Lately, Tuesdays have been rough days for corporate leaders. Earlier this month, Travis Kalanick, Uber's CEO, resigned under pressure from investors. Exactly a week later, Pandora's CEO Tim Westergren got the ax along with the company's president and CMO.
These leaders weren't alone. Every day, thousands of American workers are either fired or laid off. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that approximately 50,000 people per day lose their jobs in America.
Being laid off or fired can come as a surprise or the culmination of dreaded anticipation. Either way, being forcibly separated from your job is often traumatic and stressful.
Over the last 35 years, I've learned some things about losing one's position. Like Kalanick and Westergren, I too was removed from one of the companies I co-founded. Many leaders have found themselves in similar situations, and many will in the future.
As a trusted advisor, I have helped many senior leaders navigate these transitions. Drawing from these experiences, here are three things to keep in mind when navigating the gap between positions:
1. Remember your job is what you do, not who you are.
Over the course of your career, you will likely hold a number of positions. You will be excited to tell friends and family about what you do and your new title.
You'll feel pride when you receive promotions and discouraged when jobs don't pan out. These early career transitions can be hard. Losing your position may feel like losing your identify and even your sense of self.
Engineer, consultant, and CEO are merely titles and they don't define who you were or who you are.
2. Climb alone to the top of the mountain and answer these two questions.
So if you are not a title, then who are you? The best way to know is to mentally climb a mountain--alone.
I first heard this advice from a friend who was forced to confront a major career change late in his career. Imagine living your life on the side of a mountain. Near the bottom you are presented with more mundane choices like what to eat and what to wear and what kind of car to drive.
Further up the mountain is where you make choices about how to spend your time, where to live, and what to learn and study. Towards the top are major choices like who to love and how to love them, what position to hold, and what friends to keep.
Living exclusively on the side of the mountain all these choices can be overwhelming and confusing. That's unless you climb to the very top of the mountain and answer these two important questions:
- What kind of person do you want to be?
- What kind of life do you want to have?
My answers to these two questions have changed over the years, and yours probably will too. But there's value in merely having answers to them.
Those of us who follow this advice must remember that our choices on the side of the mountain, low, mid, or high must be congruent with the choices we make at the top of the mountain--the kind of person you want to be and the kind of life you want to have. These high-level choices become our criteria for all subsequent choices.
3. Love the gap.
The gap is that space between jobs. It's like that space between trapezes. The rookie trapeze artist has only one thought as they leave the first swing and that is to grab the second swing as fast as possible.
But the masters, the ones we love to watch at the circus, are the ones who push hard off the first swing, let go, and embrace the gap. They flip and twist and only at the last possible minute do they grab the next swing.
The same possibility is available for all of us thrust into our job gap. Gaps are full of possibility and learning, and surprise and growth.
So here's the hack for the gap. Move past negative thoughts and remember:
- Something is now possible for you that wasn't possible before you were separated from your position.
- Any confusion you're feeling catalyzes learning.
Confusion is the highest state of learning. Climb high--alone. Get clarity on the kind of person you want to be and the kind of life you want to have. Survive this transition and make the most of the gap.