Wondering about your COVID-19 risk level and seeking precautionary steps?

Check Now
  • Rally
  • How to Avoid Self-Doubt After Getting Laid Off

How to Avoid Self-Doubt After Getting Laid Off

By Holly Epstein Ojalvo | July 17, 2020 | The New York Times

About a week before I was laid off for the first time, my manager assured me my job was safe.

The company was being restructured, but I was told that I was needed and my job wasn’t going anywhere. Then the call came.

“I know this isn’t what you expected,” my boss told me. True, I wanted to say, because you told me it wouldn’t happen.

Last month — just a few years later — I was laid off again, along with about 40 percent of the company. We joined the tens of millions of Americans whose jobs disappeared because of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in an unemployment rate of about 13.3 percent.

Are my layoffs a run of bad luck? An occupational hazard? A natural effect of economic or industry volatility? Or — as I think at my lowest moments — a pattern that reflects on me and my abilities?

If you, too, were laid off, you know how easy it is for your mind to cycle through these explanations. I’m a victim of misfortune! It comes with the territory! That’s life! It’s all my fault! But as you process your newfound joblessness, remember that the way you frame your layoff is powerful.

“Probably the most compelling thing you can do is own your own narrative,” said Melody Wilding, a social worker and workplace coach, and the author of the forthcoming book “Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking, Master Your Emotions, and Channel Your Ambition for Success.” Allow yourself to wallow and even grieve, Ms. Wilding said, but the next, critical step “is to create some sort of meaning.”

That’s especially true in the context of the coronavirus. Pain ordinarily associated with job loss can easily be amplified by not only loneliness and financial strain, Ms. Wilding said, but also “all the ambiguity and uncertainty.”

“The risk is to have your negative thoughts become reality,” she added. “You really have to be on your mental game.” That’s where the power of the narrative comes in: You can, and should, put your layoff into context.

Don't Let It Defeat You

Getting laid off can feel devastating — even personal. After all, just last week you had a to-do list as long as your arm, emails to answer and critical deadlines to hit. Suddenly, all of that pressing work somehow … stopped. You figure that your colleagues who kept their positions were considered essential, and you weren’t.

And if you already struggle with impostor syndrome — the feeling that you’re not truly as capable as you seem — a layoff feels like the ultimate confirmation of your insecurities: You’ve been discovered as the fraud you always feared you were.

But try to resist the impulse to kick yourself when you’re down. Self-criticism can be psychologically harmful and hamper the ability to move forward. Studies show laid-off workers are prone to experience a wide range of negative effects, including mental and physical health issues, lifestyle and social life impacts, and newly stressful family dynamics. In 2015, a study from the University of Manchester even found that people let go from jobs experienced a diminished ability to trust others for up to a full decade. Other research suggests that it can take longer to get over a job loss than the death of a loved one.

Rather than obsess over intrusive negative thoughts, remind yourself that it happened during a crushing global pandemic that is upending the entire economy. The virus didn’t single you out.

Watch Your Language

Even the way you talk about your termination can affect how people — friends and family, former colleagues, potential employers and even yourself — view your situation. Some people use “fired” and “laid off” interchangeably, but there’s a difference between being dismissed for cause and having your job eliminated: A firing suggests you were at fault, while a layoff typically responds to company strategy or conditions happening at levels above you or in the market.

Think of it this way: If you told me you were fired from an ice cream shop, I immediately picture you stealing cash from the register or pilfering a tub of mint chocolate chip. But if you say you were laid off, I imagine weak sales may have caused a staff reduction or that the location was closed. So if you’re using the term “layoff” accurately, it will be clear what happened.

Remember Your Value by Doing Something

Try to take meaningful action, like doing necessary paperwork, right-sizing your household budget and taking online courses to brush up your skills, to avoid plummeting into shame and stress spirals.

“Acting is the best antidote to self-doubt,” Ms. Wilding said. “It shifts your mental state.”

Though many relevant activities, like going to networking events or meeting contacts for coffee, remain off the table, you can still find ways to be productive, like offering your expertise to others, Ms. Wilding suggests, adding that it can help to document your accomplishments in a “brag file” you can revisit when you feel down.

Still, Latesha Byrd, a career and executive coach, cautions against spending too much time scrolling through listings and submitting spates of generic applications because it can sap energy that would be better spent on other tasks, like burnishing your personal brand, building a personal website, polishing your social media presence and reaching out to contacts.

Ms. Byrd coaches her clients to focus on three C’s: “clarity, confidence and control.” To start, she said, get clear about your skills, values and passions, and align them with what you desire in a position and an organization. Next, focus on your accomplishments and the value you bring to shed self-doubt. And make sure, she said, to manage the process and everything that’s within your power.

This framework, Ms. Byrd said, can enable you to shift into a growth mind-set.

“Society has taught us to value achievement over self-fulfillment and self-discovery,” she said. “But from change and discomfort comes growth.”

Stop the Self-Doubt Spiral

A layoff can be isolating, especially if you had been sheltering in place and working remotely. Remember that you’re far from alone, not only at the moment, but overall. Most people experience employment gaps at some point. One study found that some 40 percent of American workers have been terminated at least once, and that was before all of *gestures broadly* this. So reach out to your network and talk.

“In this moment, people don’t feel empowered to talk about looking for new work or about personal issues as opposed to collective issues,” said Laura Huang, an associate professor at Harvard Business School. “They’re almost ashamed to talk about what they’re personally going through.”

So instead, “think about your job search in terms of efficiency — look for a way to provide value, to solve problems,” she said. That can set you on what she calls a “positive-virtuous cycle” rather than a “negative-vicious spiral.”

In her book “Edge: Turning Adversity Into Advantage,” Dr. Huang lays out how to flip the script on questions you — and others — may have about your viability. The “edge” of the title is an acronym for “enrich, delight, guide and effort,” which, she said, applies nicely to coping with a layoff. Start, she said, by identifying your core qualities; based on those, find ways to surprise people with things like a witty cover letter or creative use of social media, and direct how people should view you. Hard work is important, she said, but without the other elements, it’s insufficient.

And when negative thoughts do arise, don’t just indulge them or push them away.

“Think of your emotions as data, as information,” Dr. Huang said. “Rather than blindly being led by them, interrogate them. Ask yourself why you feel shame or self-doubt. Learn from it. Use your emotions to your benefit.”

© 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY

Holly Epstein Ojalvo
The New York Times