The Single Biggest Mistake Most People Make After Losing Their Job

In 2006 I was working in marketing for a business-to-business publishing company. It was my first job in London, having arrived from my native New Zealand just 12 months earlier.  Whilst it was hardly my dream job, it was a job I did really love. The people were cool, the hours were good and management endorsed team visits to the pub at lunchtime on Friday.

I was also doing a great job.  From all the feedback I had from clients and my colleagues, my performance was well above average. So you can imagine the shock when I got called into a meeting room one sunny July morning and told they were letting me go.

This was the first time I was fired and the first time I made the single biggest mistake that most people make after losing their job.

Fast forward seven years and I was fired for the second time and almost made the same mistake again. In fact, I tried incredibly hard to make the same mistake again but failed miserably.

The single biggest mistake that the majority of people make after losing their job is walking straight back into another job.

In 2006 this is exactly what I did. The job market was incredibly strong in 2006. You could leave a job on Monday and realistically have a job within a week. Everyone was hiring. And so it was, I left my job on a Friday afternoon and within 3 weeks I had a new job.

Phew, I thought. Crisis averted. I’m in a new job and everything is great again. Only it wasn’t. I had been fired. And I hadn’t taken the time to process what that really meant for my confidence, my self-esteem or the course of my career. I panicked, as so many of us understandably do, and went about quickly rebuilding my life by finding a new job straight away, thinking this was the answer.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the answer. Being fired is a tough emotional experience. Its may not be on the scale of losing a loved one or a relationship ending, but it is an experience you need to take the time to process.  The worst thing you can do is wake up the next day and throw yourself straight into finding a new job.

Now, I know some of you reading this will roll your eyes and say ‘how am I going to pay the rent if I don’t have job?’ And that is a valid question. However, it still doesn’t change the fact that you need to take some time after being fired to process the experience. Being fired, even when it doesn’t come as a shock, ultimately still is a shock when you wake up the next day and realise you no longer have a job.

Whilst paying the rent and earning money to live are very real rational challenges that you face after being fired, you have more chance of success if you take the time to process what has happened.

Take a few weeks off. If you can afford it, take a vacation. If you cant, stay at home, but focus on being kind to yourself. Go for long walks. Read inspiring books. Have luxurious afternoon naps. Pick your children up from school. Go to a café at 10.30am and read magazines. Just focus on you.

And then start the ‘healing’ process. Reflect on what happened in your former job. Ask yourself these questions:

What can I learn from this experience of being fired?

Where do I want to go now?

What opportunities are out there that I’ve never considered?

What did I want to be before I became the person I am today?

What would need to happen in my life to allow me to take some time out?

Is there a passion I have always wanted to explore but never did?

If I could re-create my life, what would it look like?

Can I create this life?

By asking yourself these questions, you open up the possibility of a new life and new opportunities that you close off if you jump straight into job hunting. The new job might put a plaster over things for the time bearing, but it doesn’t allow you the time you need to fully heal and approach life with a new energy.

I know this because I’ve done both.  The first time I was fired I jumped straight into a new job. 3 months later I quit that new job, miserable and disheartened. I let my fear of not being able to pay the rent force me into a job that I wasn’t passionate about. And it made the situation even worse. If my confidence was low after being fired, it was rock-bottom after taking a job I was mildly interested in and being forced to quit within my probationary period.

The second time around you would have thought I’d learnt my lesson but I hadn’t. The only difference this time was that I couldn’t find a job. No one would hire me. So I was forced into a period of self-discovery and reassessing my life. The result? When my dream job finally came along, I not only grabbed it with both hands, I hit the ground running and impressed the shit out of my new employer. I had taken the time to rebuild my confidence and I knew exactly what I was looking for in my new role. And when I found it, everything fell into place.

Do not make the mistake of rushing into a new job. The best thing you can do for yourself after being fired is take the time to process, evaluate what you want out of life and rebuild your confidence. If you do this, instead of spending hours trawling the job boards, you dramatically increase your chances of success as the next chapter of your life unfolds.

NOTE:  I am incredibly aware that for some people, pausing and reconsidering your path in life may not be an option. There are mouths to feed and bills to pay. But do take the time to consider just how quickly you need to go back into work. You may actually need a lot less money than you think. This reflection time is temporary but its positive impact will last forever.

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