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.

Those of us in the boomer generation 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 that an unlikely reality. It’s even harder to hold our head up high when we’ve been downsized.  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. You 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.  You think about 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.  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 retired voluntarily, you’ll likely still experience a sense of loss and disconnection. It’s hard to adjust to no longer having the same familiar routines.  For many people, leaving a long-held job and workplace is like losing a second family.

So what can you do to clean out the cobwebs in your head from the job you no longer have? How can you start clearing a path towards your next job – or the new business you’re going to start? How can you get rid of this sense of shame that you did something wrong?

Here are three recommendations based on my having to frequently recover from losing jobs during my own career in a very volatile industry.

1. 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. It could be 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. It will also help open you up to new ideas and new relationships.

2. 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, keep your distance until you get settled and start your next job.

While you may think that maintaining these ties will soften the pain you’re feeling, it won’t. Actually, it is going to prevent you from healing, and recovering from getting downsized.

The good news is that you have now become a member of the “alumni association.” 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. There’s a short-hand and a sense of common ground.

You may find these people extremely open and welcoming to you.  After all, they understand exactly how you’re feeling, and share all of the same reference points.

3. Reframe Your Exit.

This may also be challenging, but you have to stop thinking that you’ve lost a job.  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. You don’t have to brag: “I didn’t like that job anyway,” or “I grew out of that job a long time ago!”

It’s painful to get laid off! It’s OK to acknowledge it. Sooner or later, you’re going to put the past behind you.  Why not start now and decide to look at everything 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 what held you back, frustrated, and even undermined you.

You’ll probably find that as much as you enjoyed many aspects of the job, there were other things that really upset 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.

Take the Next Step!

Your goal is to clear your head and to disconnect your mindset. You want to be able to entertain new possibilities for the future. Don’t dwell on on the fact that they fired you.  As long as you indulge in the old way of thinking, you’re preventing yourself from creating a more fulfilled future.

Stop identifying with the old job and the old company (including its people and its culture).  A little practice with these three tips – and a little belief in yourself – will go a long way towards building that bridge to the next chapter in your career.

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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