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Toan Lam

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Congratulations, You've Been Laid Off. Now Round Up the Elephant and Discover Your Power!

Posted: 10/21/09 04:20 PM ET

Recently, I relived the shocking moment through a phone call from my oldest sister, Lynn, a nurse practitioner and Yoga Instructor. I couldn't help but shudder, as she uttered the words that hundreds of thousands of Americans have also had to say unwillingly to their loved ones. "Toner (my nickname), I got laid off."

Her voice was stoic, monotone, with a tinge of relief. I remember the moment vividly. I was getting ready for my morning run along the beach at Crissy Field. It was a brisk, morning here in San Francisco, as the sun tried burning through the dense fog that hugged the Golden Gate Bridge. My first reaction -- stunned. Sucker punched. Pimp slapped. (Ok, that's a bit dramatic but you get the point.) The numbness, and the adrenaline rush that comes with being hit while off guard disoriented me for a moment, but I took a deep breath and without thinking, one word came out of my mouth, what I truly and deeply felt.

"Congratulations," I said.

I welcomed my Sis, eight years my senior, to the "new economy" that I have been living in for the past seven months. Ahh, unemployment -- that uncomfortable place of limbo, where you feel distressed, discombobulated, disconnected from the world. It's a surreal, transitional place of the unknown, for first timers. For those of you who have been laid off, you know what I mean... When I got the notice myself, I too wondered; What did I do wrong? What could I have done better. Financially, I became micro-aware every time I reached into my wallet. Should I really be spending $3.55 on a grande, extra hot, low-fat vanilla latte? I also remember dreading going out into the public at first and meeting people who ask you: "What do you do for a living? Where do you work now? Inquiring minds want to know, right? (The best answer to this, by the way, is "I'm in transition." It will keep people with whom you aren't comfortable sharing, baffled and out of your business.)

When you first get laid off, you feel so helpless and directionless. I realized that it's OK to own your feelings -- and then move on. You may feel light, floaty, numb as the weight of the world and its responsibilities brings you back down to earth and the present moment. Reality check. Lynn has two adorable children, 4-year-old Drew and 1-year old Serena. She's also the sole income in the family. She and her husband agreed that it was important for one of them would stay home and raise their children. So I could understand why Lynn was a bit stressed.

The conversation lasted about three minutes. Lynn laughed nervously and abruptly whispered, "I'll be ok, gotta go see my next patient."

I knew exactly how Sis felt, sans the huge responsibility of having children to clothe, feed and shelter, of course. But I knew this was the best thing that could ever happen to her. She had been wanting to shift gears, teach more Yoga and create wellness workshops to educate, inspire and empower women to make healthy decisions in life. Add to the mix, she speaks four languages; English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Cantonese. And above all, she's a caring, compassionate, phenomenal woman. She, like many of us who either hate our jobs or are just ready for something new, was afraid to muster up the courage to say, bon voyage, farewell, see ya later (gulp) job. It's so funny how what you ask for in life, you get. Lynn always told herself she only wanted to work for the County of Sacramento for about a decade, then it' would be time for change. This year marks her ten year anniversary.

I knew what Sis was going through because 10 months ago I was laid off from my TV gig at a local station in San Francisco. I had been reporting the news for about ten years and always thought I wanted to follow the traditional TV reporter route: small market, medium market, then one of the top ten cities in America, and then perhaps the network. I did work my way up the rungs, but God had a different plan for me -- a plan, far greater than I could ever have imagined or dreamed up for myself. Being laid off was in the master plan, though I didn't realize that until a few months later and started my inspirational website: www.GoInspireGo.com.

When I was escorted out of the TV station in San Francisco, a shift began to happen in me.
That was when I consciously decided to change the lens, my perspective -- from me -- to helping others. A month after being laid off, in January, while on a walk in the Presidio, smack dab in the middle of nature, it all became clear, I decided to dedicate my life to service full-time for the next year. Slowly, one conversation, one prayer at a time, I started trekking a path where many are scared to diverge. I followed my heart and decided to use my gift of gab and connecting with people through storytelling to help others without a voice. The journey led me to my non-profit website www.GoInspireGo.com. And with every experience and every conversation, my mission started to become clearer: My dream was to set up a global platform for people to see and share stories of inspiration. My Vision, or what I wanted people do, was simple: To use their resources and talents to help someone else. What I didn't expect was a flurry of inspiration from all corners of the world, from Africa, Asia to America. Wow. Job offers and amazing opportunities ensued. I invite you to check out the website to see how tens of thousands of people have responded to help the people we've featured in our stories. What I learned, was a valuable lesson in life, when you give to the world, you certainly get back -- and then some! Not only have I been offered jobs in and out of TV -- the personal connections I've made with people are priceless.

Through it all, I started to realize my power. My power to connect and inspire people. I always loved to read, write and tell stories. Now it was on my own accord. A TV reporter only has a small window of time to reach out and make a difference and to inspire people. Now through this global platform, I am able to help people in a much bigger way, which led to more than 70 volunteers helping me execute my vision of using social networking to inspire social change. One of those people was Arianna Huffington. After seeing the Go Inspire Go website, she invited me to blog for the Huffington Post, and since then,
AOL, Yahoo!, Good Morning America and countless blogs around the globe have been sharing our inspirational stories.

A long time ago my Sister, who has always been my inspiration, shared a story about an elephant that I only now fully understand. Once upon a time, there was a baby elephant who was tied to a stake by its master. Through its whole life, the elephant was verbally and physically abused by the master. "You are stupid, powerless, nothing and you will go nowhere in life." The master would scold. And the elephant believed it. Through the years, as the elephant grew physically stronger, the elephant never knew how strong he really was. One swing of the tusk, would've snapped the stake that tied him down and released him from mental and physical anguish. But he never knew his strength. So the elephant died never reaching its full potential. He never knew his power.

What is your power? We all have strength and power... now USE it. Say it with me: "KNOW YOUR POWER. USE IT."

Oh, by the way, within a week, my sister, Lynn received a dozen job offers. Whoever she decides to share her knowledge of wellness with will be so lucky to have her -- congrats, Sis! She was also inspired by Go Inspire Go and started her website: www.AgingBeautifullyNow.com, aimed at inspiring people to live better, healthier lives through Yoga and her medical expertise.

Change is not always comfortable, but change is good. Fall is here! As the autumn leaves change colors -- from lush green to different hues of red, orange and yellow -- I invite you think about your life, what's good, what's bad and what's ugly and then change what you don't like about what's going on in your life. Know your power! Use it!

Here are some tips based on personal experience to get out of the layoff rut:

  1. Keep/create a routine, otherwise, you'll feel out of the loop and will have too much time to let your mind wander and get the best of you. Start by getting some exercise in the morning. Meet up friends for lunch, or make yourself a nice lunch. Then devote a few hours to your job search. Then connect with people with like interests and explore your hobbies -- maybe it'll turn into a bustling business.
  2. Connect with people personally and professionally. I've received so many jobs and helped get folks jobs thought networking. People innately want to help, but they don't know how to help if you don't ask!
  3. Volunteer even when you are out of work. Time is the BIGGEST gift you can ever give to anyone, and you'll discover a shift that will happen in your perspective in life. It's the best gift you can give to yourself. Just try it, you'll see.
  4. Be Grateful. Look around you, for the simple things in life that you're thankful for. Simple and small is the new BIG. After being laid off, I started eating out less. Instead, I rounded up a small circle of friends. We take turns cooking. It's a great way to connect and learn more about each other in an intimate setting. I'm grateful for the yummy greens and juicy nectarines in the salad. That was a good start. As we broke bread, we learned so much about our cultures, food and how they're connected to family. It's smarter for our wallets and our waists!
  5. One more time: Know your power and use it! What are you good at? What have you been dying to do, but the previous job tied you down like the elephant in the aforementioned story? Do it. Just do it.


CALL TO ACTION--GO INSPIRE GO NEEDS YOUR HELP:

In the spirit of inspiration and children around the world,
Go Inspire Go is collecting inspiring and compassionate kids stories. Please e-mail them to us below!

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Please comment here on the blog and you can find out more about Toan Lam at http://www.goinspirego.com. Click on the YouTube link and check out the stories his team created, and videos created by viewers.
Contact Toan at: toanlam@goinspirego.com

 

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