How to Deal with the Holidays When You’ve Lost Your Job

Imagine these conversations.

“So, Dahling, I hear you’re unemployed.”

“What are you doing for money?”

“Why are you talking about toxic cultures when we’re eating?”

“What do you mean you want to be your Authentic Self?  Who else is in there? Are you reading sci-fi again?”

Okay, maybe this is an exaggeration.  But when you show up for holiday gatherings with family and people who haven’t seen you since you lost your job, it’s not much different than going to your first professional function without your professional identity.

The first time I went to a business event post-job I remember exactly who came up to me and took my hand and simply said how sorry they were.  I also remember seeing one of my old, bad bosses who showed up after five years of no contact and being fired multiple times herself.  Huh?  Was she gloating or eager to induct me into her losses?

The holidays are stressful enough without feeling as if you’re the piece of meat about to be carved.

The holidays can also be blissful times when you’re surrounded by friends and family who will always have your back, no matter what.

It’s usually a combination of both, as I experienced.

Change the Conversation

So, how do you change the conversation to heap on the bliss, topped with laughter and gratitude?

Here are a few suggestions:

Limit the time you talk about the old company in your head or at the table. Steer the conversation away from the past.  You can be as direct as necessary.  “Let’s move off this and talk about what’s going on with you, the crops, that bank loan”… fill in the blank.

Enlist allies before you go. If you’re dreading being with someone you know can be cruel, speak to 1 or 2 people you trust to help shut them down.  What’s the easiest way to do this?  People who think they’re right love to talk about themselves.  Have your ally change the topic to them.

Take time-outs. I frequently walk outside between dinner and dessert at  Thanksgiving, and I’m the host!  Who do I see?  Joggers not willing to sacrifice their routines, dog walkers getting happy with their four-footers, people texting someone to reorient them to their day-to-day.  We all need breaks from intense togetherness sometimes.

Say your morning affirmations. “I am valuable.  I can lead others to achieve great things.  My analytical mind is an important asset.”  Rinse and repeat.

Practice your talk track to exude confidence and equanimity. “Yes, I’m no longer there.  A new leader came in and brought a new team.  This is a great opportunity for me to thrive in a new role.”  (Since I’m great at leading others to do great things.)

Ditch the guilt over not buying expensive gifts. If your budget is tight or you’d rather spend on a professional coach or other programs to help you get the job that maximizes your value and talent, that’s great.  You don’t have to go into debt to uphold a gift-giving protocol that no longer fits.  Some of the best gifts I’ve received are heartfelt offerings.  These have been framed photographs, a home-cooked meal, an offer to make playlists together—you get it.  These are gifts of time, heart and soul, and last forever.

Don’t feel obligated to put everyone else at ease. Acknowledge the complexity of your feelings: a pinch of rage, a teaspoon of sadness, a dollop of shame.  Leave early if you need to.  After all, these holidays occur each year.  You always get another chance.

An Opportunity to Build Resilience

Holidays are a great time to build and practice your resilience.  Connecting and depending on others is one of the building blocks of resilience.  As the Marstons say in their book on the topic, “Although we may assume that we’re alone in our struggles, the reality is that nothing is more universal than the experience of stressful life events.”

Find Joy Where You Can

If I were to give you one goal, it would be to enjoy yourself.  Yes, that’s right.  This can come from watching the conversation be deflected, accepting someone’s understanding that you didn’t expect, playing board games that test your other, non-work-related skills, laughing, singing, dancing, or volunteering at a food bank.  Your attitude changes the conversation…

“Dahling, how can I help you?”

“You look fabulous!  Not having that stressful job has de-aged you.  I want some of that.”

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