Fired from Your Identity

What to do when you’re let go from your job
Fired from Your Identity

Last week a friend shared some bad news—she had been “let go.” She works hard and has solid credentials, but things just weren’t clicking at this job. Her bosses said her work products did not meet their expectations. Beyond that, though, they also said her personality wasn’t a great fit for the company. She’s really shaken up. Being let go is a nice way to say she was fired, and that hurts a lot more than being laid off along with a whole team or division.

What We Do and Who We Are

As professionals, we work hard at our jobs. As a Christian, I believe there is a reason why God gave us skills and opportunities to apply those skills at work. It’s easy enough to think those skills and opportunities are what God has called us to on this earth, and then confuse “what we do” with “who we are.”

We spend so much of our time at our jobs, it makes sense that those jobs would be a big part of who we are. And when that job is taken from us in a way that suggests we weren’t “good enough,” it’s no wonder a person would doubt their identity.

Depending on your personality, you may need to heal emotionally before you can heal practically.

What should we do? How do we respond?

Identity in Christ

The “spiritual” answer to this situation is to remind ourselves or our friends that our identity and worth is in the Lord—that we have been “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) or that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)—but in the moments of rejection, those verses can sound trite.

I think the first thing we need to do is recognize it really stings. It hurts to be fired. I understand from talking with other friends who have been in this situation that it can be devastating. It’s easy for us who are sitting in jobs right now to say, She’s a good person, she’ll get a job soon. But if you’re the one who is unemployed, fear and doubt can fill your mind: What about the long-term unemployment statistics? Will anyone hire me after I’ve been fired? Does God not like me? How could he allow this?

It has real ramifications professionally and emotionally, and I don’t think we should be afraid of these feelings. Because not only is your identity in Christ, but Jesus is strong enough to handle your feelings. We are children of “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4, NIV). That verse and others like it show us that we shouldn’t just pretend nothing is wrong—God understands you will feel pain, and he wants to comfort you.

Take Steps Toward Emotional and Practical Healing

When we are hurting, we want to get out of the pain as fast as we can. When someone loses her job, she thinks the thing that will stop the pain is either a new job or someone telling her it wasn’t her fault. But a life event such as this could benefit from some reflection.

There are a few things you can do to work through this pain and make it to the next phase. If you haven’t recently lost your job, however, I hope this can serve as a reminder for you to “be there” for someone else who has, to invest in your network now, and to build up that six-month cushion of savings the experts recommend.

When a job is taken from us in a way that suggests we weren’t “good enough,” it’s no wonder a person would doubt her identity.

After taking time to feel your pain and maybe binge-watch a bit of Netflix, try out some of the following:

  • Steep yourself in the Word—don’t try to comfort yourself or your friends with one or two verses. Dig in deep. Consider starting with the Epistles—they talk a lot about perseverance through pain. The message you should hear from the Bible is “hang in there.”

  • Go to a park or indoor garden (nice hotel lobbies are good for this) and spend some time journaling about the events leading up to the termination: What happened, or didn’t happen, that may have given you an indication things weren’t working out?

  • Talk it over with a trusted friend or counselor. Someone who can be objective enough to help you separate out what was you and what was them. It’s rare that a poor job fit is only attributable to one side or the other. Going through this will help you to own your shortcomings and shake the feeling that it’s all your fault!

  • Evaluate what you liked about this job and what you didn’t. Are you interested in re-entering the same type of position in the same field? Could this serve as the catalyst for you to try out something you’ve only dreamed of? Take some time to go through “What Color Is Your Parachute?” or the Myers-Briggs test to help remind yourself of your skills and what you enjoy.

As you are healing emotionally from the disappointment, take steps to heal yourself practically.

Learning more about something you love will help you engage during a time when it would be really easy to disengage from the world.
  • Once you know what you are looking for in your next job, start investigating—research companies that intrigue you, find people in your network who know people who work there. Start going on informational interviews. Get offline. The Internet is a honey trap—it feels good, you think you’re being productive, but most people get jobs from people they know. So get out there and get to know some new people.

  • If possible, find a part-time gig. Losing your job is really, really, really hard emotionally. It also quickly comes with financial pressure. If you have put money aside for an emergency, now would be the time to use it. But if don’t have any money saved up, you’ll likely start feeling financial pressure within days of losing your job. A part-time job will offer you some income, while not locking you into a full-time job that isn’t a great fit and doesn’t leave time for interviews or job searching (which is a lot of work, in-and-of-itself). Think of this time as a sabbatical and be creative. Do you like riding your bicycle? See if you can find a job in a bike shop. If you’ve always thought that unique grocery store would be a fun place to work, see if they are hiring. Learning more about something you love will help you engage during a time when it would be really easy to disengage from the world.

  • Even if you can’t find a part-time job, consider volunteering somewhere part time. It will give structure to your days and make sure you aren’t hiding alone too much, while you help others in the process.

  • Prepare an answer to the “What do you do?” question. While our jobs shouldn’t be our identity, they are one of the more recognizable and easily explained things about us. We may not like it even when we are employed, but it’s normal that people ask that question upon meeting. Answers could include, “I’m in between jobs,” or offer an honest, “I’m working on figuring that out.” People will likely respect your candor. Another option is, “I’m a bike mechanic.”

Depending on your personality, you may need to heal emotionally before you can heal practically. Personally, I work better in the opposite order: once I “get myself moving,” I start to feel stronger emotionally. However you start out, your emotional and practical healing will build off one another. You will have good days and bad days—times when you can almost taste the breakthrough and times when you wonder if you’ll last another day. This was one job (of many that you will likely have over your lifetime). Taking time to gain some perspective can renew your energy for your next position (there will almost always be one).

You are not what you do. While it will hurt, this is an opportunity for you to remember what your true identity is: a child of God. Once that is rooted in your heart, it’s the best time to look for the next job.

Elizabeth Knox is a Local Group Leader for 4word’s Washington DC area, and she’s the author of Faith Powered Profession.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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