It was May 2006 when I got my first proper job. I started my career as a recruitment consultant in London, working for one of the top finance recruiters in the UK. Not only would I be working for an award-winning recruitment company, I would be covering financial services (very prestigious) with uncapped earning potential. Ordinarily, none of this would have motivated me. But with many of my school friends working as investment bankers and lawyers, I felt a sense of pressure to be earning as much money as they were. And based purely on what others would think, I said goodbye to my original plan of starting my career in psychology.
So, with my ego in tow, I took a job I knew deep down I wasn’t suited to. I had justified my choice with the belief I was helping people. But ultimately it was a sales job. Revenue was more important than helping people achieve their career goals. And it was hardcore sales. 100 cold calls a week type sales. The type of sales that could not be further away from who I am as a person. Needless to say, compared to my colleagues, I was a pretty dreadful consultant. I was good at the candidate/client relationships. But when it came to closing a deal… oh dear Lord. It was embarrassing. We’re talking stuttering. Stammering. Shaking. In some cases, even sheer panic. The pressure of closing a deal, knowing I was useless at it, was almost too much to bear. (You would have thought my distinct hate of hardcore sales would have been a clear indicator that recruitment was never going to be a great choice for me. But hey. Go figure.)
In 2008 I got an opportunity to work for a recruitment agency in Dubai – recruiting front office roles into investment banks, asset managers and private equity firms. I thought that maybe trying the job in a new location would somehow make it better. The weird thing is – it did. At least temporarily. The recruitment market wasn’t as developed as it was in London. And the best practices I had learnt in my previous job made me stand out from the crowd. I was out on more client visits than anybody else in the company. I was making more calls and picking up jobs seemingly effortlessly. I made my first placement within 3 months. And the fee was three times as big as what the other recruiters were billing. Having been a mediocre recruiter in London – in Dubai, I was considered one of the best. I thought I had finally landed. I felt like a star. And I thought I was untouchable.
Then, in September 2008, after only 4 months in the job, Dubai fell victim to the financial crisis. In March 2009, having not made a single deal since September, I was made redundant.
Words cannot describe the emotional roller-coaster that ensued the following 9 months. I went from shock to denial. Denial to shame. Shame to fear. Fear to depression. Depression to anger. Bouncing back and forth between emotions – all with an underlying sense of uncertainty and lack of control.
If you had asked me at the time would I ever be grateful for being made redundant, I probably would have punched you in the face. Or at least given you the finger. But now, I can safely say that losing my job was the best thing to have happened to me. And it’s only because I managed to change the meaning I gave to the event, that I was able to feel differently about it.
Let me explain it this way. Three people are made redundant. One experiences a huge sense of loss. Another experiences a sense of injustice. And the other experiences the end of the world. The event is the same e.g. being made redundant. But based on the meaning they have given the event they all have completely different experiences. If you give ‘redundancy’ the meaning of ‘end of the world’ – you will absolutely experience the fear associated with ‘end of the world’. If you give it the meaning of ‘injustice’, you will of course experience the anger of injustice. If you give it the meaning of ‘loss’, you will undoubtedly experience some level of depression. But know this. It’s not the event which is causing you the pain. It’s the meaning you are giving to it.
If you have lost your job, or you’re scared about losing your job – until you change the meaning you give to ‘job loss’, you will never feel differently about it. The issue is while you continue to perceive it as something negative – you will only experience negative thoughts and emotions. And this will render you disempowered. You won’t find the motivation to do anything to change your circumstance. The fear of ‘job loss’ will keep you paralysed. Or the negative emotion will negatively impact the decisions you make in your career moving forward.
Now I’m not saying I want you to get excited about losing your job. I think that would be a bit of a stretch. But if you can start to perceive your job loss as an opportunity rather than a disaster – you might start to feel differently about it. Positive emotions such as hope and motivation might start to creep back in. Empowering you to make some decisions. Good decisions. Giving you the required inspiration to take action. Because until you take action, your circumstances will never change. As I always say – if you want something in your life to change, it’s up to you to change it.
So with the intention of helping you to let go of some of the negative emotions around redundancy, I’m sharing my story. What I experienced and the lessons I learnt after being made redundant. Some of which dramatically changed my life – for the better. The lessons I learnt that allowed me to start to see my job loss as an opportunity. And not as, well, a loss. So, that now I can look back on it with gratitude – and not regret.
Here are 12 reasons why losing my job was one of the best things that ever happened to me:
1) I became conscious of my ego
One of the hardest emotions to manage was shame. When I was made redundant, it felt like I had fallen from grace. I was so consumed by what others were thinking and saying about me behind my back I hid away. I didn’t leave the house. I avoided friends and family in case they brought it up. In this process I learnt I had an ego. An ego I wasn’t necessarily 100% conscious of before.
It led me to challenge myself. Is it possible that it was my ego that had led me to where I was now? I chose a job that looked good to others. A job that I hated. A job that I only enjoyed when it inflated my ego. Making the fall from grace that much harder. And look how that turned out!
Lesson learnt: Don’t let your ego drive your decision-making process and don’t seek outcomes that will make you look good to others. Have some self-respect and believe in yourself. Listen to what makes you happy and make decisions that don’t look good on the outside, but feel good on the inside.
Having gone from a mediocre recruiter to one of the best in the company – I became arrogant. Cocky. I didn’t openly brag about my achievements, but I definitely felt a sense of self-importance. Superiority. Of course, as it is with arrogance in any context, this was born out of insecurity. Believing that without my new identity as an excellent recruiter, I was nobody. I had nothing to offer. Why else would anybody like or respect me?
I began to challenge my arrogance. Was I really superior? Were others really inferior? Or were we all simply of equal value – with our own unique qualities and skills?
Lesson learnt: I am no better, nor worse, than anybody else. We are all of equal value. And it was high time I started to appreciate people for who they were – not wishing they were someone they weren’t. I also learnt I was enough. People would still love and respect me without being a great recruiter – as long as I loved and respected myself first. And if they didn’t. Well, they could take that judgment and shove it somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine.
OK, I had lost my job. But my quality of life was still far better than many experience in this world. I had paid the rent up front for six months before I was made redundant so I had a roof over my head. I had savings so I wasn’t going to starve. I still had hot water. Electricity. Clothes. I still lived in a developed country. I had friends and family that loved me and would never let me starve or sleep on the streets. I still had access to food and water – plus other necessities we all take for granted.
Lesson learnt: Focus on what you have – not what you don’t have. We have so much to be grateful for. We just have to remember to look for it.
4) I’m a human being
Part of the problem was that I spent most of my time trying to resist my emotions. Because being emotional is a sign of weakness right? Wrong. Our emotions are there for a reason. They are there to serve us. To protect us. To teach us about ourselves. What we’re holding onto and what we need to let go of.
They also act as messages. Messages as to what we are focusing on. Are we focusing on everything we have lost, or what we have gained? Are we focusing on what we don’t want to happen in the future or what we do want to happen?
Processing our emotions is a three stage process. First we have to allow ourselves to feel them. Then we evaluate – what does it mean? What do I need to learn about myself in order for me to let go of this emotion? Do I need to learn to believe in myself more? To let go of what other people think? To focus more on the things I do have in my life and not the things I don’t? To focus on what is important to me and not others?
Then it’s a case of acceptance. We can’t change the past. It’s already happened. All we can do is learn what we can from the experience and move on. Applying those lessons to future scenarios as they arise.
Lesson learnt: Some emotions are painful. Facing them isn’t weakness. Only a strong person can experience pain, knowing they will come through the other side a better person. You’re a human being not a robot. The sooner you face your emotions, the quicker you can process them. Allowing you to move into a more empowered state so you can take action to change your situation.
5) Financial responsibility
I’m not going to lie. I was luckier than many. I had savings. This did soften the blow to some extent. Don’t get me wrong. I will still sh*t scared. I thought I was never going to find a job ever again. That the financial cushion I had would eventually run out and I would be destitute and living on the street. However, when some of the fear subsided, I was able to look at my situation realistically. For the next 9 months I was OK. And until those savings ran out – I would continue to believe I would be OK. Because the other option of believing I was going to starve to death (yes it got that extreme) was going to keep me paralysed. And then nothing would ever change.
Lesson learnt: financial planning is important. You never know what is around the corner. Sh*t happens that you have no control over. Get prepared. Save. Because you’ll never know when you need it.
6) I was given the gift of time
When does anyone ever get to have a 9 month break in their career? Most people start work after school or university and work solidly until they retire. The time I now had was a blessing in disguise.
The major thing that came out of this for me was that I actually had time to think about what I wanted out of life. What I wanted from my career. What was important to me. What wasn’t. I found myself again. Acknowledging that helping people was my core value. That’s what drove me. Not working in a prestigious company. With a fancy job title and a good salary.
And so I started my journey to where I am today. Working as a coach – doing something I’m good at and I enjoy. And weirdly, in doing something I love – I’m have found myself earning more money than I ever did as a recruiter. 5 times more.
I also used this time to focus on my health. I began to exercise regularly, and eat healthily. While I certainly felt good physically – I also felt good mentally. Exercising helped me to feel better about myself and more positive about life. And that spilled over into other areas of my life.
Lesson learnt: Time is a gift. Use it. Spend it getting to know yourself again. Connect with friends and family. Focus on your health. Hold on tight to your self-respect and do things that make you feel good. Because it’s when we’re feeling good about ourselves – we find a sense of motivation and inspiration and start to take action.
7) Everything is always only ever temporary
As I said, part of my pain was believing I was never ever going to find another job. That I would always be unemployed. And I would eventually end up living on the streets. Did this actually end up happening? No. I did find another job eventually. I will admit it was back in recruitment so not my dream job, but when your savings start to run out – you move into survival mode. Getting a job – any job – must become the priority. And once you have a job, and have your bills covered, you can start to reassess what you want out of life and what changes you need to make. And in my case, that’s when I created my plan for becoming a coach.
Lesson learnt: Be realistic. Are you really going to be jobless forever? Are you really going to end up starving and living on the streets? Would the people in your life allow that to happen? Are you really in survival mode or do you just think you are? Get a firm grip on the reality of your situation and make a plan from there.
If you are in survival mode: it is imperative you ask for help. This might mean putting your ego to one side. Take a job. Any job. Ask people you know if they have any odd jobs they need doing that they can pay you for. Ask them if they know anyone who might need some help either at work or at home. Because if you don’t you will continue to feel the pressure of financial insecurity and be rendered useless to do anything about it. Get the financial pressure off as soon as possible so you then have the freedom to reevaluate your life and what decisions you want to make moving forward.
8) Self-belief / Resilience
Over 10,000 people committed suicide in North America and Europe as a result of the financial crisis. (A horrifically tragic statistic which I believe could have been avoided if lessons in self-belief, confidence and emotional management were introduced into mainstream education, but that’s a whole other article.)
Lesson learnt: Although I lost my job, I am still here. Still breathing. Meaning on some level I had way more self-belief and resilience than I had originally thought. And that perhaps, no matter what your circumstances – all you need is a little self-belief and resilience, and you can get through anything.
Suddenly having no income forces you to learn how to budget and be resourceful. You have to look at your expenses and where you can save money. You look at what you have and decide what you really need. Strangely in this process, I also figured out what was important to me and what wasn’t. Putting money towards having healthy food was more important than buying Dior mascara. And even to this day I no longer buy Dior mascara. A budget brand is good enough. My health is more important than the length of my eyelashes!
Lesson learnt: I am more resourceful than I thought. Also, material stuff doesn’t make me happy. Labels aren’t important to me. I knew this already but this experience affirmed it for me. Having money to spend on loved ones, and to share experiences with them, is important to me. And now that’s where I focus my time and energy.
10) You are just a number working for someone else
That’s the reality. Going into any company thinking otherwise is risky. If the **** hits the fan and the company has to reduce costs – that is their priority. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been there. What you’ve done for them. If they need to get rid of you they will.
Now some people are OK with this. I realised I wasn’t. I wanted to be in control of my career. I wanted my destiny to be in my hands, not someone else’s. And so I knew that working for myself was my only option.
Lesson learnt: Working for someone else means you are just number. I’m not saying don’t ever work for anybody else. All I’m saying is keep that in mind. Don’t go in with idealistic illusions that your employer will love you and take care of you for life. That’s not the reality. Make sure you have a plan B in place that will help you should you ever find yourself unemployed. Having a good network is a good place to start.
11) Reaching out is key
It just so happened that one week after I was made redundant, so was my boyfriend at the time. In fact, so were many of our friends. And weirdly, we all bonded over the experience. And in bonding we went to great lengths to help each other. And anyone else in the same situation.
My ex-boyfriend reached out to friends and ex-colleagues for a beer. He came home with a brand new business idea and a group of people to help him run it. That company is still operational today and thriving.
Lesson learnt: Having a solid network cannot only help you feel supported but can also open up doors you never knew existed. Get over your ego and ask for help if you need it. If you don’t you might end up in a worse situation than you’re already in. Also spend time expanding and nurturing your network. You never know what will come of it.
12) Listen to what the world is trying to tell you
All the signs were there. Recruitment was not the right career choice for me. But did I listen? No. So, God, the universe, the planets… whatever you want to believe… decided to give me a sign that I couldn’t really ignore. Frankly, it was the kick-up the butt I needed.
Lesson learnt: Look and listen for the signals already present in your life. What are they trying to tell you? Are you living a life true to you and your values? Or are you living a life that you hope will please others? You only have one chance at life. Make sure you live it the way you want to.
Remember – until you change your perception of losing your job – you won’t feel any differently about it. Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Process them. Accept what has happened and let it go. Set yourself a cut off date if you need to. Whatever works for you. Because if you continue to stay in a negative place – you won’t take action. And if you don’t take action, nothing will ever change. Take control. Put yourself in the driving seat. Seize the opportunity and create your own destiny. If I can do it – you can do it to.