My career is in Human Resources and my first introduction to layoffs occurred in the mid 1980’s when I worked for the Miller Brewing Company. Never in the history of this illustrious company had we conducted salaried layoffs, and it was perceived as letting go of your closest friends and family members. It was horrible, and for hundreds of people it forever changed the meaning of the expression, It’s Miller Time.
The first layoffs were accomplished with a high level of secrecy, and also the greatest respect and dignity. It started in the morning, and a warm and inviting lobby that offers a bar and beer taps was suddenly quiet as a funeral parlor. People passed each other in the halls without establishing eye contact because you might learn something you didn’t want to know. If someone said, Hello, how are you? The awkward response might be, Why are you asking, what did you hear?
One at a time, the affected employees were advised by their supervisor, allowed to collect their things and say goodbye to friends. Next they were escorted to the HR department where we advised them of their benefits, remaining pay and next steps. Then we walked them to the door. We were instructed to be swift, firm but caring. When it was over, we then laid off members of the HR team who had just helped to let go of the others. We anticipated this might happen.
As the layoff was occurring, I remember sitting at my desk and waiting for the next person on the list to show up. Usually you knew the person and could anticipate how they were going to react, but it wasn’t always as you anticipated. What allowed you to establish a connection with them was the fact you might get the axe yourself by the end of the day. You never knew, so you felt like you were in this together. It actually helped to ease the pain.
Eventually you developed a preference for which reaction you wanted a person to have, sort of like switching channels on TV. What I liked most were the people who saw this as a springboard opportunity to finally escape a declining business situation, transform their life and career, finally do something entirely different, move to a warmer climate, start a new business, write a book, or even take a much needed vacation or sabbatical from working. It was amazing the possibilities some of these optimistic people had already dreamed up with such short notice. It was like they were anticipating the layoff and already had plans. Many of them actually commented they felt sorry for the people who were left behind. Rather than waiting around any longer for something bad to happen, they were regaining control of their life and career, and it felt good. After meeting with several of these opportunistic thinkers, I was already dreaming what I might do, and was almost hoping to get laid off myself.
What kept my feet on the ground and head out of the clouds were the occasional people whose lives seemed completely dependent on just the Miller Brewing Company. They couldn’t imagine life after Miller and were stuck in the mindset of “why me, why now, why not someone else, what am I going to do, what do I tell the wife and kids, I don’t even have a resume, I’ll never find another job like this, I just bought a new car, how do I pay the mortgage, I’ve got two kids in college, or I don’t think I can make it through the day.” You couldn’t help but feel sorry for these people, and sometimes worried. We were instructed to watch for difficult cases and to connect them with the appropriate resources that were on standby. What you wanted to do was pair them up with the upbeat person who just left and felt like they couldn’t get out of there fast enough. But that would happen later.
The next day we had arranged for an outplacement provider to speak with the entire group and to discuss a wide range of transition topics. Most people were still in shock, but on the third and fourth day, people were commiserating with each other, talking about how their layoff was handled (comparing scars), and about the people they were sad to leave behind and what might happen to them. You could almost sense the transformation that was happening, and it was good. It was obvious that the opportunistic thinkers had hit the ground running, and you could easily assume they would land much faster. This wasn’t always the case.
What distinguished the people who landed sooner or with something better was not necessarily their positive attitude before the layoff. Although that helped many people to initially endure a bad situation, it was a person’s developing positive attitude and sense of purpose after the layoff and whether they could sustain it. Many people had to get through the initial shock, adjust and regain their composure, and then deal with their situation. The people who had a more difficult time ultimately landed jobs as well, but it took them longer because their positive attitude and purpose were slower to develop.
Bottom line, it was how a person felt that determined how soon they acted and what they did. They acted on their emotions caused by what they were thinking. Favorable thinking resulted in feeling better and delivering better results faster. Unfavorable thinking resulted in feeling not so good, and the outcome was procrastination or mixed results.
It’s twenty years later, and after working now with tons of people in transition, I’ve seen this happen repeatedly. I cannot think of one person who was previously unemployed or lost their job that did not find another. It was like there was a job reserved for each of them, and they didn’t have to worry. If only they could have taken a pill and woke up later to find they were already settled into a new job. This was impossible because whatever happened was the direct result, not of their circumstances, but how they thought, felt and acted regardless of their circumstances. Their circumstances were always secondary to their thinking and fulfillment of their purpose.
I refer to the people who get this as the advantaged. They function with a mindset that is made content by control of their emotions to get what they desire. It’s an optional state of mind that enhances your ability to think clearly, feel better, make better choices, deliver better results, and to endure regardless of your circumstances, even layoffs.
But realize this has nothing to do with the power of positive thinking that assumes you’ll get what you want by thinking positively. Get real. Wishful thinking has nothing to do with it, particularly if you’re purpose is to keep putting food on the table. It’s about the proven fact that people act on their emotions caused by what they think. You still have to get up, get moving, and get it done, and what causes you to do this most effectively and with greater resolve is how confident and committed you feel. This begins with how and what you were thinking. Was it about the hurdles, or the goal line?
From my experience, the advantaged were always the ones who despite their layoff, reasoned to recognize the agreeable middle ground. They chose to see the good in the bad, the rainbow, silver lining and light at the end of the tunnel. Rather than waste time needing, wanting or worrying, they imagined already having their purposes fulfilled, and they leveraged their resulting contented emotions to think clearly and to act with greater resolve to achieve the results they desired.
Because everyone’s purpose was different, they each had different thoughts, but generally speaking, they were thoughts that did not ask why me, but inspired feelings of joy, optimism, excitement, enthusiasm and gratitude, and they went something like this:
- Things are looking up and already I’m feeling better and better.
- This enables me to finally do what I’ve always wanted to do.
- Thank goodness this is over and I am getting on with my life.
- How exciting to think what is going to happen next.
- Is it possible to skip the group meeting because I have things to do?
- Now I can do what I’ve always wanted to do.
- I can see already how this is turning into something really great.
- This is happening just in time. I can’t believe this.
- I’m free, thank God I am free at last.
- There’s a purpose and reason for everything, and I’m excited to learn mine.
- I am certain about what I want next and can already see it happening.
- I am fully engaged to do what I must to get it.
- Want to bet I land a better job than what I had?
- I am capable of doing what’s required to get whatever job I want.
- I feel confident the job I want is right now looking for me.
- My thoughts are focused positively on my purpose only.
- I can sense that other people I don’t even know are ready and willing to help me.
- It’s amazing how this seems to be fitting nicely into my plans.
So you see it’s not the layoff that opens the door to creating a brighter future. It’s the meaning you assign to the layoff or anything else that happens, and also your predisposition to reason and recognize the agreeable middle ground, and it enables your contentment. Not everyone chose to see it this way, but later wished they had.
The advantaged realize that satisfaction is illusive, unreliable and sometimes beyond their ability to control or afford. They live contentedly in a beautiful but imperfect world with beautiful but imperfect people, and they’re not expecting everything to go their way. But this doesn’t mean they can’t control how they think and feel in order to have and enjoy the life and career they desire. They reason to recognize the agreeable middle ground, and doing so gives them more strength and advantages than most other people could ever imagine.
Copyright 2007 by Jeff Garton. All Rights Reserved.
Jeff Garton is a career coach, author and VoiceAmerica radio host whose background includes a career in HR with the Philip Morris Companies. He also leads the campaign to retire job dissatisfaction. For information, and to join the campaign, please visit http://www.careercontentment.com.