Downsized in Your 50s? Focus on the Future
One of the toughest challenges we face when we get downsized from a longstanding job (10 or more years) is the loss of identity and purpose that goes along with being cut off from the company, the people, the routine, and the rituals – not to mention the salary.
For those of us in the boomer generation who were promised a smooth ride along the way to a comfy retirement in our early-to-mid sixties, the decline of corporate loyalty, the increase in forced/early retirements, and our own lack of financial security make it even harder to hold our head up high when we’re suddenly no longer going into work. This is true for white and blue collar workers alike.
If you’re like most people in this situation, you try to be brave about this, and tell people you’re recovering just fine and moving on, but we both know the truth: you’re far from fine. You’re likely dreaming about the workplace you no longer frequent, along with the people – even the projects you were working on. You drift off during the day into idle speculation about what’s going on back there. I confess that I still occasionally dream about my last big job – a great company I was at for nearly ten years. But it’s been almost ten years since I left! So these experiences can make quite an indelible impression on our psyches.
Even if you were not downsized and retired voluntarily, unless your company offered some sort of phased retirement program,which allowed you to reduce your hours at the company while you explored and began transitioning to your second-act career, you’ll likely experience a sense of loss and the gnawing feeling of emptiness because you’re no longer hanging out in familiar surroundings.
So what can you do to clean out the cobwebs in your head from the job you no longer have, and start clearing a way towards your next job – or the new business you’re going to start?
Here are three recommendations based on my having to frequently recover from losing my job during my own career in a very volatile industry.
Create a New Routine. If you miss the ritual of showing up at work at the beginning of your day, create a new routine with a new place to go. This could be as simple as the coffee shop where you go to check email and read the morning paper. For my recently job-less coaching clients, I often recommend that they take on a volunteer project – perhaps with a local non-profit, or mentoring to a small business incubator, trade association, or college. One of the things you probably miss most is the contact with people. Having this new routine, and getting out of the house, will take your mind away from that place you’re no longer going to, and help open you up to new ideas and new relationships.
Cut Ties to Your Former Colleagues. This may seem cruel, but you’re now an outsider. Even your closest (former) co-workers may consider you radioactive. So as tempting as it might be to connect with them, until you get settled and start your next job, it is best to keep your distance. You may feel that maintaining these ties will soften the transition out of the company, but it is really going to prevent you from healing. The good news is that you have now become a member of the “alumni association,” and reaching out to other departed colleagues is a great way to start networking your way to your next gig. You share history and company culture, so there’s a short-hand and a sense of common ground. You may find these people extremely open and welcoming to you, since they understand exactly how you’re feeling, and share all of the same reference points.
Reframe Your Exit. This may also be challenging, but you have to stop thinking that you’ve lost a job, and start thinking that you’ve gained a host of new opportunities that this transition affords you. I’m not talking about being blustery and defensive and proclaiming things like “I didn’t like that job anyway,” or “I grew out of that job a long time ago!” It’s OK to acknowledge that this is a difficult period, but you can also begin taking steps to look at this event in a new light.
Start by listing the Pros and Cons of the job you just left. Keep that list with you for a few days and continue editing it. Think about how you were successful, but also about how you were held back, frustrated, and even undermined. You’ll probably find that as much as you enjoyed many aspects of the job, there were other things that really upset you, depressed you, or demoralized you. This process will help build your objectivity. Understanding what worked and didn’t work about your old job is going to help you make a more informed decision about applying to (and accepting) your next job.
Your goal is to clear your head and to disconnect your mindset from the past, so that you can entertain new possibilities for the future. As long as you indulge in the old mindset, and continue to identify with the old job and the old company (including its people and its culture), you’re preventing yourself from creating a more fulfilled future. A little practice and a little belief in yourself will go a long way towards building that bridge to the next chapter in your career.