How am I Going to Feed My Kids? Unemployment in the middle of a career

You just got the news. “We’re sorry, but we’ve been forced to make some cuts lately and…” You’re sitting in traffic and wondering what you’re going to tell your spouse. How are you going to pay the mortgage, buy groceries, keep up with car payments…? What about your children?

You are now among the 8.1% of Americans 25-34 or the 6.5% of Americans 35-44 who are unemployed.

Right now you’re feeling a strange combination of shock and grief. Perhaps you are angry or indignant; “After all I’ve done for them, why me?” This is natural. Actually, there are many similarities between what you go through after a layoff and the five stages of grief. While you may not be dealing with the death of a loved one, you are dealing with the death of a career. Thankfully, though, the career can be revived.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and then acceptance are the five stages of grief proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” By understanding each phase, it is much easier to cope with them. You also don’t have to feel like you’re the only person in the world dealing with this.

While it seems unlikely that you will go back in to work the next day as if nothing happened, denial is a natural and common reaction to unemployment. Many people act as if they are just off for the weekend, or on vacation. They hang around the house and watch television, or go out and have a few drinks. Sometimes they don’t even tell their spouse what happened. But all these defense mechanisms are just means of avoiding the issue. The important thing is to not get locked into this mind set. At some point, you need to accept the fact that the job you had is gone, and you need to move forward in your life. It is crucial to discuss the issue with loved ones. Even if the conversations may be difficult, the consequences of avoiding them are much worse.

“Where do they get off firing me?” Yes, it’s natural to feel anger at losing a job, especially if management didn’t handle the situation well. Go ahead and vent. It is important to get these feelings out in the open and give yourself a little leeway in handling the situation. This is especially important if the layoff was through no fault of your own. If these feelings are bottled up, they are often turned inward and become feelings of guilt. However, it is also important not to get stuck in your own “pity party.” It’s natural to be angry, but the anger isn’t going to get you a new job.

Next comes bargaining. Maybe if I move some finances around or if I sell a few things this isn’t a big deal. It is a great early step to start thinking about how you are going to pay for the gap in your employment. Apply for unemployment insurance. Perhaps your spouse can pick up some extra work or a job if they don’t work. But keep in mind; this does not solve the true problem. Once you figure out how to finance the job search, it is important to actually begin the job search.

Losing a job is a crushing blow that can lead to depression. Go ahead and grieve, you just lost something that you tied a large portion of your identity to. It is also important, though, to not get caught up in blaming yourself. These things happen, and most of the time there is nothing you can do about it. It is how you respond to it that shows your true character. It might help to articulate or even write down all your positive qualities. Remember, a job is what you do, not who you are.

Finally, after much emotional turmoil, comes acceptance. This is when you can get back into searching for a job wholeheartedly. You enter a phase when you realize that yes, you were laid off, and yes, these things happen to the best of us. You know you will face some difficulty in the near future, but you also know you can get through it. You put your nose back to the grind with the faith that you are worth it and you will find a new beginning. Good luck.

Additional Resources

Bureau of Labor Statistics Unemployment by age: http://bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea10.htm

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation: http://www.ekrfoundation.org/five-stages-of-grief/

HowIGotLaidOff.com; Stories of others dealing with unemployment: http://howigotlaidoff.com/

 

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