How to recover when your work stability slips out from beneath you

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shockI just got a message last night from a friend who has been employed in a job that he really dislikes for at least the last 10 years.  He has been busily working on an entrepreneurial project on the side, and has been trying to figure out how to make the transition to full-time entrepreneurship in a way that won’t cause financial hardship to his family.

Yesterday, he unexpectedly lost his job.

I can feel sensation that must have gone through his body upon receiving the news.  As much as he had been dreaming about starting a new venture, he was not “there yet” in terms of feeling totally prepared.

So how do you recover from something like this without dissolving into a bundle of nerves?

  1. Allow yourself to freak out.  You don’t have to do it in front of friends, family or co-workers (in fact, I would not advise that!), but you DO need to let out the huge amount of fear and sadness that you feel.  You may want to drive to a remote spot and sob and scream in your car.  Or take a hike in a secluded area and cry your guts out to a sympathetic tree or rock.  Or, if you live alone or can send the family away for a day or two, stock up on comfort food and sit curled in a fetal position on your couch watching sad movies or bad television.  Whatever it takes to let the heat of the emotions out of your body.
  2. Think short term.  One of the most common things that happens when you lose your financial stability is to fill your mind with all the horrible things that will happen in the future as the result of your lack of funds.  Like your kids will not be able to go to college.  And you will have to move out of your comfortable neighborhood and into a shack down by the railroad tracks.    These thoughts will do nothing but torment you.  Focus on what you need to get done in the very short term – as in the next four days.
  3. Cut back all non-essentials immediately.  Except for a treat or two. Now is the time to squeeze out all of the excess from your budget, since you will need funds to float to the next stage of secure cash flow.  But don’t get so extreme that you go from 2 lattes a day to water only.  You may rebel against such austerity and feel deprived.  Treat yourself to something special every once in awhile to keep your spirits up and momentum going.
  4. Surround yourself with supportive, pragmatic and accessible friends.  You need people around you who will help you face your fears and keep moving in a positive direction.  Be very discriminating about who you share your anxiety with, as you are in a fragile state and don’t need anyone around who will add fuel to your fears.  We all have a “Negative Nelly” friend or two in our circle who will remind you of how dour the job market is, of the friend they had who didn’t find work for 3 years, or of her shock that you didn’t have 6 years of income saved up in case something like this happened.  Steer clear of these folks and call the ones who will hold your hand and walk you through your transition step by step.
  5. Write down what you want to happen in the affirmative. Say things like “I will find good work to pay my bills.”  “I will meet people that will open new doors for my emerging business.”  “I will stay positive and healthy and not let my fears control me.”  “I will end up in a better place than I am in now as a result of all the good work I do to get through this challenge.”  Regardless of how you feel about the hoopla surrounding The Secret and The Law of Attraction these days, it never hurts to think positively.  In my own experience with a recent scare in my husband’s construction business when he lost a contract, I am convinced that our positive thinking got us back on track much more quickly than if we would have stewed in panic.  (As a matter of fact, since it happened last year, our # of employees and business has doubled – go figure!)
  6. Define your short-term financial needs very concretely. Get very clear how much you need to bring in per week or month.  Then ask yourself “How can I generate this income?”  You may find that you can do a short-term contract, sell valuable knick-knacks on eBay, tap into a non-essential savings account or collect on a long-owed debt by a family member or friend.
  7. When you are done mourning your loss, look on the bright side! In my friend’s case, he has known for a long time that he hated his job and wanted to do something different.  Life has a funny way of giving you what you ask for, even if it doesn’t come at the time you think you want it.  He might have stayed at a life-sucking job for 5 more years, holding back on moving full-force into his business idea.  Your success will depend 100% on the way in which you interpret your twist of fate.  Look at it is a good thing, and it most likely will be.  That’s how I now see the pain I suffered when a boyfriend dumped me.  If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met my fabulous husband!  So all coins have two sides.

As scary as it can be, losing financial footing can help you take a great leap in the direction you have been meaning to go, but were too busy to begin.

If you lived through a similar scare, please share how you got through it!

18 Responses to “How to recover when your work stability slips out from beneath you”

  1. Rica says:

    Hi Pam, I’ve really been enriched and inspired a lot by your blogs. Thank God I saw your interview at Fear.Less. The path you are now pursuing has served as a wonderful conduit for me to build my launchpad and find my niche.

    Just this evening I had this strong tug in my heart moving me to lay the foundation for my dream business, which would definitely incorporate writing/teaching. Your article here is similar to what I had just experienced.

    After years of pursuing a career in HR (4 years as a Headhunter), I decided to take a breather by taking on a full time ministry role in our church as an Administrator. This has refuelled my passion for speaking/writing, but I really felt that the Administrator had placed so many limitations around it to the extent that I felt staying would not be what’s best for me (doing something I’m not passionate about + overwork + the pay cut I had to take). Now I am without a job because the new corporate role I was supposed to take on is now non-existent because a lung problem was detected through my pre-employment med exam. I know God has His way of redirecting our paths so we will be led to what is best for us. Perhaps, the path this is leading me to is one that would allow me to go after what would really make my heart sing and help a lot of people along the way. I know that these weeks of rest that I need to take will be fruitful with more revelations and discoveries. A northern niche shall be created. Thanks so much! You are a great inspiration. I hope you can visit us here, in Manila 🙂

  2. Tanya Jefferson says:

    My name is Tanya after 17 years on my job I was fired due to surgery. I liked my job and my co-workers we did’t always get along but most of the time we did.I am having a hard time dealing with this I didn’t see it coming nor did I expect it.Finances are very low and I had a daudhter with special needs I don’t want to take my stress out on her so I just stay alone most of the time.When will this pass and how do I get back out their and start all over?

  3. Colin says:

    I forced myself into a similar situation as your friend. I left my job to pursue entrepreneurship. I wasn’t laid off and I left on good terms. Financially it has been extremely stressful and I tried cutting out all treats except those I could make myself at home – like buying good ingredients to make dinner. Aside from that I added going to a coffeeshop every other day for a couple of hours for a cup of coffee (< $2) to either read or work on my laptop. Your friend will get through it, and so will I. Don't panic!

  4. MC says:

    Unlike many of you, I haven’t been laid off. I haven’t quit my job. I report to Cubicle Nation everyday and put in about 45 minutes of work a day even though my timesheet says 9 am to 3 pm. This morning for example, it’s 10:02 a.m. and I’ve accomplished downing 2 cups of coffee. Ok, I did respond to 1 email.

    I’ve been doing this for couple of years. It’s affected my sense of integrity, my sense of well-being, my faith in myself, my pride in my own work – I wonder if this job is costing me much, much more than the paycheck it gives me.

    MC (can’t use my real name, too ashamed).

  5. Pam – Great post, great advice. I’ve been on both sides of the pink-slip divide,and it is tough when it happens – but, as you and your commenters point out – it can also be incredibly liberating. Somehow, the pinkslip can give people to permission to do what they really want and need to be doing.

    In terms of other advice: most states (all?) have unemployment insurance. Don’t be proud: sign up for it. You and your ex-company have paid for it over the years, and while it won’t carry you fully, can be used to cover some expenses (COBRA payments, anyone?). In Massachusetts,you can hop on and off – i.e., if you find a short-term consulting gig, you can take a few weeks off from collecting unemployment, then re-up when the temporary job is done.

    If you’re offered any outplacement services, take advantage of them. They can be invaluable in terms of thinking through what next, clarifying your goals, and – if you’re fortunate enough to get the use of the outplacement facility – someplace to hang your hat and conduct your job search for a few months.

    As you note, it’s best to avoid the negative nellies.If you were part of a mass lay-off, there will be people who just want to complain, complain, complain about the terrible, rotten company that just let you go. If there’s one blow-out, have a few drinks and a bitch-fest event, by all means go, but do not let yourself get dragged down by people who just want to sit around trying to figure out why they got the pink-slip and not the other guy, etc.

    And, of course, let your friends spring for lunch! (When you’re back on your feet, pass this on to others who’ve been laid off.)

  6. Geoff says:

    When you drive off into the hinterland to freak out, take your phone. I lost my job when I was just shy of 40. You know, when you are nearing the end of “invincibleness” when it comes to your health. I have a wife and 2 small children.

    Long story short – the stress of losing the job resulted in chest pains – luckily it was not the big HA – but it was a wakeup call none the less!

  7. In my best DiNiro “are you talkin’ ta me?” Hey lest anyone think that Pam’s “friend” is really Pam — I am the friend she so eloquently speaks of and yes even if you kind of know it may happen and secretly hope it might happen when it does it is a shock — punch to the stomach!

    Thing is I have been trying to do the corporate sales thing for many years in an industry that is at least for me BORING! I have had it with sales consultants, Veruca Salt bosses, pain funnels, call reports and sales tracking software bullpoopy — The flexible packaging industry never got my best — because my passion and skills lie elsewhere — so now at 45 I gotta see if I can make a go of this entrepreneur thing — I am passionate to the point of giddy about Buttons of Hope — please check it out — there’s a link from my blog Makehope. I will be checking out each of your blogs and if you like my BOH idea I would love it if you mention it in your blog as appropriate!

    Thanks for all the kind and helpful comments — I knew you were talkin’ to me! Pam thank you my friend!

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  9. I got laid off about 3 weeks after Christmas (in Jan 2006) – I spent months working 60 hours a week looking for a new job. Finally I had a vision and moved on it quickly.

    I’ve tasted the “forbidden fruit” and now I don’t want to go back to the j.o.b.

    I love having my own business, serving others on my terms, etc. It is so rewarding and refreshing. I never got up early for my job (I got up when I had to)… but now I get up very early, excited to start the day and see what’s new. And its been over a year since I was laid off!

    One bit of advice I have is – it will happen again. And again. And again. Its the way it is these days. Unless you get your own business (funny how my bosses all had their own side gig), on your own terms, you are always one day away from the dreaded pink slip.

    That’s why you need to get a free account on (yes, shameless plug – but I’m passionate about it!)

    Jason Alba
    CEO –

  10. Thanks for the great tips! I especially like the recognition that it is okay to ‘freak out’ to clear your mind.

    I think many of them are relevant in other cases of ‘losses’ also, like a sudden reduction of income, loss of a relationship (which also may have a financial impact). Or simply, as a consultant being kicked out of an assignment…

    Over here in Sweden, job security is much higher than in USA. Maybe the shock of losing a job here would be bigger also, just because of that.

    Thanks again for sharing 🙂

  11. Steve says:

    Hi, Pam –
    Talk about irony! I am in the exact same position as described in this post. I have been working in a master’s degree and exploring entrepreneurial options when I ended up losing my job in a RIF last week.

    Fortunately, it wasn’t a total surprise. I had already been doing many of the things you described, such as cutting back on luxury items, building my network, and surrounding myself with supportive mentors.

    The only difference is that I did not experience the “freak out.” Instead, I’m just excited about the possibilities. I appreciate your advice to focus on the short term and take small steps. Otherwide, I probably would freak out.

    Thanks for the timely post.

  12. Great post. Life definitely has a way of working out, even if at the time it seems like you’re getting handed nothing but misfortune. I’ve experienced a few setbacks like this, but years later I can look back and see how certain developments, stressful as they were at the time, were actually positive in the great scheme of things. I think that the key is to be kind to yourself, use the free time to do something you enjoy, and take advantage of the opportunity to gain a fresh perspective.

    Alexandra Levit
    Author, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College
    Blogger, Water Cooler Wisdom

  13. Seems like it just might be time to make the “real” job work. I spend 40+ hours per week doing what I don’t want to do. I spend at best 15 hours per week doing what I want to do. Those 15 or so hours are wedged between family, church, and community–i.e. it’s not productive.

    I’d use this as incentive to make work what I want to work. Get the financing needed and ditch the corporate world!

  14. Erik Mazzone says:

    Hi Pam.

    Great post and excellent advice! I went through something similar last year, and here are 3 points I would add:

    9. Focus on opportunities. In addition to creating challenges, a change like this creates tons of opportunities: increased time, focus, motivation, clarity, just to name a few. For the first couple of months for me, focusing on this became a daily reflection I went through to keep myself centered.

    10. Don’t romanticize. There is a strong pull to put on rose-colored glasses to look back at the past job and think, “it really wasn’t so bad…” Yes it was that bad. Remember, that’s why you wanted to leave for 10 years.

    11. Let the game come to you. My first instinct was to try to muscle everything into place asap and on a tight schedule, which caused me a lot of frustration. Only after I took a few (thousand) deep breaths and worked on relaxing and having fun did things start to move into place.

    Good luck to your friend!

  15. Tony Wright says:

    I think you’re absolutely right that life has a habit of giving us what we wish for (without always perfecting the timing!).

    I lost my job in a big organisational collapse. It proved to be the ‘release’ I’d been waiting on for ages. I got straight into the contract market and discovered that I really did have skills that the market would pay for. I was tempted back into a full-time role, and find myself looking for that same ‘release’ now. Best of luck to your friend…

  16. Lauren Muney says:

    I’m sorry for your friend! Having just been through several grief incidences myself, this probably is a shock for him. I hope he finds firm footing soon while he can. For me, I have been working on the “positive thoughts” for a while. I have come to an interesting thought that while we may not be at “our answer” to a grief problem, we can always have positive action now really helps later: making the right marketing materials, support materials, etc. will be ‘right at hand’ for later. Example: I has stumbled across a nearby incredible facility, and they accepted my proposal for a workshop. The pressure of this workshop spurred (or scared?) me into creating an incredible booklet for use in the workshop, and now I realize I have a wonderful tool not only for marketing more workshops, but for selling on its own, garnering more business, but also “attracting” more success because I have put the work in. It’s scalable and maleable, which works in most business applications in my field. This idea was based in an old Idea I ‘asked’ for long ago: to write a book. Far beyond a book, I am writing a workbook: a real plan to help others. I really look at every new project (or loss of an old project) as one step into a new future. I just have to accept that I DO have to CREATE the new future.

  17. #8 – find a paying client so that you can have some cash flow while you’re figuring things out.

  18. I had a similar experience: at my work, I was given an offer I had to refuse, and set out to become a freelance writer. It was something I had always wanted to do, but I had found shelter in a salaried job. When I saw an unappealing future before me there, I left to commit myself to freelancing. It was frightening and difficult. It was also 24 years ago, and now I have the kind of work I find fascinating, at the rates that let me live well, and I feel I’m living my true life. Keeping focused on what you really want to do, as long as you are flexible, seems to be the only way to live without regrets. Your friend should define his goal and start working toward it.
    Another advantage: being self employed means no one can ever take your job away from you, because no one has given you one in the first place. You have to work steadily at getting and keeping contracts coming. To me, that is the only real job security.