There’s an old adage that “God never closes one door without opening another.” While I believe this, most will agree that being in the hallway, between doors, can be a daunting experience. I recently found myself in a wholly unexpected transition with regards to employment. The details are unimportant. In the blink of an eye, I went from being a happy and productive employee to one whose position no longer existed.
At that moment, I had a choice. I could dive into a sea of despair or I could take a deep breath and move forward. I chose the latter. I recognize that any transition is a process. When faced with a major life change, most of us go through a full spectrum of emotions. The Kubler-Ross model suggests that it is not unusual to experience some combination of denial, anger, bargaining, or depression as we move towards acceptance. The trick is to allow yourself to walk through all of the feelings without getting stuck in a downward spiral.
Since then, I’ve come to believe that the hallway is not necessarily a bad place to be. It gives us time to regroup, reassess, and reinvent. The following are my thoughts on actions that can make hallway time a more positive experience.
1. Seek wise counsel. I was blessed to gain access to Right Management – a career counseling firm. They provided structure and advice in the first few weeks to move me into action. If you’ve been at one company for many years, the job market can be overwhelming without a guide. Whether you use a comprehensive service, a career coach, a local support group, or friends with hallway experience, transition is an easier journey when you are not doing it alone.
2. Surround yourself with cheerleaders. When life throws a curve ball, friends and family gather to offer sympathy and encouragement. Choose to spend time with the people in your life who reinforce your value and talent; who speak in terms of possibility and opportunity; who acknowledge your challenge but do not dwell on it.
3. Focus on critical business first. For me, the most pressing issues were ensuring the continuation of family health insurance and revisiting household finances. I gave myself permission to defer thinking about the future until after I had addressed the items that were causing the most angst. Once these were taken care of, I was able to relax and proceed.
4. Take time to dream. While the hallway can be unsettling, it can also be a great environment for creative thinking. As a more-than-full-time employee, my mind was constantly filled with work details. Suddenly, I had a large amount of open thought space to consider all possibilities. I had the time and the mental power to rethink what I want to be when I grow up and what this next segment of my life might look like.
5. Make a plan. As a project manager, planning is second nature to me. I put my pencil to paper and established a set of goals with reasonable target dates. Becoming a ‘job seeker’ is not an overnight process and by focusing on getting there, one task at a time, I woke each morning knowing what to do next. Each completed item was a mini-success that moved me closer to my final objective.
6. Be optimistic and focus on what you can control. While the Serenity Prayer (“God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”) is often associated with 12-step programs, it is a invaluable tool that is applicable to all aspects of life. At the end of the day, I cannot control or change the decision made by my previous employer. Likewise, I cannot control the results of my job seeking. What I can control is my own actions and attitude. I can do the necessary footwork and trust in a favorable outcome. I can maintain a positive outlook and remember that I am more than my job. I lost a paycheck and a job title. I did not lose my skills, talent, or experience.
7. Count your blessings. If I were to say that hallway time is never a challenge, I’d be lying. When a moment of self-pity or doubt inevitably surfaces, focusing on life’s gifts provides an immediate shift in thinking. If I take a moment, each day, to reflect on personal gratitude and identify my blessings, by name, it improves my perspective in a powerful way.
8. Celebrate free time. I set a goal of spending a half day, Monday through Thursday, on career related tasks. For the rest of the ‘work week,’ I made plans to engage in activities that I loved and were now possible, given my new schedule. I sewed school bags with the church ladies for United Methodist Committee on Relief. I sharpened my skills at the local rifle range. I accelerated my study of Spanish. I focused on my writing and became a more regular contributor to an adventure gaming website. Best of all, I reconnected with old friends. It is a central truth that “all work and no play makes Jane an uninteresting woman!”
Above all, I know that my situation is not unique. The news is filled with companies that are eliminating jobs for a variety of reasons. Between the lines of each story is a population of individual workers who suddenly find themselves in the hallway. It is my hope that these thoughts will be helpful to those in transition and I would love to hear how you are making the most of your journey between doors.