27 years ago my father was the general manager of a regional wholesale musical instrument company he’d worked for, for 20 years. In his early 40s, with his two oldest in college, he was “let go.” The company offered him a position in New York. Settled outside of Boston, my father refused to uproot and was turned loose.

In the midst of the current economic recession, many of you may find yourselves staring into the same uncertain future my father did. My aim in this article is to give you some survival skills for managing such a major transition. Rather than address the tactical skills (such as re-training, resume writing, etc.), I will focus on deep, strategic skills, using three simple questions:

• What do I want?
• What do I have
• What do I need?
Job loss can bring panic, insecurity, identity crisis, loss of direction, and can damage self esteem. These simple questions offer bearings and ballast; they can help you chart a course through what, for some, is a murky—if not a harrowing—passage.


What do I want?
Harrowing would describe my father’s experience. Work had been his identity. When that was stripped away, he went into shock, anger, self-loathing, and depression. The loss of his job, and his false self, left him exposed, and disoriented. Eventually, with a lot of help and hard work, he began to uncover the self he’d buried in his years of working three jobs to support a family of five.

In his early teens my father began teaching drum lessons in his parents’ basement (and he’s been teaching ever since). He loved to teach but had never considered it a viable career option. Groping in the dark of his post-lay off passage, he stumbled onto that calling and felt its vibrancy in a new way. What he wanted more than anything was to teach. And he wanted to do it in his own retail drum shop, where he could offer private lessons, sales, and repairs.

“What do I want?” is a question that will take you as deep as you care to go and challenge you to be as honest as you’re ready to get. In return, it offers peace: The quiet mind and pile-driven resolve of knowing what you are called to do. The deeper and more honest your answers, the more rooted and resilient you will likely feel.

Here are some tributaries of this question:

  • What do I love?
  • What is calling me?
  • What fulfills and enlivens me?
  • What life/lifestyle have I been envisioning for myself?
  • What kind of a world do I want to foster and live in?

Your answers to these questions will become your guiding star. They will provide direction, courage and motivation—at a time when you may be lacking in all three.

One could argue that, a generation later, we don’t lose ourselves in our jobs the way my dad did. We don’t expect or grant the same loyalty or longevity we once did when it comes to employment. To which I respond, these questions can serve folks anywhere along the spectrum of the impact of job loss—from massive blow to blessed relief.


What do I have?
This is a question about resources—inner and outer, hard and soft (as in skills or –ware). Once you’re clear about where you want to go, it’s time to provision yourself for the journey. What do you already possess that could be assets, resources?

Take stock of your skills, education, personality traits, relationships, and experience; then ask, of these, what will serve your endeavor. For my dad, it was his teaching—both his love of it and the devoted following he’d earned over 25 years. He also had his experience as a wholesale provider to retail storeowners. I imagine him rubbing those two sticks together and creating the fire that warmed and fortified him as he prepared to take perhaps the boldest plunge of his life.

Especially in the wake of a lay-off, you may want to ask a trusted friend or colleague to help you answer this question. Even in our best moments we can be hard-pressed to list our personal assets and get a true accounting. Who do you know who can help you name the resources inside and around you that could help you get where you want to go?


What do I need?
Once you’ve taken stock of what you have, this question asks what’s missing. To get what you want, what else do you need in the way of resources or support? Include things like information, training or education, money, encouragement, mentoring, practice, etc.

For my dad, it was a storefront and a loan. He tapped an old friend for a newly vacated retail rental and his brother, a tradesman, for the remodeling. His neighbor, a practicing accountant, helped him with the loan application process.

Asking this third question may help you to identify some other things you already have—especially people you know who can help you get what you need.


Alive, Focused & Grounded
Taken together, these three questions quiet and focus the mind, ground us in reality, and remind us of what enlivens us. Each question may require, or benefit from, outside help from friends, family, clergy or a professional helper—a coach, career counselor or therapist. The truer your answers, the deeper your roots and greater your resilience when weathering the winds of change.

My father sold his business in 2007 and still teaches 30-some students a week. He’s glad to be free from the stresses of running a retail operation, especially in these tough economic times. Speaking to him in preparation for this piece, I learned that the last 25 years were the happiest, by far, of his career and that he looks back at that lay-off as a blessing in disguise.


Permission for Use and Distribution

Feel free to share this article with others, provided you include the following statement and link to my web site: “Written by Joseph DiCenso, 2009.  All rights reserved.  For over 20 years Joseph DiCenso has been helping individuals and groups bring more of themselves to life and meet their deep desires. He does so currently as a counselor-coach, workshop facilitator and leadership consultant living in the hills of western Massachusetts.  Contact him via his website, http://www.joseph-dicenso.com or by email at josephd@crocker.com.”

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