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Sanity After Severance

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Like the dot-com bust, but very, very, very different, severance is not such a remote possibility these days. Just yesterday employment consulting and legal firm Career Protection announced a 37 percent increase in layoffs over 2007. The layoff forecast is the worst in the past five years, and has caused a surge in outplacement inquiries from companies including Bear Stearns, Chrysler, Citigroup, Ford, Covidien, General Motors, and Sprint Nextel.

Layoffs in financial and media institutions are spicing up media headlines and in numbers that will create a ripple effect on all of us. Some of the smartest and most talented folks you know (including yourself) just might be facing a pink slip. Just as easily named for the color of shame associated with being let go, the feelings following a pink slip can be overwhelming. Losing a job has been compared as carrying grief equivalent to divorce or losing a loved one. Often emotions run to the extremes with low self-worth, loss of identity, resentment, and panic for survival making it darned near impossible to get clear enough to not only find great opportunities, but to make great choices for yourself from the many opportunities that will eventually arise.

No matter what your company does or doesn't provide in terms of financial and transitional support, here are a couple of things you can do to find sanity in severance:

1. Communicate It. nothing exacerbates shame like isolation. Step out of the shadows and let the people who care for you know what the situation is. Not only will you find that many of the successful people in your life have probably been laid off at one time or another, but you will also have laid the networking groundwork for whatever is next.

2. Put Yourself In Charge. Okay, so you don't have an office to go to, but you still have a job to do and that is BEING YOU and doing so in such a way that you find whatever is your next chapter. Agree with yourself that you are now the BOSS and that you will be a GOOD one. Make a list of everything a good boss does, such as set goals, review, reward, respect meeting times, give time off, take lunch breaks, etc. Then post that list by your computer and check in with yourself from time to time to make sure you are adhering to your own standards.

3. Break Out Of Your Mold. Most of us are moldy in some way. Maybe you've always worked in a given industry or maybe your circle of friends is the same you've had since college. For you to experience yourself in new ways, access new ideas, and identify new possibilities for your life, you've got to get around new people. This might mean reaching out for casual acquaintances you've never really gotten to know, being more open and responsive in passerby moments, and looking for organizations that meet on topics of interest to you.

4. Be The Change. Chances are you weren't living a perfectly balanced work/life picture, so now is your chance to make good on any work-life whining you might have done when employed. WHAT IS a balanced and integrated day for you? Whether you thought of your daily grind as routine or ritual, having an organizing principle to your days will not only keep your energy focused, but doing so will stave off depression. Make a daily schedule that includes specific times for everything from exercising to meeting a friend for coffee, researching industries/jobs, and of course, prospecting. Then STICK TO IT.

5. Volunteer. One important aspect of feeling satisfied in life is feeling yourself contribute and matter to the world around you. For most of people, the primary outlet for contribution to the world is work. When paid work is out the window, a great way to re-connect to your own ability to contribute is to get involved as a volunteer. Most organizations are happy to put to use articulate, talented professionals for even a couple hours a week. Far from scuttling your job search time, you'll be fortifying your sense of self worth and making a difference at the same time.

6. Keep Moving. After you cancel your gym membership and before you sink into the couch, check out the yoga studios and YMCAs in your area. Most yoga studios are happy to offer what is called SEVA (service) or KARMA YOGA opportunities in which you exchange a couple hours a week of work for the ability to take their classes free of charge. Community Centers and YMCAs often offer the same opportunities - AND it's great networking.

7. Stay Still. When you do sink into the couch, ask yourself what would turn this event/moment in your life into the greatest success story ever? If this were a movie of your life, what would be the most amazing twist in the story? More important than knee-jerk job prospecting, having a sense of steering your own ship is determined by being true to your deepest longings for exactly the life you want. Ask yourself - What would be the most amazing outcome of being layoff? If money were no object and you COULD do anything, what would it be? What would turn this into an amazing heroic story? Your earnest and courageous answers matter more than anything else you do.

There is an art form in Japan that involves taking broken ceramics and filling the cracks with gold. These mended pieces are considered even more beautiful and valuable than their flawless originals for the fact of being inimitable. Like these works of art, more than anything you have done up to this point, how you fill this time may very well be the biggest influence in your next chapters. And after all, don't you want to be the hero of your own amazing story?

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