“Sometimes, life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” – Steve Jobs
I didn’t understand it. My battalion commander, an officer I both respected and admired, had been notified that he had been identified for early retirement. It was the waning days of the post-Cold War drawdown and the military was in the midst of rebalancing the force in anticipation of the peace dividend to come, but I still couldn’t get my head around the idea of a sitting battalion commander being retired early. He was good enough to command, but not good enough to promote or retain. To a junior captain, that just didn’t make a lot of sense.
But he was, as always, very direct with his own thoughts. “Sometimes, Steve,” he said to me, “the job you love doesn’t love you back.”
All That Hard Work For Nothing
Nearly 30 years later, that moment still resonates with me. It’s a subject that seems to surface on a regular basis, usually coming as somewhat of a surprise to the individual on the receiving end of that unrequited love. Maybe it’s the result of not being selected for promotion – there are few moments that come as more of a sucker punch to the gut than finding your name missing from a promotion list. Sometimes, it comes in form of a lackluster evaluation following what you believed to be a period of exceptional performance – anyone who tells you that “hard work is its own reward” doesn’t have a clue. And other times, it might come as an especially brutal kick to the groin as you are unceremoniously invited to end your career, usually on very short notice.
Now, it’s fair to say that few of these moments in life should come as a surprise. Usually, there are warning signs along the way. Whether we recognize them is another matter altogether: Blissfully ignorant is not a good way to maneuver a career path. But there are also times where we can be surprised. You might run afoul of someone intent on putting you on the unemployment line. Maybe you make an honest mistake with career-ending consequences. And there are people who have found remarkable ways to weaponize complaints. The end result is often the same – you wake up one day realizing that everything you’ve worked for is gone.
What Not To Do
When it’s time to start over, there are a few things you shouldn’t do. First, don’t waste any time pondering your options. Don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on the past or thinking how you might have screwed up. Move forward and do so with purpose. Second, don’t take it personally. Even if it is, don’t. Put aside those feelings and refocus your energy on what comes next. Third, don’t make any major financial decisions. This is not the time to buy that midlife crisis mobile you’ve always wanted. Finally, don’t let your anger, frustration, and humiliation make decisions for you. Don’t burn bridges. Don’t go John Wick on anyone. It’s understandable that you might want to strike out, but your success – your ability to rebound without missing a step – is the best revenge.
Take These four steps and Don’t Look Back
When it’s time to start over, you want to do so and never look back. What you do next defines your character at the same time it shapes your future.
1. Maintain an even strain.
Your emotions are going to take you on a roller coaster ride from hell. That initial blast of anger is going to give way to frustration, humiliation, depression, anxiety, and a host of other negative emotions. It’s okay to vent a little with those who need to know, but don’t feel obligated to wallow in self-pity on Twitter. Remember: the more time you spend pondering those feelings, the further down they will drag you. Rein them in. Use them as fuel. Let them drive you to new heights. But don’t let them hold you back.
2. Get your… stuff in a sock.
Get practical and quick. How will this affect your retirement savings? Will you still have health insurance? How far will your budget stretch until you can find work? Then, apply for unemployment benefits. Update your finances and budget. Now you’re on the clock. Don’t waste any time (or energy) on anything that doesn’t lead directly to something good for you.
3. Blow the dust off.
Let’s be honest: None of us spends enough time on our resumes and employment profiles. At least not until fate steps in and we’re left without much of a choice. We do, however, tend to spend a lot of time cultivating our networks, social or otherwise. Now’s the time to put that network to good use. Approximately 90% of new hires come as a result of networking; that’s your best hope of putting that new resume in the hands of someone who can give your career a new lease on life. Get after it.
4. Get your story straight.
You might want to put the past behind you, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come up again in the future. You need to have an honest professional narrative in hand whenever you interview. Practice it. Practice it some more. Employers have heard it all, so that narrative can’t come across bitter or contrived or you will leave every interview still looking for a job. As much as you can, try to focus the interview on your skills, how well they transfer, and what they can bring to the company. All you want is an opportunity to demonstrate what you can do for them.
This Too Shall Pass
That doesn’t mean you won’t have challenges. Even in a good job market, finding the right job can be a daunting task. Landing that first interview takes patience and perseverance; securing the right job will test your faith and confidence. You might have to accept a position temporarily while you continue to search. But this too shall pass. You’ll eventually get the offer you want and the job you need. And you’ll be back on both feet once again.