Sometimes we decide to make changes on our own. They may not be easy, but there is a comfort in knowing that we are responsible for them. Good or bad, we have control of the outcome. Then there is that other kind of change. Those that are not our choice. We are not responsible for them, and no matter how you first look at them it is hard to find any kind of comfort there.
Today’s economy makes it a pretty even bet that someone you know, or perhaps even yourself, has lost their job during this recession. With millions of people still unemployed, the recovery is not coming soon enough for most people.
There is no doubt that losing your job is a huge blow to your reality. Not only is it on the top of the stress-factor list, right up there with moving and divorce, it can rob you of your own sense of identity if you aren’t careful. Many of us live for our work. We define ourselves by what we do. Take away that anchor and we are set adrift in a sea of confusion.
I know how difficult losing a job can be. I was with the same company for over twenty years. I held an executive position and naively thought I would be with them until retirement. Unfortunately, no one is immune to the economy, and two years ago I received a visit from the owner of the corporation thanking me for my service and informing me that the company was closing its doors. Within two months my work there was done and a huge void was staring me in the face.
Here is a secret about that time. Like so many people my age, I was comfortable with my job but I didn’t love it. It provided what I needed, but I never left the office fulfilled or anxious to get back the next day. I thought about changing careers from time to time but reality would set in and I would shelve the idea. Maybe later. After all, there is always time to experiment with new things during retirement.
So once the initial shock of actually being one of the people who lost their job (after all, it happens to other people, not me) wore off, I realized that I had choices to make. I could stay in the same industry and recreate the type of career that was comfortable but not fulfilling or I could take some time and create the kind of existence that would rock my world. I decided to take a leap outside of my comfort zone and create a new life.
There are two ways to look at a life change that has been forced upon us. One is to see it as a devastating blow. The other is to see it as an amazing opportunity. This is especially true for someone in midlife who has the resources available to allow for a lifestyle transition. For many people the question is not if they would like to make a change, but how do they make that change?
The first step is to face reality. Accept what has happened. Many times it seems like we can change the situation if we can just explain our side of the story. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. It’s not easy, but the quickest way to begin the growth process is to accept what is real. Sometimes that means recognizing what can and cannot be changed. It does not mean giving up or quitting. It is simply means letting go of old ideas or plans which are no longer feasible and directing energy into what is possible. In no way does acceptance equal defeat.
The next step is where the fun begins. Make a decision to live in the present, not the past. Start to plan a new future. Examine things that you love to do–things that make you happy. How can you incorporate those things into a new career? Is there a way to mingle your personal values with a job? When your job reflects what you feel is important in life, it is much easier to feel like you are making a difference–that your contribution matters. When you can do that you are well on your way to a much more fulfilling life.
Don’t try to face the changes on your own. Accept the help and support of family and friends. Aside from the financial and emotional side effects of job loss, being laid off can also be a huge blow to self-esteem. It’s hard not to feel like a failure, and the embarrassment can cause us to pull away from others. During the reinvention period it is more important than ever to connect with others and keep lines of communication open. Keeping feelings hidden can lead to depression self-destructive behavior, neither of which is helpful when recreating your world. Friends and family are there to help, not to judge. Just remember at some point you may be called on to return the favor.
Don’t stagnate. Once you have an idea of what you would like to do, make plans to get it done. What to try something new? Learn how to do it. Take classes or online seminars. Keep learning. Continually increasing cognitive ability is a key to resilience in the face of adversity. As you learn new skills, you can’t help but gain confidence in your own possibilities.
Another important aspect during a transitional period lies in giving back to others. Focusing solely on yourself and your situation shrinks your world and can make you feel like a victim. Take some time and find ways to reach out and help others. Maybe volunteering for a charity can open your world. Acts of service strengthen our own perception of self-worth. In finding ways to give back to others, we find ways to empower ourselves.
Finally, remember that creating a new life takes time. There will be bumps along the road. Expect false steps and failures. Those false steps will help you find the right path. Celebrate the failures because they show that you are taking action and moving in the right direction.
Creating a new life after any kind of major loss or change is never easy. But it can be exciting. And from experience, I can tell you that it is certainly worth the effort. Changing a career in midlife can be a terrifying thought. But if you have the opportunity, it can be one of the best things that will ever happen to you.
Have you ever thought about creating a new reality? What did you do to make it happen? I’d love to hear about it.