Your Career

Thriving through a Layoff: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

0 Comments 24 May 2012

2012 International Book Award winner and Darkroom author Joshua Graham tells how to survive and thrive through a layoff by finding your true career callingBy Joshua Graham
Author of Darkroom

Ten years ago, if you had told me that I could find my calling and destiny, but it would take losing my job and career, the big, beautiful house I owned, and enduring months upon months of searching through “unemployment,” I would probably have said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” And yet, even in the midst of my stable life of 9-hour work days, steady paychecks, health benefits, and familiar routines forged over a decade of work, I yearned to do something more, something meaningful.

Have you ever sat in your cubicle or office wondering, “Is this all there is to life?” I have. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve worn many different vocational hats throughout my lifetime. By the time I settled into my career in information technology, I began to enjoy the benefits of the steady income and all that came with it, such as home ownership, supporting my family, and enjoying material necessities as well as non-essentials. And though it was comfortable, something within me cried out for more. Not more material things (though for a time, I chased those), but for more meaning.

Here are a few quick tips to find your passion:
1. Identify your gifts (what are you passionate about that helps others?)
2. Confirm your calling.
3. Learn as much as you possibly can about this vocation
4. Do everything it takes to do work in this field, and above all…
5. Never give up, and never give in to negativity in your thoughts and words.

Even during the 13 years of my IT career, I sensed that I was created for something else. I had dreams of being a creative professional like a classical musician touring all over the world as a soloist and with an orchestra. With 12 years of college, resulting in bachelors and masters degrees from Juilliard, and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, I had poured my energy, hopes, and aspirations into that particular dream. Yes, I did get to do quite a bit before I got married and had children, but it seemed that the life of a professional, world-famous musician was not the path for me.

I was at peace with this, especially because of my emergence and rise into the exciting new career of information technology in the mid-1990s, around the prosperous time of the Internet boom. So for the next 13 years, I applied myself to learning both the technical and business aspects this profession. During this time, began writing on the side in order to assuage my hunger for a creative outlet. I also grew comfortable and secure in this job.

Then came the economic crisis of 2008. The entire concept of “job security” got scrambled. All over, people I knew had lost their jobs and spent months, if not years, trying to find another. I, however, working for a large and “stable” corporation, thought none of that would ever touch me. We were IT support, after all. Based on the sheer volume of our work, I could see no way that the company would ever cut any of our jobs.

But they did. In fact, my company outsourced our entire department to a remote hub in Bangalore, and hired one “outsourced” consultant (poor guy) to handle the workload of five people at half the pay of any one of us. Cost-cutting genius, or short-sighted strategy? I don’t know, because I wasn’t around to see the results.

Just a few years before, I had lost my mother to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and then a beloved college teacher shortly after. A year after that—and pet owners will understand—we lost my cat of 16 years. As the economy began to pitch downward, finances became tight. Then in 2008, my mother-in-law passed away from cancer. A day or two after her funeral, I had gotten a stomach flu and was laid up sick in bed. I got a call from my office (the HR department) letting me know that I was going to be laid off. In hindsight, I’m grateful that they gave us a heads-up, because in my line of work, gathering up the computer equipment of recently laid-off employees showed me that most people get no warning at all.

So after all the loss I’d experienced, I was now about to lose my job.

I’ll never forget something that my boss Rob told me. He said, “This could be the best thing that ever happened to you.” I knew he meant well, but I only took his words as a nice way of wishing me well. He wasn’t the one that laid me off, that decision came from way above him. In fact, he knew that after cleaning up the carnage, he would be terminated as well.

Little did I know, he was speaking prophetically. Those words stuck in my mind. This could be the best thing that ever happened to you. I held onto those words, and other words with which dear friends from my church encouraged me; promises from the Bible that informed me that no matter how dire the circumstance, there is a plan for me, for all of us. It’s a plan not to harm us, but to bring us success, plans to give us hope and a future.

So I found myself at a crossroads. Before me stood two paths:

1. Look at the situation, get depressed, complain about the economy, the company that laid me off, get discouraged and pessimistic, and not be happy until I find another job like the one I lost. By the way, if you’ve worked for nearly a decade in one place, your resume has a thick layer of dust covering and making it difficult to use. I had to learn a whole new way of applying for a job in the 21st century.

2. Decide not to give into despair, not to give words to the negative, anxious feelings, and definitely not speak them out of my mouth. Instead, whenever tempted to allow my emotions to manifest in words (thought or spoken), I would redirect myself to the words of truth: I am well-equipped and able, there is a plan for my success that is already in place, I am more than an overcomer, I will not give into despair and let that shape my thoughts, words, attitudes, and decisions. I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know who holds tomorrow.

I’m thankful that I chose the latter. It came from a conscious decision to espouse this line of thinking, speaking and living. And it yielded the best results.

Now, what would have happened if I had chosen the way of despair and negativity? First of all, let me be real. I’m not trying to give the impression that I never felt anxious or upset or worried. Of course I did. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that. It’s only natural. Any sane person would look at my circumstances and realize how dire they were. I had two children to feed and clothe, a hard-working wife, and her father, who had just lost his wife. On top of that, we were going to have to sell our beautiful house in which my children had grown up and loved, then move into a smaller rental. Did we shed tears? Of course.

I heard of a man in California who, upon losing his job, took his life and that of his wife and child as well, because he felt that all was lost. How awful he must have felt to have gone that far. And yet, while I could never make the choices he made, I could almost understand how he felt.

All the more reason not to let our feelings turn into thoughts, and our thoughts turn into words, and our words, attitudes, choices, and destiny. We have a choice of all of those things starting from emotions all the way to our destiny. What will you choose?

Before you make a choice, consider those who have gone before you on this journey of thriving through loss. How did it work out for them? If you were at an actual crossroads, wouldn’t you ask those who have had experience about their journey? I would.
There is a wise saying, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat of its fruit.” What this is saying is that it all starts with the words you speak. Speak words of life, and you will plant and grow a tree of life. Speak words of death (which starts with negativity, bitterness, anger) and you’ll grow such a tree. Those who love speaking in whichever manner they choose will eat of the fruit which that resulting tree bears. I don’t know about you, but I always want to eat the fruit of life, not death, as that tragic man who killed himself and his family had.
And what is that fruit of life? That’s just a poetic synonym for your destiny.

Each one of us has been created with unique gifts and abilities. The problem is that most people don’t know or recognize what they are. How many people do you know who go through life wondering if what they are doing is what they ultimately were made to do? I’ve met many people who really don’t know. Some don’t even know what they want to do. So they go on, get jobs, keep the jobs, lose the jobs, but never really sense that deeper level of purpose in their lives. I’ve also met people who recognize their gifts and calling. Whether they have millions of dollars or very little money, their lives are fulfilled and they never lose hope, or sight of their ultimate goal, because they know what it is.

During my time of unemployment, I took the opportunity to write and get my book out in front of the world. A little bit of money came in, and I’d show the royalty checks to my wife saying, “Here are the bacon bits, Sweetie.” But I’d learned never to despise the days of small beginnings, so I continued to press forward. When I started getting feedback from my readers about how my book Beyond Justice had touched their lives, even changed their lives, I began to reap a reward that means more to me than any amount of income. It was then that I knew that this was not just a hobby, not just a job, but a gift and a calling. I mean, it’s enough of a head rush to hold that first royalty check in your hands and realize that people are actually paying money to read your work. But when you realize that something you’ve done has made a positive impact on another person’s life, and that they are now going around sharing your book with their friends saying, “You just have to read this book,” that’s when you know that you were designed to do this.

So I never gave up on the writing, even though at times I wondered if I could ever make a living doing this. More than the money, I felt that I must keep writing to entertain and also bring hope into the lives of my readers. Further confirmation came Beyond Justice won the International Book Award and hit No. 1 on multiple bestseller lists on both Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Even more confirmation came when Simon & Schuster/Howard Books offered me a publishing contract for my recently released thriller Darkroom, which has just won the 2012 International Book Award for Best Fiction: Mystery/Suspense and Best Fiction: Thriller/Adventure. Wow!

All this came to me not just through diligent work and learning a new business, but through providence from above. The right events, people, strategies, and opportunities were placed right in my path. It’s been said that one must create their own success. I believe this, but more than that, I believe we have to align ourselves to our innate success.

We all have success in our DNA. Failure only comes when we do not understand or operate in our design. A screwdriver trying to paint a wall will always fail. A paintbrush trying to hammer a nail into a wall will always fail. Everyone has been created with a specific design and purpose, but only those who act according to it will succeed. Just imagine the frustration of a person trying to use a chainsaw to cut and design a diamond. That is how it can feel for a person who isn’t operating in his or her gifts.

Losing my job as an IT professional was in fact, the greatest thing that ever happened to me, because I would not have had the courage, ability, or even the imagination to leave that job. And if that had been the case, I would never have become the writer and person I am today.

How does one find their purpose and design? People do this in a number of ways, but for me, I went to my maker, designer, and creator, in prayer and study of the Bible. But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. Ask people who know you really well to tell you what your gifts are. Evaluate their answers. Do you agree? Often times your gifts will be things that not only bring your joy, but benefit others as well. Sometimes these gifts benefit others more than they bring you pleasure, but they will always bring you meaning and fulfillment.

I don’t have a magic pill or a silver bullet for finding a job, making more money, or being happy. But I do know that a person who has found their calling and is flowing in their gifts, tends to live fulfilled, which leads to peace, which leads to security, which leads to patience, which leads to character, and ultimately leads to hope. And this kind of hope does not disappoint.

Joshua Graham is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon and Barnes & Noble legal thriller Beyond Justice. His latest book Darkroom won first prize award in the Forward National Literature award and was an award winner in the USA Book News “Best Books 2011″ awards. Connect with Josh by visiting his personal website, liking him on Facebook, and following him on Twitter.

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