The Upside to Being Downsized


Laid-off. Downsized. Let go. RIFed.

We all know these terms–some of us more intimately than others. Having your position eliminated due to budgetary issues, priorities of a new administration, or reorganization is a reality of public sector work. It’s never a pleasant experience and can certainly be professionally and personally devastating. However, having been through this experience more than once myself, I do believe that there is an upside to losing your job.

Now hear me out on this.

I’m not crazy. Really.

Kurt Lewin, a renowned psychologist from the early part of the 20th century, really got a handle on how to deal with major upsets in life. He showed us how to handle change in our lives through a process of ‘unfreezing,’ ‘changing’ and then ‘refreezing.’ For me, these three activities have helped me deal with the loss of a job as I tried to figure out what was next for me. What follows is an example of how you can use these steps to work through the loss of a job as you direct your career down a different path.


This first step requires you to understand why the change must take place and preparing yourself to move outside of your comfort zone. In doing so, you must re-examine many cherished assumptions about yourself and your professional relationships. For me, I was able to ‘unfreeze’ by stepping back and asking myself, “What else can you do for a living?” Like most people, I had a career path and a plan, but I forced myself to assess my skills, abilities, and interests and to consider different types of work I might enjoy, weighing pros and cons of each. This quickly turned to motivation, which made the ensuing change much more manageable.


It’s important at this step to realize that change isn’t something that happens to you, but rather a process of transition. It is a journey you must take as you react to a change. This journey requires you to decide on a new professional course and visualizing yourself in a new role, perhaps doing different things. Personally, I found this part really hard. However, I had a wonderful support network and advisors who helped guide me through the change process. Taking advantage of training and coaching sessions also prepared me for my new career path.


When you’ve settled into your new role and feel a level of comfort, the refreezing process has occurred. What this doesn’t mean is that you are stuck and inflexible; actually, quite the opposite. It means that you have accepted the change and who you are in the new context. Fear gives way to confidence and you are able to seize opportunities that lie ahead. In my experience, getting to this step was a significant accomplishment and a boost to my self-esteem. I realized that despite a very difficult situation, I could move forward, embrace change, and be O.K.

So, what’s the upside to being downsized?

The challenge to engage in a form of metamorphosis.
The opportunity to change and to try something new.
The gift of a new perspective.

Twice my career took vastly different directions because I lost a job, and both times I was put on a path that was extremely rewarding. Job loss is difficult, but the process of self-discovery and renewal that comes afterwards is beyond rewarding.

Tricia S. Nolfi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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