Losing your job is one of the most traumatic things that can happen in your life. Getting fired is usually like the last explosion in an all-out emotional battle that has been raging for weeks, months, or years. There have been alliances formed, brave emails sent, passive aggressive snipes made, and maybe even some tense closed-door meetings.
This is now the final moment in whatever war you were fighting. Unexpected or not, it is traumatic. But, if you keep your wits about you, you almost always come out on the other side with a healthier understanding of where you want to be in your life.
Shock and denial
This is usually the most explosive part of the experience and will knock the wind right out of your sails. What you do at this critical moment may have resonating effects on how well you get through the rest of the stages. If you have any composure maintenance skills, now is the time they will be put to the test.
Do you think your boss has a face like a turtle? You might be right, but now is not the time to be saying so to his/her face. It's more important to maintain your dignity at this crucial moment than to land a sick burn.
I once swallowed down a near perfect zinger while I sat through a tense exit interview. And though it physically hurt to choke down such an amazingly clever insult, I restrained myself. You are human, so you can still voice your displeasure with the decision, but try your best to keep all feedback stone cold professional, right up to the moment when you walk out that door.
Pain and guilt
So you're in your car with a box full of personal items that you probably don't really need. You've made the call to the important people in your life, alternating between tears and a dark rant. In this moment you will probably find yourself with an unrelenting fire of white-hot hatred. Maybe you'll want to launch a giant wrongful termination suit, or call OSHA or an attorney. More likely, you'll have the overwhelming urge to post a desperate online dirge where that epic burn you swallowed down makes its triumphant debut.
It's perfectly normal to have these thoughts over the next few days, but resist voicing them. Let clearer heads prevail, if that feeling spills over into weeks, consider reaching out to your support network. A lot of people have been in this place and are very willing to see you through this rough spot. Ideally, seek people who can be both encouraging and realistic.
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You may have a legitimate wrongful termination case, or a responsibility to call OSHA, and you can follow up on those things soon. But for right now, just walk away.
Sadness and resentment
Eventually, the rage and adrenaline will stop feuling your body and the really real realness will set in. You may find yourself crying at pet food commercials, buying and eating cookies without any recollection, and finally "getting" the lyrics to a song while drinking red wine.
The good news: This is actually how most people respond to the emotional vacuum left behind at the end of an emotionally turbulent period in their lives.
The bad news: This stage can really be a difficult one to get through if you don't have a developed set of coping skills, a strong support network, or another job immediately lined up.
Take it easy on yourself over the next few weeks, but consider that this is a time to lick your wounds and consider what you did and didn't like about your old job.
Denial and delusion
Now's the time for your brain to play a really cool trick on you and give you super unjust levels of self-esteem. You'll tell everyone that you are not only an amazing creative genius, but also a diamond in the rough, and so clearly a winner that anybody who would ever fire you is absolutely out of their minds. It's the fantasy of just living the "rap battle" part of 8 Mile while ignoring the part where he goes back to work at the factory.
You'll consider all kinds of things: Maybe you should get into the studio and lay down some tracks, or move to LA and become an actor.
None of those things are particularly realistic, but it is important not to dismiss them right away. Now is the time to cautiously evaluate a bunch of new directions in your life. If you have never won a rap battle before, I'm not saying that you can't, I'm saying that you will have to put an enormous amount of effort forward to even attempt it. Now can be the perfect time to start making some realistic first steps on an exciting new adventure.
Reflection and planning
Most of the dust has settled around you, and it's time to take a look around and see what you need to do next. This is the time for doing the mundane maintenance tasks that are the exact opposite of fun: File for unemployment (if you're able to), update your LinkedIn, and polish that resume.
Winston Churchill once said, "If you're going through hell, keep going." Eff that guy for being right, but he totally is. Start your job hunt to-do list and see who in your network you can reach out to.
Rebuilding and bootstrapping
It's time to start laying down tracks (real or metaphorical, depending on where you landed on that hip hop career decision), buying supplies, making calls, and generally kicking the ass of this unemployment. It's hard to imagine this stage when you're just beginning the journey, but when you get here (and you will if you work for it), it can end up being really rewarding. Because let's face it: Something got you placed on the chopping block. Now is the time to both figure out what that was/is, and how you can regain control of your life.
Let the world know proudly that though you were indeed knocked out, you've gotten up again, and they're never gonna keep you down. Use whatever '90s one-hit wonder lyrics you need to keep motivated and moving. Though this stage is cathartic, it will definitely be a lot of work.
Acceptance and hope
You've done it. You've kept going through hell and made it out the other side. Whether you've moved up, down, or laterally -- you have had an amazing amount of growth and you should be proud of yourself. Remember the lessons that you've learned and to apply some of the maturity you were forced to adopt in whatever your next endeavor is. Hopefully, it feels like the victory you've wanted, and you will find the professional fulfillment you were looking for. What matters most is that you were strong when you didn't want to be and resourceful when you had to be. These qualities will absolutely serve you in your next job, whether you're laying down beats, sticking it to the man, or just living life one day at a time.