Laid off – Now What??

“If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.”  Anonymous

Recently I was at a University of MN, Carlson School of Business Alumni event. One of my tablemates shared that he worked as part of the advisory team at the University, advising professors on how to bring their ideas/research/ projects to the market. That all sounded interesting, but he really caught my attention when he said all of the members of this advisory team were 50+ year old executives who had been laid off from companies they had worked at for decades. When he asked what I did, and I shared that I was founder and coach of Design Your Midlife & Beyond, he almost jumped across the table with enthusiasm. He shared that every single member of that advisory group needed a coach to figure out the next stage of their lives. He went on to say the group was influx because they had loved their jobs and had planned to work many more years.  They had made good money but even more important they had accumulated wisdom and knowledge and all of them wanted to keep building and contributing but now couldn’t figure out the next step. So if this sounds like you, read on. 

What do we do when suddenly, we are forced to end our contributions to an organization that we gave years of our professional life to grow and build?  First we might need to grieve a little. The abrupt ending of any role in life is intensely unsettling. Whenever you meet new people, one of the first questions they ask you, at least in the USA, is “what do you do?” Suddenly having to come up with a new answer to that question after a layoff can be confusing and/or demoralizing as you try to dance around the answer. We do need to spend the time to grieve unexpected endings, but at some point, it is time to get busy and that is when a coach can be most helpful. Confidence is regained when we get to work. 

But first, a little history. Retirement is going to be very different for baby boomers than previous generations. The word “retirement” might actually become obsolete.  I sure hope so. Research says that seven out of ten boomers want to keep working in some way. Some will need the money, but everyone can look ahead to a possibly very long retirement and internally we all groan with the daunting desire to stay relevant and purposeful.  Think about it. If a person retires at sixty, they could anticipate having at least twenty productive years ahead of them. That equals 7,300 days!! I used eighty years of age, but many people are productive well into their eighties and nineties, so you do the math. As boomers, regardless of your financial situation, you’ll need to find ways to contribute to feeling valuable and relevant in a quickly changing world. 

First I want to address gravity problems. Gravity problems are those problems we can’t do anything about. We can’t solve them no matter how hard we might try or no matter how unfair, when you focus on gravity problems, you get stuck. One example of a gravity problem:  Companies DO want to get rid of costly boomers. The bottom line is what is important to a company and if they can reduce costs by eliminating higher salaries, that decision aligns with their goals. It’s happening to everyone regardless of position and across all industries. Companies offer the sweet early retirement plans for one reason and one reason alone, which many boomers learn when they thought they could choose to stay working only to find themselves laid off without the early retirement benefits. Robin Ryan wrote a great book titled, Retirement Reinvention, and her research proved that yes, many of today’s Fortune 500 companies do want older baby boomers to leave. That is a gravity problem without a solution so no matter how unfair it is, you have to get past it in order to create something even better. 

So what to focus on?  Anchor problems.  These are problems that we can do something about. My coaching takes you through the process, but I’ll share a simplified version. 

First, you have to change your perspective.  Design thinking is all about looking at problems from different perspectives and then trying out (prototype) solutions. As we age, mindset becomes even more important to a happy life. You have to address all those disempowering beliefs that are keeping you stuck. How to shift your mindset? Start by asking yourself how open you are to any possibility.  Check out the book Presence by Dr. Dan Siegel. He says, “ Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.” We really do create what we focus on! 

 So, let the unfairness of your situation go.  Shake it off! Literally. Put on some great music and dance around the room. Yep, DANCE! As weird as you think you’ll feel, dancing will connect you with your right brain, relax the cerebral cortex (where anxiety sits) and open you up to new ideas and perspectives. 

Now that your mind is open, you are now ready to brainstorming. I love to brainstorm through problems but if you don’t, here are a few tips. Go after it by turning off ALL your filters.  This is the idea phase so no judgments.  Set your timer to at least 5 minutes. Have a large piece of paper handy and write down on paper everything you are interested in, what you are good at, and what you like to do.  NO FILTERS! The faster you do this, the less likely your analytical mind will have time to evaluate. After 5 minutes, stop.  Your paper will be completely filled with words. Stand back and circle ten words that jump out at you. Now write each of your ten chosen words on separate slips of paper.  These ten words are your first step to you creating what I call “Odyssey plans.“ Look at those words moving them around to see if anything is coming up for you. If you feel yourself getting stuck, get up and dance again.  Your next step is to pick out 5 of your favorites from your ten words. Hold onto those because you are going to have an idea-thon with a couple of good friends. 

Schedule an Idea-thon with a few really good friends. You might have to offer good nibbles and drinks to get them there but choose carefully because you want creative thinkers. The best ones are often those that are most irritating in daily work because they are the status quo busters. They are always asking if we can change up how we do something or offering ideas on how we can make something even better.  These friends don’t have to come from the same business. In fact, this works better if your careers have little in common. They just need to be people who support you and are open to creative thinking. Once you have everyone gathered, show them the five words that are important to you.  Have everyone look at what’s on the table and ask them to start coming up with options of what someone could do with those five interests. Ask them to not judge, and not filter!  It’s great if you have a whiteboard to write ideas on because ideas create more ideas.  Even have them write on the whiteboard because they’ll feed off each other. You now have the beginnings of what odyssey plans you might want to prototype. If you have time, pick out a couple that intrigue you and ask the group if they know anyone who does something – really anything- in that area of interest. You’ll get your first list of people to talk to as part of the prototyping of the ideas. 

So what is prototyping? Design principles use prototyping over and over. Prototyping is about trying things out. It is not about testing a hypothesis, which means you already have a proposed decision. When you prototype you talk to people, learn things about different ideas that are new to you.  Prototyping isn’t about success or failure. Prototyping is about curiosity. Your curiosity about what it means to do X, or how something works, or what an organization really does, where are there unmet needs, and more. Through prototyping you’ll start to have experiences, talk to people and gather information that will help you to decide if you want to continue to go in that direction.  I promise you, you’ll hit dead ends and absolute no’s, which is exactly what prototyping is. You’ll come up with new odyssey plans that you want to prototype that weren’t on the original list. Through the prototyping process, you’ll find those possibilities that both excite you and are buildable. Come up with at least two, and then prototype some more. You’ll finally get to the place where you have one odyssey plan that you want to work on. It’s up to you to come up with all the details, but give yourself a one year and then two-year large picture plan. It is like a strategic plan for a company, but this time the company is YOU. This isn’t just about a career. That is only one component of your life. What else do you want in your life at this stage? What do you want to learn more about for no other reason than personal joy? I’ve got gardening on my list because for the first time in over a decade, I’ve got a yard and after spending time every year sitting in French gardens, I want to create my inspiration filled French garden in the middle of Minneapolis.    This isn’t easy to do alone even with a couple of really good friends with excellent brainstorming skills because the darn rational mind wants you to know this won’t work, nothing will work. If that starts to happen, put on some music and go back to dancing. Then contact me to begin and join our Midlife & Beyond Network Facebook Group!