"Ships don’t sink because of the water around them. They sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down."
Given the thousands of people who have recently been stood down or let go entirely from their jobs thanks to the economic effects of COVID-19, it can feel nearly impossible to not let what’s going on in the world weigh you down.
On top of the financial strain unemployment brings, many people find losing their job has a deeper impact on their sense of self. Work is often more than simply what they do; it becomes an intrinsic part of their self-worth. It represents not only their talents and abilities, but the value they provide to their family and society as a whole. Work provides a sense of purpose, and it provides a broader network of social contact.
So what do we do when it is taken away from us?
First of all, we grieve. Grieve the loss of the future we might have had in that organisation, the loss of purpose and value it provided us, and the loss of daily contact with our colleagues. It is important to work through the shock, anger, frustration and anxiety that come with this grief, recognising that these emotions are a normal reaction, and will pass. What we need to do is make sure that we aren’t also being swamped with feelings of shame or self-doubt. These are circumstances where many organisations are making many difficult decisions with very limited options, and while it won’t completely take the sting out of the experience, recognising that it is these external and uncontrollable circumstances that lead to our termination will help.
Our family and friends are there to help us too. By using our newly available free time to strengthen our human connections, we will be better mentally equipped to re-enter the workforce when circumstances allow.
Communicate with your loved ones
Unexpected unemployment will obviously create complications for many of the plans you have created with your partner and family. Maybe it delays plans to start a family, or to buy a house, or to retire. Talk with your family, tell them how you’re feeling, and listen to their feelings in return. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own emotions, but remember it is going to affect them too, and they may need to go through a similar experience of grief. Check-in with each other, and work together to set some common goals based on your concerns and values.
Keep in touch with colleagues
These are people you’ve shared almost one quarter of your life with every week. They were there for all the birthdays, break-ups and a multitude of other life events and have become vital human connections in your life. Just because you no longer work for the same organisation, it doesn’t mean you can’t still keep in contact. Schedule regular water cooler catch-ups or 5 o’clock knock off drinks via video conferencing or just by phone.
Connect with yourself
Major changes are physically and emotionally taxing. You need self-care now more than ever. Spend part of your day doing something that will serve you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Most importantly this is a chance for you to take stock of your own ambitions and desires. What’s important to you? What did you love about your old job? What did you dislike? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you have that is unique to offer an employer? Use this time to reflect and create a vision of your future, then start taking the steps to start fulfilling that vision.
When you let go of what was and begin to accept ‘what is now’, you move into the present moment. This is the only moment you can control. If COVID-19 has led to your unemployment, there is no doubt your ship has and will continue through some pretty rough waters, but it still your choice in this moment, and the next, and the next, whether you let those dark waters flood and sink your ship, or if they break and roll past your hull as you charge towards your next safe harbour.