Reflections on Being Laid Off

Posted on October 7, 2010


Today is the official notice day of the termination of my employment. As you can imagine, the effervescence around the office is somber and sad, to say the least. While I found out last week, many of my friends and colleagues found out today that their positions were being eliminated. Given the fact that we are a church, this makes things even more complex. This isn’t just a job, this is my soul’s work. These aren’t co-workers, they are friends/brothers/sisters. My congregation and my kids (I was a youth pastor) aren’t constituents, they’re my family and ” my” kids.

And so, in following good Biblical practice, it seems good and right to do some reflections.

  1. First, an image of my office from the past 4 years and some notes on what happened in this space.
  2. Then, some thoughts on how to “cope” with the feelings of losing employment.
  3. Last, some insights on leadership that I have learned from this time.

My Office

This is the view of my desk from the front door of my office:

Here are a few (very few) of things I will remember:

  • On the white board is a note from one of my kids. It begins “pee kay.” The kids call me “PK” for “Pastor Kevin.” I left that note there to remind me of the joys of working with youth because they are full of wit, honesty, and unconditional love.
  • The hebrew written on the board are messages that I am crafting to communicate. Not only do I love teaching, I love what good teaching produces in the lives of people. The Bible is a truly phenomenal book that ought to be respected, understood, and read on its own terms, not imposed upon by the uber-religious or uber-skeptical. I pray that I have been faithful to that cause in my 4 years here. No matter where this next season takes me, I will strive to maintain that commitment.
  • The cross was made by one of my kids who gave it to me as a gift during her junior year. I remember her story, her life, her journey, and the blessing of taking part in a small portion of her and her family’s life. Hanging on the cross is a bracelet with the word “שמע” on it, the most important commandment in the Bible.
  • The frogs, ducks, the raccoon, and the squiggly on the desk were for the many counseling appointments I had with both adults and children in which their tactile interaction with objects helped to alleviate the stress of counseling, or being in a “pastor’s office.”
  • The kleenex and anointing oil are there for the stories of pain and hurt that were told in this office, and hopefully, for the comfort that was offered through my counsel.
  • The can of tuna on the left in front of the kleenex is in hebrew, and it says “Jonah,” which reminds me of the many people we took to Israel to discover a closer look at God’s Word and Jesus’ life. It’s also just a great conversation starter! 🙂
  • Bob the Tomato is from Veggie Tales, still today one of my favorite children’s video productions. I gave it to my wife, currently a children’s pastor, as a gift. I took it back after the internal electronics stopped working. 🙂
  • The smilie ball has been thrown around this office by children and adults, in times of stress and in times of play. It is there to remind me also of the laughs that were in this office.
  • On the cork board is a football schedule for one of my kids, a mission statement for our ministry, a listing of the volunteers who we love and work with, and several gifts from kids who went on vacation and brought me back a trinket.
  • The kippah on the monitor has yet to be returned to the synagogue in Oakland where we visited after an invitation from one of our congregants. It reminds me of the amazing people at this church, their journeys, their stories, their lives, and their loves.
  • On the monitor is my “homie” from one of my kids who took to faith quickly and strongly, and who is now struggling with what it all means in life. It reminds me that ministry work never quits, and entrance into the “family of God,” is not the end of their old life, but the beginning of a whole new lifelong journey.

Many more stories, and many more pictures could be put here. Hopefully, over the next 2 weeks I’ll have an opportunity to share with my church family (kids, volunteers, staff, etc.) these stories, to remember what God did, not just from this office, but from the hundreds of other locations we spent together ministering, loving, learning, growing, teaching, exhorting, …

Coping With Being Laid Off

This is the first time I’ve been “let go.” It’s difficult to prepare for the tangible and emotional realities to follow actual termination. Here are my reflections:

1. Don’t Point To The Problem. Believe in Yourself. There is a difference in “getting laid off,” and “getting fired,” and simply knowing that difference is not enough. You must believe it. In the mix of possible identifiable problems, there may be a host of things to blame–markets, economies, etc.–that could draw your attention. But the point is to stop trying to point the finger at the problems and instead focus on believing strongly in yourself and know that the problem does not intrinsically lie with you. The goal is to ensure that your self-worth, self-confidence, personal identity, personal work ethic, etc., is fully protected, not compromised. In a healthy sort of way, the “oh wait, it’s not me…it’s you” attitude may be consoling. In other words, fight the voices of insecurity. At times like this when it is natural to blame others or despise yourself, reject both.

2. Walk The Stages Of Grief. Losing a job is a loss. Embrace the realities of grief. Depending on who you talk to, there are anywhere between 4-7 stages of grief. Here are seven of them, so as to be comprehensive:

  1. shock & denial | disbelief and detachment from reality
  2. pain & guilt | feelings of hurt, remorse, and chaos
  3. anger & bargaining | transition from hurt to justice (getting even) or reasoning (why me?)
  4. depression & loneliness | self-reflection and acceptance of the weight of the situation
  5. upward turn | first turn of recovery and shift towards calm and organization of current situation
  6. reconstruction | beginning to put pieces back together again
  7. acceptance & hope | feeling and dealing

There can be fluctuation between these stages. One can also stall and hang out on one for a long time. One could also simply blog about it :-). Regardless, the point of knowing these stages is to simply give you “hand holds” as you walk through them. Naming or identifying, “yeah, I’m in anger stage right now,” can be a very helpful tool for coping. In addition, if there is no reasonable movement through the stages, seek assistance, quickly.

3. Stop Light Analogy. A consultant mentioned this very helpful picture to me. Once you discover your severance, identify the time frames for each color. Green: you’ve got good time. There’s no need to get anxious, but do focus on your resume, networking, etc. Yellow: time is running short. Red: you’re out of time and you need income now! Rather than panicking immediately, save your panic until the “red zone.” Hopefully by then, you’ll have enough things in place to sooth your emotions.

4. View Termination As An Opportunity. While this may sound like a “glass is half-full” cliche, I consider this a discipline, not a crutch. Understanding this time as a new start is a prerequisite for moving forward, not a result.

5. Take Advantage Of Your Networks. You know people. People know you. They care about you. Take full advantage of their goodness, and they’ll be gracious enough to help. In addition, take advantage of the new connections you’ll make with people you’ve never met before.

6. Resources. Anyone else have additional helps beside what’s below?

Leadership Matters

The realities of my circumstance have turned my mind continually to the topic of leadership. Peruse this blog and you’ll see many entries on the topic. Several book reviews are forthcoming as well. I am persuaded that much of the loss, suffering, injustice, etc., in the world could be radically transformed, redeemed, and healed through good leadership. Here is a short list of the blaring and pervasive principles that were prevalent during this season.

1. Integrity Matters. The genesis of our church’s journey began with a compromise of our leader’s integrity. No matter how contrite, there is simply no full recovery from a failure of personal and public integrity. It is imperative that the leader’s personal, private, and public life are all in full-working order, and (key point) congruent with each other. The biblical word “hypocrisy” simply means “actor.” Leaders are quick to see their lives as two separate arenas. The tendency is to “put on a show” for the public. This must never happen. The word “integrity,” connotes “trust.” People who follow must be able to trust that the person they see as a leader is true to the core of that person’s being.

2. Communication Honors Human Relationships. True, honest, transparent, respectful, and respecting communication is not just information sharing. In the midst of positional hierarchy where titles often trump ideas, the better a leader communicates, the more the leader re-humanizes him/herself and the people who follow.

3. Leadership Must Empathize and Explain. Anyone who has been around for a while will admit that “they’ve seen it all.” But like a bad parent who simply tells their children, “ah, it’s good for you…you’ll get over it,” when in the moment the child is suffering trauma, a bad leader disregards the people’s feelings in the same way. Good leadership fully embraces and acknowledges how a person feels, then enters into their emotions with true empathy and compassion. After empathizing, a good leader takes the time to explain, to walk through the circumstance with care, love, and friendship. Make sure this is done in order. The point of “having gone through it all” is not to yell from the other side, “tough it up; I did, now it’s your turn.” The point is to now go back through the path with them to make their journey more successful than yours.

This is the view of from the front door of my office
Posted in: Life