Managing Other People's Expectations When YOU'RE Newly Unemployed
What advice do you give to someone who just lost their job?
Let's face it, all is not always fair in war and employment. For one reason or another, by will or by force, people wind up in the circumstance of being unemployed. Often we are faced with having uncomfortable conversations about our jobs ("what do you do?") or the lack thereof. Changing jobs for some people may be about as fun as having a root canal in a dark alley, and understanding how someone feels about it may not be readily available before you run your gums. Step one: DON'T post about it on social media! There. I said it. Perhaps you feel that laying yourself bare will shower you in encouraging words with emojis to match. Doing this will not attract the kind of power that you need at this time, and your vulnerability may remain just that. Reserve that post for the exciting announcement that you will be beginning a new chapter.
After I had changed jobs, I took a personal sabbatical to work on launching my business. I was spending more time working at home, and neighbors were noticing. As I was taking out the trash one afternoon, a particularly inquisitive (okay, she's just damn nosy) neighbor seemed to put extra effort into rushing outside in her socks to question me. "Hey! Are you NOT working?" Subtle. This was perhaps about two weeks after she asked my in-laws the same question in the same parking lot.
This wasn't the first time I found myself fishing in my throat for gracious responses when my wish was to give an unfiltered, sarcasm-laced reply. (Breathe in peace, breathe out bullshit…..) Strangely, managing a job change is often a lesson in managing other people's expectations as much as your own. This deeply personal transition can suddenly become a collective experience for those around you.
Let's start here, because obviously the people who will be most deeply affected by your departure will be your coworkers. I found it morbidly humorous that so many people didn't just reach out to support me, but also to express how hurt/shocked/saddened they were. Granted, this outpouring of sympathy was appreciated, but being eulogized by phone, email, or text message quickly became counterintuitive. Although, my having to console them began to generate some silver linings for me, I certainly did not enjoy feeling like life was over because a chapter was closing. Learn how to tell these people the truth: there is life after [insert company name here]. Thank them, and don't feed into the drama.
Speaking of drama, your neighbors have a stake in your employment too, as evidenced earlier. The particularly observant (again, nosy) might notice changes in your daily routine or will have the urge to offer pity or help. Here may be a good opportunity to practice asking for what you need. Whether that means keeping you in their prayers or introducing you to the brother in law who works for that tech startup you've had your eye on or talking up your newly launched business venture, make use of this networking op. It can't hurt, right? The worst that can happen is: your neighbors will mind their own business.
Naturally, your friends only want the best for you. However, on occasion, your friends will mistake your sudden liberation from the 9 to 5 grind as the need for something to do. Or maybe only my friend thought that. Yes, she eagerly and so generously volunteered me to run her errands, like picking up her children or shuttling her mother to the hair salon. "Sorry, darling--not today." After you correct your face and pick your jaw up from the floor, kindly decline, and then refer to the neighbors subheading.
Last but certainly not least, your spouse or significant other may be your biggest
cheerleader and support system. At times, even he or she may suffer from a lapse in judgment during your career transition. To their credit, part of it is due to a certain sensitivity that occurs in how you hear things after you've been fired or laid off. There is a fresh wound that dulls the filter of your brain and allows seemingly innocent words to sound like doubt, criticism, and judgment. There may even be times, like some of those friends we spoke of when she asks you to make phone calls for her during the day or pick up the dry cleaning and wipe the baseboards clean. Shit, i’m a personal assistant and Uber-for-hire again. So when your spouse says “what did YOU do today?” or “what do you mean dinner isn't started?” or the ever-flattering “weren't you wearing that when I left?”...forgive them. Remind them gently that you are nursing a bruised ego while figuring out your next move. And then, thank them for being supportive and understanding, even if they haven't perfected it yet.
You see, there is a special brand of emotional intelligence necessary to show kindness to those who may be experiencing a difficult transition as it pertains to their job. Understand that their words may be well-intended, but hurtful in these circumstances. They should not try to guess or assume how you feel. And they could focus on what not to say to their friend, neighbor, spouse, or coworker opting instead for a simple, “how best can I support you during this time?” Until they figure that out, help yourself to a few moments of levity, on the house, keep calm, and carry on. After all, you have work to do on you right now.