If you’ve ever been laid off—or ever worried about it—you know the fear a job loss brings. So did Angela Holton, until she realized clinging to her job destroyed her spirit. Here are four bits of wisdom Angela gleaned from her own layoff. Even if you’re content in your job, they may help you, too.
I first met Angela Holton about 20 years ago, when we both worked for RCI, a.k.a. Resort Condominiums International. Angela, a powerhouse executive assistant who had worked her way up from a position at the call center, was known for her cleverness, efficiency and analytical mind. A couple of years ago, Angela got back in touch. She was looking for new ideas, because after 20+ years, RCI had laid her off.
Owned by a public corporation in the volatile vacation industry, RCI is known for frequent reshufflings. I experienced two RCI layoffs myself, but even though the pattern was clear, losing those jobs still felt like losing a family and a home.
As it turns out, Angela had just lost those things, too. She’d recently split with her longtime partner, sold the house they shared in a neighborhood she loved, and had a hysterectomy. On top of that, a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. Needless to say, she felt uneasy. Yet her job loss ignited a remarkable transformation.
Here are four changes Angela’s layoff sparked in her life. They may inspire you, too.
1. Loosen your white-knuckle grip.
Before she got laid off, Angela had a feeling of contentment, but she couldn’t really say she was happy. “I knew I was coasting in my job, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. Looking back, the layoff made sense, Angela says. But that meeting with HR still came as a shock. “It was right after my partner and I split up, and we’d sold our house. I was still reeling from the breakup. Everything that represented security to me had been swept away.” Angela sensed more changes ahead. “I knew nothing was being served by my white-knuckle grip on that job,” she admits. Yet she couldn’t make herself quit.
Now Angela sees her layoff as a gift, because it forced a decision she’d resisted making on her own.
When the moment arrived, and Angela found herself sitting in a conference room with her boss and HR rep, she felt a strange peace. “I thought: OK, here it is. It’s happening. I didn’t have any fear.”
2. Follow the flow.
About a year before her layoff, Angela experienced what she calls garden-variety malaise. “I was never one of those people who, as a child, always wanted to be something in particular,” she says. “I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.” That feeling led Angela to reconnect with her spirituality (see “Angela’s Toolbox”). “I knew I wanted to make a difference—to do something bigger and be something bigger—but I couldn’t articulate a plan for that. So I put a prayer out there: Show me the way. You’ll figure it out for me. I didn’t know how it was going to work out, but I knew it would.”
When Angela lost her job, she remembered her prayer, which gave the whole event more meaning. “You can look at a layoff as either scary or exciting—if you can make it through it,” she explains. “If you want to be bigger and bolder than you were before, and if you want to really make an impact, you can’t do that by being constricted and small. You have to let go and trust.”
“You can look at a layoff as either scary or exciting. If you want to make an impact, you have to let go and trust.”
Once her layoff set her free, that’s just what Angela did. Now she’s more in tune with her own needs and goals, as well as the people around her. “The layoff helped open me up,” she says. “Now I follow the flow.”
In that flow, Angela found a new job right away. With more time on her hands to think and just “be,” she also discovered the value of connecting with others—including people in her community. Now she might distribute Slinkys and bubble gum at the office to recognize a random holiday, or take time to get a grumpy OfficeMax cashier laughing.
“We’re so impatient, so cut off from the Divine or God, we may think nothing is happening,” she says. “Something is happening! You just can’t see it. Everything has a season, and the waiting is the ripening.”
3. Dispel illusion.
We all believe a job offers security, yet there’s really no such thing, Angela says. “That’s a nice narrative we tell ourselves. Job security is a falsehood that’s so ingrained in our way of thinking, we strive for it. But that which seems secure can vanish in an instant.”
Angela learned that in dramatic fashion. “Last year, I was looking for something to hold on to because my life was crumbling,” she says. “At first I couldn’t see how the layoff was in service to me. I thought I was being punished and ruined.”
Now Angela has a different perspective. “I realize now that the one thing you always have is your relationship with yourself,” she says. “You’ve got to honor that above everything else.”
“Everything has a season, and the waiting is the ripening.”
Angela shares the story of a colleague who experienced a layoff similar to hers. The woman had been unemployed for 10 months. “In her old job, she was so overworked, all she ever did was cry and complain,” Angela says. “She didn’t like her job in the slightest. Yet 10 months after her layoff, she was still full of violent anger, as if it had just happened a week ago. I thought, ‘I can see why you’re not reemployed yet, if this is what’s inside of you.’”
“Why was that colleague so indignant? The company didn’t owe her anything,” Angela says. “The world needs more people who are willing to sacrifice a false sense of security to make a difference—to fly free and be who they want to be.”
4. Embrace stillness.
When Angela thinks about what could have eased her through her experience, or what may have prevented it altogether, one thing comes to mind: stillness.
“Intelligence is beyond what’s in our brain,” Angela says. “That’s a concept our society and culture don’t necessarily value, and it’s where I’m finding a lot of comfort.”
What’s changed since Angela’s layoff?
Nothing but Angela.
“How did that happen?” Angela muses. “I’m still me.”
The change happens in stillness, she says. For Angela, stillness simply means quiet time and space to let herself think. You could call it meditation, but it’s simpler than that. “It starts with sitting quietly with my eyes closed,” Angela explains. “I don’t say ohm or light a candle.” She does this for about half an hour at the beginning and end of each day.
“I haven’t had any earth-shattering epiphanies, but I do have a quiet sense of ‘okayness’,” she says.
And “okayness” is OK—in fact, it’s great. Angela has the clarity of mind to appreciate all she has now. Her severance package helped pay for a new house in that neighborhood she loves. Her new job gives her the freedom to be herself. She makes space for her friends and community and an important person she’d neglected far too long: herself.
Want to learn more about what keeps Angela going? Here are a few of her sources of wisdom.
Uncharted: The Journey Through Uncertainty to Infinite Possibility by Colette Baron-Reid
The Enchanted Map Oracle Cards by Colette Baron-Reid
Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires by Esther and Jerry Hicks