision is 20/20, while the future is blurry, even scary. Goethe continues, “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Have faith that your pursuit of passion, and not just what you think the world expects of you, will pay off in ways yet to be revealed.