Instead, your boss sighs, shakes his head, and says, “I have to tell you something.”
Suddenly, your excitement turns to dread.
“I’m sorry,” he says slowly, “but we’re going to have to lay you off.”
How do you get through this kind of shock and loss?
This scenario actually happened to a woman that I interviewed last year and I asked her that very question.
Sharon responded by saying she took a lot of practical steps such as moving to less expensive housing and drastically reducing her budget. Wise moves, I thought to myself and yet, I wondered how Sharon was able to manage the roller coaster of emotions she was experiencing at the time. What she said took me by surprise.
Choosing a new viewpoint
“You know, Bobbi,” she said, “I chose to expand rather than contract. I saw this as an opportunity to step out of my normal way of being.”
With this outlook, Sharon took a trip to Burning Man, read self-help books, attended some classes, and even landed a role in a community theatre play. All of these activities helped her cope: “I realize that I don’t have to pull inward and be depressed.”
The resiliency skill that Sharon used so well in this situation is that of perspective. In this case, she changed her view from “This is a terrible thing that has happened” to “This gives me an opportunity to re-invent myself.”
New perspective, new meaning
In a similar vein, I worked with a client named Joe who came to see me because he had been newly diagnosed with a degenerative disease. Joe was in his sixties and worked in high tech for a long time. He loved to sit at his computer and solve difficult software problems as his fingers flew over the keyboard.
“What am I going to do in a few years when I can’t use my hands anymore?” Joe asked me. “And I won’t be able to drive to work. I’ll most likely be in a wheelchair . . . what then?”
We both sat in silence as each of us struggled with this difficult question. I, too, wondered how Joe could be resilient as he faced a future of physical decline.
My clients often answer their own questions and usually with wiser insights than I. Joe broke the silence.
“I can imagine,” he began, “that someday I’ll be sitting in a wheelchair in an assisted living facility. I won’t be able to move very much but my mind will still be active.” He looked up at the ceiling as he leaned back in his chair.
“I think I’ll just have to develop a new mission statement for myself, a new way to make life meaningful for me.”
And there it was again, a shift in perspective that provided hope and even a glimmer of excitement as Joe pondered what his new mission statement might be.
3 steps to a new perspective
When you are faced with a loss or some other really tough situation, try these steps to shift your perspective:
1. Acknowledge your feelings about the situation. This is a really important step and both Sharon and Joe told me that they first had to get over their shock before they could think about any resilience strategies. Remember, this is about that first step of acceptance that was discussed in the last post.
2. Think about what you may have gained from this situation. Sometimes this is hard to do because the situation you’re facing has brought about such a rapid change. But if you take a breath and step back from it a little, you might be able to see, like Sharon did, that the loss or tough spot you’re experiencing actually opens up some doors for you that would have been closed otherwise.
3. Remember this: You can dislike what has happened to you AND shift to a more positive perspective at the same time. Sharon hated losing her job. Joe would rather not have been diagnosed with a degenerative disease. At the same time, they were able to see that their situations brought them new opportunities to explore different areas of their lives.
Do you have a story of when you showed resiliency by changing your perspective during a difficult situation? I’d love to hear them in the comments section!
Photo credit: grant_loy