Get Rich Slowly

What to do when you lose your job

This morning, Ben Fractenberg from Lifehacker published a great piece on how to handle sudden unemployment. What should you do when you lose your job?

Fractenberg highlights the advice of psychologist Melanie Greenberg, author of The Stress-Proof Brain, who recommends focusing on two primary goals:

Although it may seem surprising, the latter goal should actually be a higher priority.

In my own personal philosophy, the number-one most important admonition is: “Self-care comes first.” Greenberg agrees. She says that when you suddenly lose your job, it’s important to take care of your physical and mental well-being. Exercise. Eat right. Meditate. Maintain relationships. Volunteer. Create a routine.

Meanwhile, as you pursue a new job, set small, concrete goals. When you lose your job without warning, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. You don’t know what to do or where to start.

To cope with the anxiety, focus on one thing at a time. Set a single goal for each day. Maybe today you’ll draft your résumé, for instance. Maybe tomorrow you’ll apply for one job. And next Friday, perhaps you’ll go for an informational interview at the new office down the street. Whatever the case, instead of letting the Big Picture make you feel out of control, narrow your attention to a some detail or task that you can control — if only for today.

If you’re able to do more than one thing each day, great. But make your goal to accomplish one thing.

Finally, re-evaluate your finances. When you lose your job, your spending priorities will probably have to change — even if you have a sizable emergency fund.

You’ll probably want to prioritize quick wins. Quickly cut the expenses that can be easily trimmed, even if doing so is going to cause some short-term pain. Cancel cable and other recurring expenses for things you don’t absolutely need. Adjust your lifestyle, perhaps shopping at Wal-Mart instead of Whole Foods. Eat out less often. Try not to drive as much.

At the same time, resist the urge to tap into your retirement account. I’ve heard from far too many people who have panicked and cashed out their retirement savings instead of finding other ways to cope with a crisis. They usually end up regretting it.

While Fractenberg’s article is great, I’d add one last piece of advice: If you’ve lost your job, now’s the perfect time to think about your overall goals in life. What is your purpose? No, seriously. What do you want to get out of life? What sort of legacy do you want to leave? While it sucks to be out of work, one upside is you have a chance to change direction that many other people don’t get.

If you’re in this situation, I’d urge you to spend a few hours creating a personal mission statement. It’s not difficult, and doing so can help you make some course corrections so that you’re pursuing work that’s more meaningful to you in the long run. (If you need a place to start, I’ve collected twelve powerful exercises to help you find purpose and passion.)