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Seven Things to Avoid After Being Fired

Don't let self-defeating thoughts sabotage new opportunities.

In today's volatile economy, the loss of a job can be devastating for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is the loss of income at a time when so many families are struggling to make ends meet. However, there are psychological reasons a job loss can be difficult to handle.

First, wealth and status have always been symbols of power. So the loss of a job is often experienced as a loss of power, especially by those who connect their job with their power in other areas, such as in the family and in social circles. Secondly, many people view their career as a critical component of their self-concept and identity. For these individuals, being fired equates to a loss of identity. This way of thinking fuels self-doubt about one's worth not only in the job marketplace, but also in the world in general. The loss of a job (and its accompanying income) also can lead to a strong sense of guilt—guilt over not being able to provide for loved ones or guilt for bringing stress and uncertainty into the lives of their loved ones. Finally, depression is a common reaction to job loss, and depression can lead to a host of other problems.

Although all of these feelings are quite normal, they can also be self-defeating in the sense that such negativity can have a dramatic impact on the ultimate outcome. Perceptions have a powerful impact on our thinking and behavior. Therefore, if perceptions remain negative, the likelihood of a positive outcome is significantly lessened. In contrast, if the negativity can be replaced with an optimistic outlook, such as, "When one door closes, another one opens," the chances for a positive outcome increase.

To prevent being consumed with and dragged down by the initial negativity that is commonly experienced after being fired, here are seven things you should try to avoid.

1. Avoid panic. While a moderate degree of anxiety has been consistently found to be a motivator, panic will only make the situation worse. No one makes good choices while in a state of panic and good opportunities can be lost during the panic period.

2. Avoid isolation. A wounded animal likes to be left alone to lick its wounds, and some people revert back to that instinctual pull when they are emotionally upset or damaged. However, to do so to the exclusion of everything else can be short-sighted. Although giving yourself time to reflect on the past and discover new directions for the future can be helpful after a job loss, this should not be done at the expense of connections with loved ones, friends, and colleagues who can provide not only support at these times, but also fresh ideas and future job opportunities through their network of friends and colleagues.

3. Avoid letting negative emotions consume you. Although you shouldn't necessarily stuff negative emotions, it's important to not allow them to become consuming. Anger, bitterness, and sadness are all common emotions experienced after being fired. But dwelling on these negative feelings can use up valuable energy that could be better spent in finding other opportunities.

4. Avoid rigid mindsets. For example, although you may not think a temporary job is worth bothering with, if money is critical, a temporary job may be necessary. Plus, temporary opportunities sometimes open the door to permanent opportunities. You also should try thinking outside the box. Most people are comfortable with what they know and have done before, but if a new opportunity presents itself, it might be a good idea to venture into unfamiliar territory even if it makes you nervous initially. You don't know where the journey may lead unless you start down the path.

5. Avoid "what ifs." The past is not where your mind needs to be right now. Plus, "what ifs" are impossible to answer anyway. If money is not immediately critical, a positive reframe is to view being fired as an unexpected opportunity to focus on other equally important life matters, such as family, relationships, higher education, or extracurricular activities. If money is critical, focus on the future by exploring other career opportunities or a career change. Job terminations also can present opportunities to strengthen your self-concept through introspection. Take the extra time you have to reexamine your life goals. This can be a good opportunity to open the door to the next chapter in your life.

6. Avoid lethargy and inactivity. It's easy to become inactive when you're feeling depressed, but resist this pull. Do everything you can to maintain or start some type of exercise program or physical activity. Not only will this provide an opportunity for distraction from negative thinking, it also has positive physiological effects, can improve self-concept and, although it may seem counterintuitive, usually creates more energy in a person, which can come in handy when searching for new job opportunities.

7. Avoid going it alone. If none of these ideas work and the negativity starts to become all-consuming, open up to family or close friends about your feelings. In some cases, professional consultation may be necessary.

For most people, a job loss is one event in an otherwise productive life. To see it as more than that for more than a brief period after being fired can sabotage your chances to discover new opportunities. You are much more than your work. If you use your passions to guide you and your strengths to begin a new journey, there's no telling where the road may lead.

More from Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D.
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