Joyfear (3 Ways to Focus When You Face Job Elimination)

Each year, I used a week of vacation time in late July to celebrate my sister’s birthday, work on creative projects and enjoy the summer, and 2015 was no exception. The weather in Portland, Oregon was hot and we were enjoying a beautiful summer. 

The Thursday of my vacation I had been downtown running errands. As I walked out of the barber shop I received a call from my boss. “There’s a conference call at noon about some org changes I’d like you to dial in to”. I checked my watch. It was 11:50am. “Sure thing”, I said. Calls like this happened often enough that I didn't think much of it.

Our site director is a great speaker, I've heard him speak many times, but on this day his tone was somber. I pulled onto the freeway and listened closely as he announced the permanent closure of our offices and the job elimination of over 900 employees, including myself. Our final day would be in December. We had 5 months.


“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”.  -Socrates


My mind started racing. I was hired out of college at 23 years old and after 15 years with this organization I looked at my colleagues, some of them mentors, mentees and friends, as I do family. I'd literally grown up with so many of these good people. Saying goodbye wouldn't be easy. 

I called my mother as soon as the call ended and told her the news. At first she thought I was pulling her leg, then asked me how I felt about it. I realize now that what I was feeling is referred to as "joyfear"; the mix of fear, anxiety, joy, relief and excitement one feels when experiencing life's defining moments. Not only did I feel the natural fear and anxiety of the looming financial uncertainty, but I also felt freedom and excitement for the possibilities that lie ahead. 

If I were to stay positive and productive through this transition, I would have to focus. I took a deep breath, rolled the window down, turned the music up and drove home.  


“The two most important days in life are the day you are born and the day you discover the reason why.” -Mark Twain


In the months that followed I attended several classes at work designed to help the leadership team manage the transition for themselves and their teams. I took lots of notes and researched, I worked closely with my team, spoke with leaders and other colleagues about their approaches, and boiled my strategy down to the following 3 steps.


To reflect is defined as to "think deeply or carefully about". One way to reflect on a life-changing event like job elimination is to use the change cycle (aka change curve) to measure your emotional responses (and the emotional responses of those you lead).  

I learned about the change cycle in a change management class at work. Every 2 weeks my team and I would make a mark on the graph that indicated where we were at on the change cycle, using a different color for each session. By December, it was clear that everyone on our team had moved along the change curve and the vast majority were now focusing on the future with energy and enthusiasm. 


Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the foundation of personal growth and success. When you face job elimination (or any significant life-changing event) it is important to monitor your emotional response. Doing so can raise your self-awareness, help you make sound decisions during times of stress, and keep you moving forward. 

Want to increase your self-awareness? One way to do it is to complete the Personal Values Card Sort exercise from Bluepoint Leadership Development (edit: this exercise is no longer available online). I did and found my Top 5 Core Values to be Communication, Creativity, Quality, Integrity and Development, while my Trade-Off Value was Relationships.


Another change management strategy I learned was called "One Thing". It works like this: every 2 weeks each of my team members would announce to the group "one thing" they would do to improve their job search in the next 2 weeks. When 2 weeks had passed, everyone on the team shared what they accomplished and set a new goal to complete in the next 2 weeks.  

We continued this exercise for the last 4 months of our employment and it was great to see what people were accomplishing. At first, my team and I set goals like "finish my resume", "work on my LinkedIn profile", "research tuition costs" and later I would hear more targeted goals like "apply for the job at XYZ Company", and "prepare for my interview on Wednesday".

Goals give us direction, clarity and a sense of purpose. Set a goal every 2 weeks that will help you in your job search, and then complete it before you set your next goal. I received positive feedback from my team about how this goal setting exercise helped them stay motivated and hold themselves accountable during that stressful time.


“Don't become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific." -Zig Zigler



One of the last pieces of advice our site director left us was to "be deliberate" while pursuing our future endeavors; don't wait for something to happen for you. Or in the words of Henry David Thoreau, "go confidently in the direction of your dreams".  

Here are some ways you can act with purpose:

  • Make time with friends and family to help you get re-centered and gain perspective
  • Connect with past colleagues and your professional network to find your direction, offer assistance and strengthen relationships
  • Find and follow a productive routine (to avoid the temptation to sleep in every day!). Use a calendar or smart phone app to schedule and complete productive activities every day
  • Get to work on completing your goals and follow through to completion. There is no substitute for hard work and perseverance. Do it today. Do it now. 


“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” -Margaret Drabble


• • •

The day of this post, December 14th, 2015, is my first day as a "dislocated worker" and the day I publish my first public blog post. I plan to manage my blog as a television series. Season 1 starts today and I will publish a new blog post every other Monday through the end of March 2016. At that point I'll reflect, set new goals, and act with purpose.

Part of my plan to act with purpose is to achieve a goal I’ve had for nearly 10 years: establish a balanced online presence. I’ve published three previous websites, all dedicated to music, but they didn’t meet my high standards and they didn’t allow me much freedom. For example, it didn't make sense to share my business experience on a site designed for music.

I realized that I needed a central online location where I can share not only my musical endeavors but also my writing, creative interests, and professional skills. I designed this website for that purpose.


Since that day in July, I've been thinking about a story called Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. I first read it years ago and although the story is pretty cheesy (no pun intended) it is a widely popular parable that describes change in our work and life and how we can manage it effectively.  

Parables are great because everyone can interpret them differently depending on their current situation. Some people get a lot from business parables while others get nothing. What do you think of this one?

Thanks for reading!  Have you ever felt "joyfear"?  How have you stayed focused when facing job elimination or job loss?  What lessons have you learned about managing change? Please let me know in the comments below.