Opportunity Disguised as Loss … Ten Years Later
Instead of checking my email before work, I called my mom to wish her happy birthday. When I walked into the office, I could tell something was odd. My boss walked past me without greeting or eye contact. Looking out at the sea of cubicles, I noticed that everyone had their heads down. I felt an eerie tension in the air. A shiver ran up my spine as I opened my email and saw a video message from the CEO. He told us that the company was laying off 11% of the US workforce.
Later that day, when the SVP of our function outlined his vision for the reorganization, I saw the writing on the wall. I knew that the team I led would be eliminated. It wasn’t hard to fill in the blanks … I gave it less than 20% chance that I would remain in my current role and less than 5% that I’d land in a position aligned with my passions and talents. After an anxious, unsettling three weeks, I was laid off.
Initially, I was relieved … to have resolution … and to be released from a job that was not energizing me. But over the next year, I experienced a sea of emotions. I was excited about the change and the opportunity to pursue my dream of becoming a consultant again. But I also experienced a series of “emotional riptides” that came out of nowhere and sucked me into dark places.
My friends, family, and close colleagues helped me navigate the rough waters. Hopes and dreams became my buoys. Goals and plans propelled me forward. New opportunities replaced the losses. My severance period became a sabbatical … a chance for professional training, personal growth, and renewal. Over time, the riptides faded into little ripples. A new normal emerged: a lifestyle that balanced recreation and fitness with my work routines. I found more creative outlets in my work. Eventually, the disruption of this change faded into the past.
Ten Years Later
Reflecting back on that difficult summer, I’m excited to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Storlietelling LLC. But I’m also drawn to resurrect the blog I posted in 2013, one year after my lay-off, When Opportunity Is Disguised as Loss. Three years later, my emotions had mellowed and I posted three lessons I learned about turning adversity into opportunity:
- People Help You When You’re Helping Yourself – Some colleagues reacted to my news like I had acquired a deadly, contagious disease. Others reached out and offered their help. They opened their networks to me, served as sounding boards for my business planning, or just provided moral support. What I observed is that when I was proactive about finding a new path, people were eager and able to help me. My own positive momentum became self-fulfilling and others cheered me on. I couldn’t have found my new place of fulfillment and joy without the help of others. But I don’t think they could have helped me if I’d let myself play the victim.
- Learn from Riptides – As painful as the riptides were, I learned some of my most lasting lessons when swirling in the pain and loss. I feel bad for the people who say they don’t experience these emotional troughs during change because I’ve come to believe that they are forestalling or denying the pain. My riptides helped me see that the “seed of new is present in the shell of the old.” By allowing myself to shed the attitudes, habits, and psyche associated with my old career, I made room to recreate a new life and career.
- Look at the Flipside – On the other side of losses, there is usually something to be gained. I lost some pride, but I have more humility and empathy. I gave up the security of a steady paycheck but gained independence and greater comfort with taking risks. Familiar routines and comfortable roles have been replaced with new skills, knowledge, and capabilities. While I missed the day-to-day contact with many former colleagues, those who truly care made space to maintain our relationship. I have also met many new colleagues and some of them have become good friends. I would say in the larger scheme of life, these gains outweigh my losses.
Ten years later, these lessons still resonate. Both posts remind me of the intense change that the lay-off brought to my life. Today, I am grateful for all the positive changes that grew out of that difficult summer. Because I took that sabbatical and delved into storytelling and creative problem solving, I:
- attended the Creative Problem Solving Institute where I met Mimi Sherlock, the co-author of my book, and many new colleagues and friends.
- traveled to Lithuania to deliver a keynote presentation at a storytelling conference.
- developed a global network of business storytelling colleagues.
- delivered workshops and training programs around the world.
- published, Once Upon an Innovation: A Business Storytelling Guidebook for Creative Problem Solving.
- found a rewarding, new career that will sustain me until I retire.