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  • Judy Sims

What It's Really Like to Lose Your Job

One of the biggest fears I encounter in my coaching clients is the fear of losing a job. And for good reason! Involuntary unemployment is an experience that can leave us feeling lost, defeated, and unsure of what comes next.

I get it. It’s scary.

But the fear of losing our jobs can get in the way of doing our jobs. Our fear releases stress hormones, which keep us from sleeping and cut off our creativity and problem-solving abilities. Fear can prevent us from making necessary decisions, speaking up when problems arise, or asking for help when we’re struggling.

Sometimes, our fear puts us at even greater risk of losing our jobs.

So, let’s talk about it. Because along with the emotions and challenges of job loss, there is also an extraordinary opportunity for growth and renewal. I speak from personal experience. Way back in 2009, I was fired. And I’m so glad I was.

Here are six things to expect when you lose your job.

I’ll tell you about it from my own perspective, as well as those of former clients and colleagues, as well as a few members of the Expansive Woman Project.

And maybe, by the end of this post, you’ll be a little less afraid.

1. The Shock

Even if you know it’s coming, the moment you are told your employment has been terminated still packs a wallop. The suddenness of it, the “before this” and “after this” of it, can be incredibly disorienting.

My client Christa told me, "I never saw it coming. One moment, I was sitting at my desk, and the next, I was packing it up. One moment I had a hefty do-do list, and the next I had nothing to do but take the subway home. It felt like the floor had been pulled from under me."

***Christa landed at a competitor organization with a pay raise and new boss she loves.

When I lost my job, I knew it was coming. I was so certain I was about to be fired, I dressed for the occasion in a beautiful Mad Men inspired dress and a pair of sky high Louboutins. I was determined to go out in style. But until the moment it happened, I still kind of thought it wouldn’t happen. It was a shock when it did.

A lovely former colleague of mine was so certain she was about to be fired, she had been packing up her desk for weeks in preparation. She took home few pairs of shoes one day, some books the next. “On the day it happened,” she told me, “all I had to carry out of the office was a lamp and my notebook.” But even for her, the actual moment was a shock.

***That friend is now a European country manager for a huge global brand.

2. Relief/Anger/Embarrassment/Shame

As the reality of the situation sinks in, a wave of emotions follows. Feelings of anger, sadness, and self-doubt can consume even the most resilient people.

Jessica told me, "I felt anger at my boss, disappointment in myself, and fear of the uncertain future. It was like mourning the loss of a significant part of my life. At the same time, I was glad to be freed of a complex project I had been struggling with.”

***Jessica is now a VP of Sales at a very cool tech start up.

I’d say I felt 80% relieved, 10% angry, and 10% horribly embarrassed in the days after I was fired. The worst part was telling my husband, my family, and my friends. Seeing the concern on their faces was awful. I also worried about my former team members. I was aware that they were now facing uncertainty as well as they would soon have a new boss.

But I also received many supportive phone calls – from my now ex-colleagues, from business partners and suppliers, and from friends. People were kind. And that helped more than I can say.

3. Navigating the Aftermath

The first few days after your job loss are surprisingly busy. You’ll be negotiating your exit package, perhaps connecting with an outplacement consultant, and fielding phone calls from colleagues and friends.

But then the busyness stops and fear sets in.

The BIG QUESTION arises: What’s next?

Some people seek solace in their support network, while others may throw themselves into the job search.

My former colleague Steve took one week to recover from the initial shock, and then got to work on finding a job. He treated each day as a workday, getting up at his usual time, sitting at his desk, and doing what needed to be done until five or six in the evening.

***He’s now the president of a prominent industry association.

I took some time to breathe. I was fired in late July, so I took the rest of the summer off. I had already planned a networking trip to London (as I said, I knew I was getting fired), so I took the trip and met new people. It felt good to remember there’s a whole world outside of my old company, filled with smart, interesting people who thought I was smart and interesting too. I also have two aunts in London who are fairly close to my age. They took me out for fun and reminded me not to take myself so seriously. I really love my aunts.

4. Rediscovering Self-Worth

This is where things start to get good.

Being let go doesn’t define your worth or potential. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit. And that’s it. As we begin to realize this, we can let go of our anger and shame and begin to rediscover the truth of who we are, what we value and what we want.

Daria told me, "It took time, but I eventually realized that my value wasn't tied to my job title. I had skills and talents that were still in demand."

***She's now in a different industry, one with a culture more suited to her values.

For me, this was the true gift of my job loss. In building my new resume and preparing for job interviews, I rediscovered my spark. The last few years at my previous job had very nearly extinguished it. That job clearly wasn’t right for me. But there were plenty of jobs that were. That new perspective was a game changer. It allowed me to let go of any residual negative emotions and face the future with confidence.

5. Growth and New Beginnings

Throughout the course of your job search, you’ll meet new people in new companies and new industries. You’ll be learning and changing and considering new ideas. And along the way, new possibilities will open up before you.

Sharran decided to follow a lifelong dream. "Losing my job was a wake-up call. I'd always wanted to strike out on my own as a consultant but never had the courage to. Now, there was nothing stopping me."

***She’s now consulting in the PR industry and is on several advisory boards.

My former colleague Andrea’s next job came through meeting an acquaintance of her husband. Though the acquaintance was in an industry where Andrea had no experience, through a getting to know you coffee, her future boss recognized that Andrea’s skillset was exactly what she needed.

***She’s now an EVP at that same company.

Like Sharran, I began to take on consulting gigs. It was a great way to try different companies and bosses out before committing to my next full-time job. Eventually, one of my clients offered me a role and I took it.

6. Just Keep Swimming

It won’t be easy. There will be ups and downs and frustrations and opportunities lost. So, you’re going to have to be kind to yourself. Keep going. Keep exploring. Keep the faith in you.

My client Ted, while teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, applied for over 400 jobs. He reached success with number 393. Four months later, COVID hit and he lost that job too. He kept going. His motto was taken from the movie Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming”. Eight months later, he was hired as an account executive at a tech company. Five months later he was promoted to Director of Sales. And two years after that, he was headhunted by another company as VP Sales.

As for me, well I left that new job and ran a tech start up, and then sold that and became a consultant again, and then eventually became a coach and trainer and founded the Expansive Woman Project. This is my dream job. And I know there’s no way I would have found myself here if it hadn’t been for that fateful day back in 2009.

I’m so glad I was fired.

See? There’s nothing to be afraid of.


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