Joyfear: 3 important things to do after a layoff

Each year, I used a week of vacation time in late July to celebrate my sister’s birthday, work on creative projects and enjoy the weather, and 2015 was no exception. The weather in Portland, Oregon was hot and we were having a beautiful summer.

On the Thursday of my vacation, I had been downtown running errands. As I walked out of the barbershop I received a call from my boss. “There’s a conference call at noon about some org changes I’d like you to dial in to.” I checked my watch. It was 11:50 am. “Sure thing,” I said. Calls like this happened often enough that I didn’t think much of it.

Our site director is a great speaker, I’ve heard him speak many times, but on this day his tone was somber. I pulled onto the freeway and listened closely as he announced the permanent closure of our offices and the job elimination of over 900 employees, including myself. Our final day would be in December. We had 5 months.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”  -Socrates

My mind started racing. I was hired out of college at 23 years old and after 15 years with this organization, I looked at my colleagues, some of them mentors, mentees and friends, as I do family. I’d literally grown up with so many of these good people. Saying goodbye wouldn’t be easy.

I called my mother as soon as the call ended and told her the news. At first, she thought I was pulling her leg, then asked me how I felt about it. I realize now that what I was feeling is referred to as joyfear—the mix of fear, anxiety, joy, relief, and excitement one feels when experiencing life’s defining moments. Not only did I feel the natural fear and anxiety of the looming financial uncertainty, but I also felt freedom and excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead.

If I were to stay positive and productive through this transition, I would have to focus. I took a deep breath, rolled the window down, turned the music up and drove home.

“The two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.” -Mark Twain

In the months that followed, I attended several classes at work designed to help the leadership team manage the transition for themselves and their teams. I took lots of notes and researched, I worked closely with my team, spoke with leaders and other colleagues about their approaches, and boiled my strategy down to the following 3 steps.


To reflect is defined as to “think deeply or carefully about.” One way to reflect on a life-changing event like job elimination is to use the change cycle (aka change curve) to measure your emotional responses and the emotional responses of those you lead.

I learned about the change cycle in a change management class at work. Every 2 weeks, my team and I would make a mark on the graph that indicated where we were at on the change cycle, using a different color for each session. By December, it was clear that everyone on our team had moved along the change curve and the vast majority were now focusing on the future with energy and enthusiasm.

When you face job loss (or any significant life-changing event), it is important to monitor your emotional response. Doing so can raise your self-awareness help you make sound decisions during times of stress.


Another change management strategy I learned was called “One Thing.” It works like this: every 2 weeks each of my team members would announce to the group “one thing” they would do to improve their job search in the next 2 weeks. When 2 weeks had passed, everyone on the team shared what they accomplished and set a new goal to complete in the next 2 weeks.

We continued this exercise for the last four months of our employment and it was great to see what people were accomplishing. At first, my team and I set goals like “finish my resume,” “work on my LinkedIn profile,” “research tuition costs,” and later I would hear more targeted goals like “apply for the job at XYZ Company,” and “prepare for my interview on Wednesday.”

“Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.” Zig Zigler

Goals give us direction, clarity, and a sense of purpose. Set a goal every 2 weeks that will help you in your job search, and then complete it before you set your next goal. I received positive feedback from my team about how this goal-setting exercise helped them stay motivated and hold themselves accountable during that stressful time.


One of the last pieces of advice our site director left us was to “be deliberate” while pursuing our future endeavors; don’t wait for something to happen for you. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “go confidently in the direction of your dreams.”

Here are some ways you can act with purpose:

  • Make time with friends and family to help you get re-centered and gain perspective.
  • Connect with past colleagues and your professional network to find your direction, offer assistance and strengthen relationships.
  • Find and follow a productive routine (to avoid the temptation to sleep in every day!). Use a calendar or smart phone app to schedule and complete productive activities every day.
  • Get to work on completing your goals and follow through to completion. There is no substitute for hard work and perseverance. Do it today. Do it now.

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” -Margaret Drabble

The day of this post, December 14th, 2015, is my first day as a “dislocated worker” and the day I publish my first public blog post. I plan to manage my blog as a television series. Season 1 starts today and I will publish a new blog post every other Monday through the end of March 2016. At that point, I’ll reflect, set new goals, and act with purpose.


Since that day in July, I’ve been thinking about a story called Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. I first read it years ago and although the story is pretty cheesy (no pun intended) it is a widely popular parable that describes change in our work and life and how we can manage it effectively.

Parables are great because everyone can interpret them differently depending on their current situation. Some people get a lot from business parables while others get nothing. What do you think of this one?

Have you ever felt “joyfear?”  How have you stayed focused when facing job elimination or job loss? What lessons have you learned about navigating those changes? Please let me know in the comments below.

7 Replies to “Joyfear: 3 important things to do after a layoff”

  1. I look forward to reading anything you post! If you ever decide to write a book I would buy it.I started school on January 6, so I have not given a lot of thought to the job search since then. I realize though after reading your post, I need to get busy and stay on top of my resume, networking, and interviewing practice.I look forward to your next post .Cindy

    1. Thank you, Cindy. I can relate. Before we know it we’ll be back out in the job market. Until then, we have lots of homework to do!

  2. I have re-invented myself many times in my career, but what I like about what you suggested is the simplicity. Just pick something, focus on it for 2 weeks, and report to an interested audience. Great advice.

    1. Hi Barbara, thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts. This is my first career change, so I’m glad to hear there’s light on the other side. Thanks again!

  3. I remember that day and the emotions that were running through everyone. I’m proud of where I’ve been, the experience with amazing people and being given so many opportunities to learn what you’re capable of with phenomenal help. It’s not the first time I’ve gone through a site closure, but you learn to take job hunting seriously but not to the point of losing sight of goals and what you really want in a company.
    As Barbara said, simplicity. If you try to take on too much at a time, it can destroy what you’re working towards. One thing at a time to get to the next and you’ll get where you’re going.
    I can’t wait to read more of your posts!

    1. I agree! Keeping things simple and balanced during a job search can really help you move forward. Thanks for sharing, Robin!

  4. Very well written blog, Miles. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I am so fortunate to be able to know you thru our work in previous company. Keep up the good blogging! 🙂

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