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Job loss or setback left you feeling defeated? How to pull yourself up

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Pete Ryan

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from people in the TED community; browse through all the posts here. 

When you face a career challenge, it is common to experience a painful loss of identity — if you aren’t the successful professional you once were, who are you? A loser?

Of course not.

You are still the same successful person you always were — with a new challenge. These challenges do not negate your previous work and success. You have the choice to wallow in your misfortune or find a deeper, human identity.

I find strength and inspiration from the “famous failures” that made unbelievable comebacks. For example, Elvis Presley got a C in high school music class and was told he couldn’t sing. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he “lacked imagination” and “had no original ideas.” Lucille Ball was told to give up on acting because she had “no talent.” And Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as an anchorwoman and told she was “not fit for television.”

This list goes on and on. Those superstars prevailed because they took their knocks and fought back. They did not let others define them. They defined themselves.

Don’t let adversity define you. What matters is what you do with it.

Instead of saying, “Nobody wants me; I must suck,” start saying, “I believe in myself. It’ll all work out.”

Here’s how to pull yourself up — and start moving again:

Stop catastrophic thinking

Your mind will make you as crazy as you let it. Learn to recognize when you have slipped into “catastrophic thinking” mode and fight back.

If you are out of work and not finding a job, your mind might put you in this loop: “I’m spending my savings. I am going to run out of money. I’ll never get any job. I’m going through my savings. I’ll probably have to go work at the supermarket. Will the supermarket even hire me? I can’t live on that salary. I can’t feed my family. We will be homeless . . .”

Replace your catastrophic thoughts with more realistic thoughts. Train your mind to say, “Well, this is tough, but I’ll find a way.”

The worry about being homeless and broke is common, especially when we’re forced to start over or reinvent ourselves. Self-doubt feeds on itself and you lose perspective, which makes you lose hope.

You may beat yourself up because you didn’t see this situation coming or you feel you could have done more to prevent it. You may kick yourself for not saving more or failing to network better. You may think that others are laughing at you. Or, maybe you’re just really, really mad. But how are any of those thoughts helping you?

When you’re being pulled under by a nearly crippling brush with adversity, many tips and suggestions on managing worry fall flat.

Your brain will do a number on you if you let it. You can slide into a negative loop that will tell you that you are a worthless, stupid loser, because, for some reason, the brain will
let you get away with that kind of self-mutilation.

Instead of saying, “Nobody wants me; I must suck,” start saying, “I believe in myself. It’ll all work out.”

Another thing to say: “What if my greatest success is still ahead of me? I’m not done!”

Then say these again. And again. And again and again and again.

Attack worry 

I know you are worried right now — that’s because we’re all worried. I think of Linda Cruz, who had a stellar career in the pharmaceutical industry before going through one crucible moment after another until she finally got a job where she was making less than one-third of what she once made. She told me: “You know what you can do, but nobody wants you anymore. It is very lonely. They don’t value what you have.”

For the last two years of his job as an analyst in the insurance industry, Chuck Leonard said he felt humiliated — knowing he wasn’t wanted there — and certain he would be fired. Which he finally was.

“It was humiliating on every level,” he said. “For two years, I was demoralized. Then I had no job, no insurance, no dignity, no hope. I felt like I had failed everybody, and I couldn’t get an interview — no matter how many jobs I applied for. It took me nine months, the longest nine months of my life. I had one company that interviewed me four times, and I thank God they hired me. I’m so grateful.”

There are endless online posts of people venting about what is not working in their careers. I promise you: Read that stuff for 10 minutes and you will feel depressed.

When you’re being pulled under by a nearly crippling brush with adversity, many tips and suggestions on managing worry fall flat. So how do you put worry in its place when your entire life is out of control?

Get some exercise. Research has found that exercise boosts your alertness, concentration and cognitive function while also reducing fatigue. Physical activity produces endorphins and helps us sleep, which definitely cuts stress. Your health will improve, and your anxiety will diminish.

Volunteer. When you feel useless, go be of use! When you help others, you feel better about yourself and the negatives in your head get quieter. It feels good to know that you matter and that you are contributing to a purpose.

Do one thing. When you feel stuck, do one thing that gives you momentum toward fixing your situation. Even if there are 10 things you must do, focusing on one is doable. Instead of focusing on 10 problems, pick one. You may need to focus on all 10, but that is impossible. Better to accomplish something than to paralyze yourself with fear.

Stop complaining with others

There are endless online posts of people venting about what is not working in their careers, how poorly they are being treated, how they can’t find employment anywhere, and how they can’t catch a break. I promise you: Read that stuff for 10 minutes and you will feel depressed.

When things get rough, you can take steps to keep yourself from sliding into the depths.

While you sort out what you are going to do next, don’t forget to live it. You don’t know how much time you have left, so it’s your choice how you use the time you’ve got.

The more you let yourself wallow, the darker things will seem. Don’t talk about your situation endlessly, and don’t let others wallow, either. Don’t keep telling “the story.” If you have a friend who is going through the same thing, decide whether you can keep each other on track to feel better or whether you are bringing each other down.

Never surrender

No, you aren’t enjoying this. But have you ever enjoyed those painful moments when someone or something has forced you to pick yourself up and figure out what you are going to do with the rest of your life? What did you do then?

You can do this. YOU. ARE. NOT. DONE.

And, look — by now, some of your family, friends and acquaintances have been hit by a terrible health crisis. One minute, all was well with them. And then it wasn’t. It just changed forever. In an instant.

So even if you are staring down at some serious career challenges, do not forget what you’ve got. You’ve got your life. And while you sort out what you are going to do next, don’t forget to
live it. You don’t know how much time you have left, so it’s your choice how you use the time you’ve got.

Excerpted from Coming Back: How to Win the Job You Want When You’ve Lost the Job You Need by Fawn Germer. Copyright © 2021 by Fawn Germer. Reprinted with permission from the St. Martin’s Publishing Group.  

Watch her TEDxSevilleSq Talk now on how to reset your life:

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