Like many of you, my LinkedIn feed has been filled with posts from recently laid-off ex-Google employees for the past few weeks. And, of course, Google’s not the only company that managed to screw up in this way recently. Given how many people have been affected, I thought I’d take some time to riff on how we can maintain or rebuild our self-confidence in the face of rejection.1 This doesn’t only apply to getting laid off, of course; it’s also applicable to romantic rejection, having a proposal rejected, etc.
First, it’s completely natural for self-confidence to take a hit after rejection. So, if you’re in this boat, it’s okay. Although it’s normal and natural, we often make it worse with the self-talk that we engage in. If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself saying something like:
If only I had worked a little harder, I wouldn’t have been let go.
If only they had given me the support I needed, I wouldn’t have been let go.
Or, your self-talk might be more questioning:
What did I do wrong?
How can I do better next time?
Or, it might be more about searching for explanations:
Why does this always happen to me?
Why did this happen now?
Or, it might be defeatist:
I’ll never find another job as good as this one.
There will never be any more opportunities for me.
The common element in all of this is that the self-talk is either counter-productive or not well timed. In the first case, while searching for blame is entirely natural, it’s almost certainly not helpful. In the second case, while seeking to improve and get better is a great thought, right when you’re wounded is not the best time. I’ve written elsewhere about avoiding the habit of asking why, so I won’t rehash that here. Finally, the defeatist self-talk is obviously not helpful, and (with perspective) also very probably not true.
Instead, this is a great opportunity to engage in some compassionate self-talk. Although getting laid off certainly feels like it’s about you when it happens to you, it’s probably not about you.2 In many cases, CEOs will talk about how the “business climate changed” or “sales didn’t meet our projected expectations” or something like that. Ignoring for the moment the fact that this means they’re admitting they didn’t do their job effectively, the fact is that those were likely the cause of the layoffs, and it’s unlikely that you were targeted specifically.
In some cases (the recent Google layoffs in particular are a great example), many of the people who were let go were to all appearances great performers. The only thing they did “wrong” was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The sad truth about today’s business climate, particularly in tech, is that loyalty is asymmetrical; if your employer believes that they’ll be more profitable without you than they would be with you, then you’ll be out of a job without warning.
In other cases (this applies to many romantic rejections, but also to non-romantic issues as well), the issue is more about a mismatch — in personality, or values, or skillset, or timing. Regardless of the exact reasons, it’s very much an act of self-love to acknowledge in our self-talk that this is just a thing that happens, and although it sucks, we’re probably not at fault.
Another thing that really helps is to be honest about the complete emotional experience. While it isn’t every post, I’ve seen a lot of posts lately that look something like this:
“I just got laid off after more than a decade in this job, and I just want to say how grateful I am for the wonderful people I got to work with, and the tremendous opportunities I had, and the beautiful team I worked with. I wish everyone the very best, and I’m super excited for what comes next!”
And, look. I’m sure that the people who made those posts really do feel all those things. I’m also sure that almost all those people also feel devastated, and angry, and are grieving the loss of the co-workers they worked with and the routine they had, and are anxious and uncertain about their future. How could they not be?
In their book Your Unstoppable Greatness, Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin talk about toxic positivity, and point out:
While such a mindset would appear to be healthy, what makes it toxic is that this mindset rejects any negative emotions, even when they are called for, …
If you were at your job for any significant amount of time, you’ve been laid off in the last few weeks, and you’re not having unpleasant feelings about it, I suspect you hated your job. It’s natural, maybe even unavoidable, to have feelings of anger and loss and grief when you lose something that was an important part of your life. And, a culture that suggests that you not share those natural unavoidable unpleasant feelings is one that’s laced with toxic positivity.
Acknowledging that our emotional experience is complex and multi-faceted is an important component of emotional health and growth. It’s perfectly fine to feel grateful for the experience and angry about the ending at the same time, for example. And, acknowledging our unpleasant feelings is not only necessary to move past them, but also necessary to create human connection with the people around us. And this human connection helps foster an environment in which we can be self-confident.
If you’ve recently been laid off, I know how that feels; it’s happened to me twice. Having someone to talk to about what you’re going through can really help. If you don’t have that person, please reach out to somebody—a friend or a professional, as long as they can give you a safe space to share what you’re going through. If there are opportunities for personal growth you discover as a result, they’ll still be there after you process the feelings.
And, if you know someone who’s recently been laid off and want to offer support: Yes, absolutely, referrals and recommendations and introductions and resume reviews are all potentially helpful. But, sometimes the best thing you can offer is just a safe space to talk.
- Unfortunately, I want to emphasize that this is mostly about maintaining or rebuilding self-confidence in these situations, not about creating it from scratch. If you come into rejection with low self-confidence, right after the rejection is a pretty brutal time to start building it. ↩
- And, if it is about you, there’s plenty of time to explore that and find solutions after you work through the emotional wounds. Now is not the time. ↩