In 2009 the national office of AARP in Washington, D. C. conducted an interview with Elizabeth Harper Neeld to be later placed on the AARP website. The interview was on the subject of responding to job loss. In this interview Dr. Neeld discussed how we can be not just survivors but thrivers when experiencing the tough transition of a job loss. Here is the script of that interview:
AARP: AARP has worked since 1990 with Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld, whose books on personal change and transition have provided wisdom and practical suggestions to thousands of individuals who find themselves navigating through difficult times. Today we talk to Dr. Neeld about the challenges of responding to job loss. Welcome, Dr. Neeld.
Elizabeth: Thank you, Julie. Perhaps we might set the stage for our conversation by mentioning that the word “transition” can be traced back thousands of years…some of the root words of the term “transition” are “thorn”…and “beat with a stick.” So it is no wonder that a transition like a job loss can be so disconcerting!
AARP: I know that in your book called Tough Transitions you talk about four distinctions that many people have found helpful as they reel from the news of a job loss.
Elizabeth: Yes, one way we react when we are knocked off keel I call in Tough TransitionsResponding. This Responding behavior often doesn’t reflect our best performance. While we’d like to be calm, we’re unsettled and upset. While we know we’d do better if we were centered and stable, we instead tilt and spin. When we think we ought to be doing something positive, we sit or lie about in a morose funk. The good news about this? This Responding behavior is normal!
AARP: Yes, I know you talk about the involuntary physical responses that happen during job loss…
Elizabeth: That’s right. We don’t get a vote: our emotions are likely go haywire…our bodies release substances that produce anxiety-like symptoms.
AARP: And at the same time that we have to fill out paper work, sign up for unemployment, and start networking!
Elizabeth: Some of the things that help when we are hit with Responding behaviors during job loss are (1) to remember that these physical and emotional responses are usually temporary, (2) to connect with people who know how to listen, and (3) to do as many good things for yourself during this time as possible.
AARP: When we deal with job loss, we also can benefit from what you call in Tough TransitionsReviewing. Can you talk just a minute about what you mean by Reviewing?
Elizabeth: Often losing a job causes us to question our abilities, if not our very worth. It is extremely important at a time like this to review by asking ourselves questions like: “What are some of my accomplishments from the past that I might draw on now as I look for another job?” “What difficult events happened in the past about which I could say later, ‘Even though that was so hard, I survived.’?”
AARP: Reviewing, then, can remind us that we are resilient and that we have moved through other difficult times in the past.
Elizabeth: Yes, and that provides us a good footing for the third distinction I talk about in Tough Transitions: Reorganizing.
AARP: I remember that one of the positive you said about Re-organizing was that this is an opportunity to discover or rediscover what you refer to as “signature strengths.”
Elizabeth: Yes, we all have what researchers refer to as “signature strengths.” Some people spend much of their time trying to correct their weaknesses—and while that can be useful in some circumstances we might imagine spending more time identifying what we are naturally good at…strengths we possess innately.
AARP: The kind of strengths that are just part of who you are?
Elizabeth: Let me give a couple of examples: I have a friend who is a born storyteller…signature strength that comes in so handy when he is training new employees. Another acquaintance seems to be able to organize in her sleep…she knows organizing is one of her signature strengths so when she was out of work she looked specifically for jobs where she could thrive by organizing things well.
AARP: I guess she would be an example of someone who displayed the fourth distinction you write about: Renewing!
Elizabeth: There can be what scientists and researchers call Creative and Victorious Outcomes to a terrible thing like a job loss.
AARP: I’m sure this doesn’t mean clichés like, “Oh, you’ll be the better for this,” or “There is a silver lining to every cloud.”
Elizabeth: You’re right. Not Pollyanna remarks that some people keep saying, thinking they will make us feel better. But creative and victorious outcomes like (1) having a new outlook on life (2) experiencing that you have more empathy (3) knowing that you are wiser than you were before and maybe one of the best (4) an increased ability to hold life’s ups and downs in perspective
AARP: That makes me think about your point about the difference between just surviving and actually thriving something as challenging as a job loss.
Elizabeth: Yes, thrivers approach life as students: what new ways can I view this situation? How can I make sense of this? Thrivers don’t approach life as victims. Thrivers identify with the words of that wonderful farmer-author Wendell Berry who says: Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.
AARP: So we Respond to job loss…with involuntary physical and emotional responses…
Elizabeth: for which we need to cut ourselves a lot of slack…
AARP: And we can Review…
Elizabeth: remembering accomplishments we have made in the past, things we have lived through to come out in another more positive place
AARP: We Reorganize…
Elizabeth: especially identifying our signature strengths…those things we are naturally good at…and relying on these strengths that are just part of who we are.
AARP: And there are times, too, even while we grapple with job loss, that we experience Renewing…
Elizabeth: Yes, we recognize a creative or victorious outcome and celebrate every small movement forward along the way.
AARP: Thank you, Dr. Neeld, for the wisdom you offer and for the practical suggestions for what helps as we move through a tough transition like a job loss.
Elizabeth: And thank you and all your committed colleagues at AARP. It is always a pleasure to be a partner with you.