• Eugene McGarrell

How to reinvent yourself during a period out of work - 6 steps to support successful transition

For 40 years I have held down a job, progressed my career and survived most (not all) management restructures. My sense of who I am was anchored in my place at work. The authority, sense of purpose and meaning centred around the workplace.

The people at work were my community. It’s where I connected with people, had the important conversations and created new possibilities. It was my focus. Coming home in the evening was just an opportunity to rest and get energised for the following day.

There have been 3 occasions in my career when I felt I had lost control. The first time was when I moved to Australia, the second time was when I had made a significant political faux pas (enough said) and the third time was driven by a decision to be courageous.

Each time I experienced the same reaction to the disruption in my career. I felt that sense of loss of community. I felt like the emperor who had just been told he wasn’t wearing any clothes. The people I thought were friends no longer reached out. I felt lonely. Lonely and without agency.

This experience is not unique. Many of us have experienced the sense of loss during an extended time off work because of job loss, pregnancy, care responsibilities at home, injury, illness or stress. Many of us will experience significant disruption at work in the years ahead because of automation, casualisation of the workforce and life events. It’s a part of life.

But what happens when we are out of the workforce? We can lose confidence, agency, motivation and joy for life. Dealing with recruiters reinforces the sense that you are a disposable commodity (why don’t they call when you want them to and pester you when you’re happy at work?). The creative capacity that is overflowing with enthusiasm over a new work project is no where to be found when you really need it.

We find ourselves at a crossroads. We freeze at the thought of a future without work. The bills unpaid, the house repossessed, the hungry children and the depression that will haunt us forever. But this does not have to be the future. This is the opportunity to connect with our authentic selves and take control of the possibilities.

So, what do we do when we find ourselves “in-between jobs”? Here are my 6 tips for successful transition.

1. Grieve. Spend time grieving the loss and accepting the reality.

2. Reflect. Consider your part in the mess. What was it you did that contributed to the situation? Focusing on the roles of other people is a waste of energy. You can change the way you react, the way you respond and the way you impact others.

3. New habits. You have more time and so this is the time to try new habits. Habits that build personal resilience and positive relationships. Yoga, health eating, exercise, sports, reading… the list goes on. Some of these new habits you will stick, and some won’t. Don’t worry about that, just have fun with the experience.

4. Refresh your personal brand. What are your aspirations? What legacy do you want to leave? What do you want people to say about you? What value to you want to add? How will you monetise that value?

5. Learn to be vulnerable and be courageous. Reintegrating into the workplace, whether it’s a new or old workplace requires you to be vulnerable and courageous at the same time. Rejection is common and it hurts. Feel the vulnerability and process the emotions. Keep your eye on the prize and back yourself.

6. Connect. Human connection is critical for us. We are social animals and we need to be seen and we need to belong. For many of us our community was at work. When that disappears, we are left lonely. Do not wait for people to reach out, they are getting on with their own lives. Reach out to people, join groups, become a member of a sports group or connect with your local church. Whatever works, just don’t sit alone at home every day.

Homelessness, depression, anxiety and addiction are real for many people. The road to poverty often starts with the loss of a job, from an injury at work or from stress. But we all have the resources within ourselves to take a different route and create a new future for ourselves and our families.

Eugene McGarrell is a qualified coach and supports people, teams and organisations in transition.

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