Strength in Tough Times

Picking yourself up after a job loss

Target Canada's announcement of 17,600 pink slips in January 2015 was one of the biggest mass layoffs in Canada in more than 20 years. In one fell swoop, 133 Canadian stores were closed and their employees let go.

While most of these employees would have been shocked, we have to recognize -- and accept -- that layoffs of this size are a reality in a changing economy. Remember when BlackBerry laid off 1,000 staff in 2012-13? What about when Bell Canada laid off 2,800 in 2008, or the 3,800 layoffs at General Motors in 2005 and 13,000 at Air Canada in 2001?

This month, there are more layoffs in the oil, rail transportation and media industries. The current up-and-down cycle seems to be even more tumultuous because of the global economic downturn.

As a result, many people are not only suffering from job loss, they are under significant stress and anxiety about their job future. After all, if your industry has been crushed, where do you get a job, especially if you are a specialist? How do you remain confident as you transition to another career?

Believe me, it takes courage and stamina to maintain a positive attitude about life and work. It requires an understanding of the different phases of personal change and what needs to be done in order to move on to another job or career.

First, it's important to recognize personal change is a step-by-step process. It's elusive, complex and tough to measure accurately because it's affected by internal and external factors. In the case of a layoff, especially if it was unexpected, the immediate response is shock, denial and disbelief.

Next, you'll experience anger and anxiety. At this early stage of a career transition, I've seen many strong professionals become insecure about their skills, lose confidence and become depressed. As well, when people fall into despair, they often engage in negative "self-talk," which only serves to worsen one's state of mind.

But, there is hope.

You will start to climb out of the depths of despair and experience an emotional shift as you start looking forward to a new life and job opportunity. You'll begin exploring options; your confidence will begin returning.

Sometimes, however, you can't see your way to a new future. So one strategy is to keep track of your progress by writing in a journal daily. Document how you feel as well as the many little accomplishments you've achieved each day. Writing will allow you to review your thoughts, and it will help you to see the situation more objectively.

You will have a record of your growth that will help to rebuild your self-confidence. Then, once you are successful in a new job, you'll be able to look back and see the change. You'll realize the strengths you've gained through this difficult experience.

I always remind clients to mind their feelings. That's because in most cases, when you think negatively, you damage your self-esteem. Dr. David Burns, bestselling author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy calls negative messages, "twisted thinking."

For instance, you've probably been jumping to conclusions and applying all-or-nothing thinking by assuming and predicting everything is going to turn out badly. Or, if the situation is a second or third layoff, you might over-generalize and falsely believe you are on the path to never-ending defeat.

You might be overlooking the fact there may be some positives in your situation. Perhaps you've received a severance package that would allow you to return to school to learn a new occupation or early retirement is closer to reality.

As a specialist in career transition, I always recommend attaining and maintaining a positive attitude. In this case, the first thing is to realize you have the ability to make yourself happy. It is your responsibility and no one else's.

So take some time and ask, "What makes me happy?" This can be simple small pleasures such as watching the sunrise, going for a walk, reading a silly novel or hanging out with friends. In fact, when was the last time you saw your old buddies? You'll be surprised how many happy activities you've let go by the wayside because you've been too busy working, letting it take over your life. Get back in touch! Make yourself happy!

Going through a career transition is an excellent time to review your life. That's because in most cases, I find people take themselves for granted. You become so skilled in what it is you do you don't realize what you have to offer.

So take this time to list all of the tasks for each of your jobs and then identify the skills you applied. Next, group the skills into common elements, and you'll soon see skill themes that might surprise you. This exercise alone will help you regain some self-confidence and courage to look for another job.

Another strategy to help you get through a difficult career transition is to reach out for help from a specialist. These professionals are good at empathizing with your situation and guiding you out of survival mode and into action mode. There is no reason to be embarrassed after getting laid off, it is bound to happen to all of us. However, the key to success is to get up and get going. Consider it a setback rather than an end. Remember, going through difficult times can make you stronger.

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