05/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When One Door Closes, Another Opens. But Those Hallways Can Kill You

Here's a quote from US News and World Report:

If you've recently been laid off, you've probably had someone tap you on the shoulder and tell you something like: "Out of crisis comes opportunity," or "When one door closes, another opens." It probably feels a little pat, but the truth is that many workers will use the downturn to switch out of a slow-growth careers and into work with a much more promising future.

It's true: when one door closes, another opens. But those hallways sure can be a bee-atch.

In my teens and early twenties, I worked as a professional ballet dancer. It was ridiculously hard work for dreadfully little money. The punishment we put on our bodies was comparable to that of a pro football player, for about 1/1,000th of the salary.

One day, we were rehearsing Carmina Burana, a particularly brutal choreographic masterpiece, when I felt a pinch in my left hip. Since I was used to dancing through the pain (I popped Advils like M&Ms), I didn't think much of it. But this was different. The pain didn't subside. Instead, it got worse.

MRIs, X-rays, physical therapy, chiropractors from Maine to California. Nothing. No one could find what was wrong. I was forced to retire from ballet and begin a career doing...

That was the problem. I was out on the street without any training in anything but the performing arts (and in case you're wondering, you don't get into ballet if you have any intention of making money).

Because I was physically unable to do the job, my livelihood -- and the only career I'd ever known -- was taken away without my consent. Today, millions of workers who are perfectly able to do their jobs find themselves in a similar position.

Most of the hallway chatter at a recent business conference centered, naturally, around the economic downturn and how people are responding to it. Yet, as The Washington Post recently reported, the rebound may be just around the corner (if you consider 2010 just around the corner).

But even the rosiest predictions show that most of the jobs that have been eliminated won't be coming back. So how do you find a new livelihood after the old one has been taken away from you?

It's vital to remember one thing (that no one told me back then): your livelihood is not your life. Even if you are laid off from your livelihood, make sure you're not laid off from your life. For many, their livelihood is more than their sense of worth; it's their identity. I am an engineer. I am an author, I'm a doctor.

What you do for work is not who you are. But because so much of our selves gets wrapped up in our work, the real trick is to separate your livelihood from your life. A colleague put it like this:

"We are taught that career choice is made very early in life, by our choices to go to college or what our major is. We just weren't prepared to have to make those choices again in mid-life. It's like having to pick which fork in the river after we've sailed halfway down it. Are we supposed to go back upstream and start again?"

After my career-ending injury, I nearly committed suicide because no one told me how to separate my livelihood from my life. I criss-crossed the country for eight years, going from one job to another, each one of which I hated more than the last. Then I went back to college to study physiology, then leadership, then religious studies. I knew what I was looking for; I just had no idea what I was looking for.

One night, I wandered into a seminar and had an epiphany that changed my life. After all those years of wondering and wandering, I finally found my purpose on Earth -- to teach people how to get rid of the head trash that's holding them back from the success they're capable of. I didn't so much find my new livelihood as it found me.

When your livelihood is taken away, you have to fight to get it back, and fight for your own sense of self. The problem is, since most of our systems of support are created at work, it feels like those get taken away, too.

It took me more than eight years, but you don't have to take anywhere near that long. Today's connection tools like Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter enable people to rebuild Systems of Support faster than ever before.

The more value you add to people, and the more people you add it to, the faster and easier you'll find your new livelihood -- perhaps one that's even better than your old one. Answer these for yourself:

1. What do I love to do?
2. What do I feel strong doing?
3. What have other people told me I'm good at?
4. What would I love to be paid to do?
5. Who's doing what I want to do and getting paid for it?
6. Who do I know who might know them?
7. How can I meet and provide value to them?

It's true: when one door closes, another opens. Yes, those hallways can be a pain. That's why, in times like this, it's good to remember the immortal words of Fats Waller:

"One never knows, do one?"

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Noah St. John, Ph.D. is the author of The Secret Code of Success: 7 Hidden Steps to More Wealth and Happiness (HarperCollins) and founder of

He helps people get rid of the "head trash" that's holding them back and enjoy more wealth, more freedom and more abundance in every area of life and business. For a free book excerpt, visit

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