Photo of a canvas sign that says "This is just the beginning" with a red phoenix in the bottom. The background is a winter scene.

How to persevere when you lose your job: 5 strategies

Pretty picture that says Day 82 and asks the question, how do you keep going when you lose your job?

How do you persevere if you lose your job? Change your perspective and think of this an opportunity to re-invent yourself

Have you ever thought about what would happen if you lost your job?

Or what if a major traumatic event happened in your life and, through no fault of your own, you can’t work anymore?

What would you do? What would it feel like? How do you find the will to keep going?

Last summer, I watched the movie, Up in the Air.

In the movie, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a profession job fire-er.

(I’m sure he has a better job title than that, but you get the drift: he’s a consultant hired by companies to fire people so that managers don’t have to do the dirty work themselves.)

This is a very real issue with some very interesting life lessons. Very close to home.

Clooney has a great line in the movie:

“Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world sat where you are right now. And it’s because they sat there, that they were able to do it. That’s the truth.”

As he fires Steve, Clooney goes on to tell him to take the day, and get together his personal things.

“Tomorrow, get yourself some exercise, go out for a jog, give yourself some routines, and pretty soon, you’ll find your legs… This is just the beginning.”

I didn’t get fired, but I did recently lose my job because of a mental health crisis I had while I was working as a classroom teacher.

I’m in the process of reinventing myself, so of course, I’m trying to maintain a Growth Mindset and figure out strategies to get through these tough times:

Table of Contents

Here are some good strategies to try when you get fired:

Strategy #1: Exercise.

Clooney fires Steve. And tells him to go for a jog.

I have flat feet, and although I love running, and I love that running is free, it just ain’t happening for me.

But exercise has been pivotal for my recovery.

Now that I don’t have a traditional 9 to 5 job, and now that I’m not sitting in traffic twice-daily, I can choose to go to the gym right after I drop my daughter off at school. It’s part of my daily routine that gets me out of bed, and out of the house.

I’ve been working out daily for about six months now. I don’t have that six-pack yet, but every now and then, I’ll have an epiphany and realize – hey, I can do these push ups, or sit ups…

My physical progress makes me feel personally good. I need to find things in my life to help me turn the worst moment of my life into the best moment.

Before, when I was a classroom teacher, I would try to get to a gym class a few times a week after work. The problem is that marking, or lesson planning, or parent communication, or special projects would get in the way and I’d have to stay at work late, and miss the gym.

Now that I’m not a classroom teacher, I don’t have those constraints in my life. (Mind you, I don’t have a pay cheque either, but apparently happiness comes from choosing our struggles.)

If I can feel healthy and build self-esteem as a result of something that I could only prioritize after losing my job… then maybe that’s a small win for me.

Depression sucks. And dragging myself to the gym helps to kick start the day.

Strategy #2: Set up routines so you don’t get lost (in despair.)

Clooney mentions this one quickly, but I’m finding this strategy is key.

It’s way too easy to lose yourself without structure.

In my old life, I used to wake up, drop my kid off at daycare (EDP), drive in rush hour traffic to work, teach in my grade 8 classroom, spend lunches in my classroom to provide extra help for students and to run extra curricular activities, mark in the afternoon, communicate with parents, email colleagues, or photocopy for the next day’s lessons, drive home in rush-hour traffic, spend a little time with my family, mark assignments (or procrastinate), spend time researching and creating lessons, try to unwind, work on my side-gig projects, try to get to sleep before midnight (ish)… Repeat.

In my new normal, I wake up, drop my kid off at school, go to the gym, and try to stay positive and be productive. I…

  • go to meetings and appointments,
  • work on lesson plans,
  • help small businesses get more clients from the internet,
  • respond to client needs,
  • explore business opportunities,
  • advocate for protecting the mental health of students,
  • make new friends,
  • take care of myself.

But, if I don’t make it to the gym, it’s just as easy for me to crawl back to bed and sleep the day away. So, that simple routine for me is key to help me kick start the day.

Bonus Strategy: Think of Life in Units of Time

Although it’s not a routine, the other strategy I use to get motivated and not get stuck is to try to break down daunting tasks into units of time. The character Will Freeman (played by Hugh Grant) talks about units of time.

“I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour.”
Will Freeman, About a Boy

Personally, I even find thirty minutes daunting, so I set my timer for twenty-five minutes which then gives me a five-minute break to procrastinate and move around. If I need it.

The thing is, usually, once I’ve started, I’m able to keep going when the timer goes off. But, that little “units of time” strategy definitely helps me to keep going.

Strategy #3: Think of this as an opportunity to re-invent yourself.

No one wants to get fired. No one wants to leave their dream job.

But, the movie pitches the idea that this horrible event in your career might actually be a hidden opportunity to chase your forgotten dreams.

In the middle of the movie, Clooney fires Bob, a 90K executive played by J.K. Simmons.

“How much did they first pay you to give up on your dreams? …And when were you going to stop, and come back and do what makes you happy?

“I see guys who work at the same company for their entire lives… guys exactly like you. They clock in and they clock out, and they never have a moment of happiness.

You have an opportunity here, Bob. This is a rebirth. If not for you, then do it for your children.”

Bob leaves, reflective of the future.

How does it feel when you get fired or lose your job?

Shitty. Real shitty.

I think some of the most powerful lines of the movie are delivered by real people who were recently fired.

Apparently, the producer advertised for people who were recently got fired from their jobs. So these people who actually got fired were interviewed and filmed while they told their stories.

This is what I get in return for 30 years of service for my company?

You have a lot of gall, coming in here and firing your number one producer and then you’re going to go home tomorrow and make more money than you’ve ever made in your life, and I’m gonna go home without a paycheck.

I guess you leave me dumbfounded. I don’t know where this is coming from. How am I supposed to go back as a man, and explain this to my wife, that I lost my job.

On a stress level, I’ve heard that losing your job is like a death in the family. But, personally, I felt more like the people I worked with were my family, and I died.

I can’t afford to be unemployed. I have house payments. I have children.

I don’t know how you can live with yourself, but I’m sure you’ll find a way while the rest of us are suffering.

I’m done? Just like that?

I wasn’t expecting this. Not at all. This is not fair.

I’m disappointed that I’ve given so much of my life.

There are going to be people who are way more qualified than me now.

I don’t know what to do when I wake up in the morning tomorrow.

Raw, emotional, honest responses from real people who got fired.

At the end of the movie, some of these people who got fired talk about their thoughts for the future. Cue some nice upbeat acoustic music to play in the background.

Well, I don’t have a lot of hope, and I don’t know when it’s going to get better and I really don’t know when there’s going to be a light at the end of the tunnel. (1:42:10)

I can’t find much to talk about. Talk about being proud? I’m proud of my kids. Let me get up. Let me get out. Let me find something. So my kids are my purpose, my family.

I think the anger comes from the fact that, uh, I just wasn’t needed anymore. It would have been a lot tougher if I would have had to make it on my own.

I would say, you know, uh, without my friends and my family, I wouldn’t have made it.

When I wake up in the morning and I look over and I see my wife, uh, that gives me the sense of purpose.

It’s not all about the money. Money can keep you warm. It pays your heating bills, you know. It can buy you a blanket. But it’s not as… it doesn’t keep you as warm as when my husband holds me.

So, it looks like we have another tip for what to do when you get fired:

Strategy #4 Family and friends can help give you a reason why.

A reason why you need to get through this.

A reason why you can get through this.

These are tough times. Can’t stick around for that. I was chatting with a friend about my situation and he was sharing things that have been going on in his life. My friend commented how events in these past few years have highlighted for him how everything can change so quickly.

So true. Life can change in an instant.

But I’m not the first person to get blindsided and lose my job. So, I think the key here is to learn from others who have gone through similar experiences.

All in all, there are 22 different terminated employees listed in the credits of the movie. Nicole Laporte interviews six of these people on as they talk about “unemployment, the catharsis of telling their stories onscreen, and new directions.”

Strategy #5 Remember it takes time to get back on your feet.

Some of the real people who were fired were able to find work and start to rebuild their lives. Others were still unemployed at the time of Laporte’s interview.

Cozy, one of the interviewed women realized that “something had got to change.”

  • After losing her job at a chemical company, she ended up working to launch her own landscaping business.
  • “I would never have done this, had I not lost my job. You’re too scared to quit what you know to go in a new direction…”

Arthur talks about how “when you lose your job, you lose your life.”

  • He tells his story about working for 30 years with Chrysler, and then getting fired.
  • At the time of Laporte’s interview, he was still unemployed.

Kevin had an interesting quote:

” I made a decision as I was sitting in the airport waiting for my flight: I can sit around and wallow in my misery, or get up and do something. Much to my surprise, I chose to sit around, and crash and burn.”

  • Kevin was a director of engineering and design when he was let go.
  • For 18 months, he was unemployed and racked up over $38,000 in credit card debt.
  • Eventually, he was able to find professional work, albeit entry-level.

Andy was in automotive retail when he was fired.

  • He said filming “Up in the Air” was “kind of therapeutic” because he was able to say the things he didn’t have the opportunity to say when he was let go.
  • Other interviewed people were trading stories about how long they’d been out of work and how they lost their jobs. Kind of like therapy.
  • In the end, Andy relocated his family and was able to find other work in a different industry. “We’re starting to live our lives again.”

Erin talked about losing her job in advertising.

  • “It’s hard to not take it personally if you’re still a person and someone’s telling you, ‘We don’t want you right now.'”
  • In the end, she was able to go back to a previous job that she had.
  • Her husband, who also lost his job, had to find work out of state.

WARNING: If you did just get fired, or you’re feeling the weight of the world, you might not want to watch this movie just yet. Here’s why…

Just want you to know that even though there are some good talking points in this movie, there are a few scenes that might throw you an unexpected curve ball.

Spoiler alert:

A character named Steve at the start of the movie gets fired by Clooney and they show a few scenes of what could have happened because “people do crazy shit when they’re fired.”

Also, a different character who gets fired by Natalie Keener (played by Anna Kendrick) calmly reveals her plans to jump off a bridge. Later on, we find out she does, and this is the reason why Kendrick’s character quits the company.

Finally, the movie doesn’t really have a happy ending. Clooney’s character takes a risk and gives up everything at the climax of the movie to follow his heart, only to discover his love interest is unavailable. The last scene shows Clooney lost up in the air… but this time, he’s not the carefree, empty-backpack, wanderlust character that he was at the beginning.

It’s a little bit tragic. We see Ryan’s character looking at the departures board: “Tonight, most people will be welcomed home by jumping dogs and squealing kids. Their spouses will ask about their day, and tonight they’ll sleep. The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places, and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.”

So, how do you persevere when you lose your job?

Leave a comment below and share the wisdom.

Cheers, Mike

(Day 82)

PS. What’s the takeaway message (which is easier said than done)?

How do you persevere if you lose your job? Change your perspective and think of this an opportunity to re-invent yourself

Photo of a canvas sign that says "This is just the beginning" with a red phoenix in the bottom. The background is a winter scene.

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