In July 2006 I decided to step away from my corporate career and take a break. I had completed several large-scale operational turnarounds by this time and was burned out and in need of some serious self-care. I thought I would be on sabbatical for about six months, but the break lasted only 747 days.
Throughout my career, I was recruited to another company before announcing my resignation; this time was different. I resigned from my job with no other job lined up. It was a leap of faith to leave my corporate career 24 years into it. I know for my own benefit that I had to escape the corporate grind long enough to come back refreshed and ready for the next phase of my career.
I possess a massive internal motivation to move ahead and achieve my goals. In making the decision to take the sabbatical, I had no idea the impact it would have on my psyche. I was lost without a corporate title, an organization to commute to daily, and a sense of purpose and responsibility.
I distracted myself with projects around the house, volunteer opportunities, and frequent travel. During my travels, I decided I wanted my next job to give me the opportunity to travel globally. I wanted to have the experience of being a global executive, and I set out to land a job that would fit my critical criteria.
My job search came to an end when I accepted a leadership role with a global firm as the Capability Development Lead for the Americas. My role focused on making sure the training programs were completed by the whole leadership team in three countries—U.S., Brazil, and Argentina. I traveled to Europe, Latin America, and India within the first year in the role. I had landed my dream job of working with leaders and traveling globally.
Abruptly and suddenly, the role was eliminated after 18 months. I was devastated, shocked, and confused by the decision to end the leadership development programs. Despite having done a very good job in meeting the objectives of my position, the decision was made that I was going to be laid off.
It did not feel anything like my experience when I decided to resign my position to take a sabbatical; the most significant way it felt different was because it was being done to me. I did not decide to leave—but nonetheless I had to leave.
I had been knocked down and out from my dream job and now it was up to me to figure out how I was going to bounce back by finding a new job. I was confident in my resumé and believed that landing a new job would be fairly easy.
My birthday was coming in about three weeks after the job separation, so my goal was to land a new job before then. On the Friday before my birthday weekend, I accepted a role with the same company. I achieved my job-search goal.
I set about having a good birthday, Christmas, and New Years Eve when something happened that changed everything. I was invited to dinner at a friend’s home whom I had worked with many years earlier. As a result of the dinner, I was asked to interview for a job with his family business. I went in for the day and a half of interviews before the holidays and accepted the offer for the VP Corporate Development role. I went back and declined the other job giving them enough time to hire an alternate.
This new job was especially challenging and out of my comfort zone—it was in the manufacturing industry, and I had only ever worked in the service industry. I was going to test my theory on whether or not my leadership skills would be transferable. I had my work cut out for me.
When the CEO/owner unexpectedly decided to step away from the day to day of the business, he asked me to assume the role of president. Without a knowledge-transfer process in place with the CEO/owner, I was on my own to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could in my new role.
Being the new guy and being the new “boss” did not go very very well with many of the senior leaders who I needed to learn from during my transition. I made the best of the situation and left the company when the CEO/owner returned five years later.
Resigning from my job in 2006 put in motion a completely unexpected career trajectory. I would experience another lay off—this time at 50 years of age—which for most people was too old to bounce back. I discovered three things that kept me resilient throughout that experience.
Leveraging the lay off, learning from the lay off, and leading through the lay off changed my mindset about it completely. The lay off gave me the opportunity to leverage what I could control: my reaction to it, my decision to take on a job search, and my willingness to get out of my comfort zone at an age when many people dig deeper into it.
I learned how to navigate my bounce-back. I learned the ways that others had come back from setbacks and challenging situations and applied it to my own experience. I became excited about what I might learn as a result of leaving that job and finding another one. It opened up a whole new industry for me to learn at the end of my corporate career.
I remain as passionate today about leadership as I do the first time I was promoted to a supervisor role. It is my life’s purpose to be a leader, to serve and support leaders, and to model the leadership best practices that focus on people, process, and technology equitably. Others watched me go through that layoff with determination, drive, and dedication for the next phase of my career.
As a result of going from Laid-Off to Liftoff, I found empowerment in an experience that at first is shocking, frustrating, and confusing. I continue to be grateful for the opportunities that I had to leverage the layoff to my advantage, for the lessons learned that give me the confidence to make my way through career uncertainty, and for the examples I shared about how to lead through a liftoff.
We all have the energy, skills, and knowledge to achieve liftoff after a layoff. The empowerment comes to our minds when we see others going beyond surviving and into thriving. Empowerment fuels resilience just as much any other trait or characteristic we possess.
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