The Problem with Plans: What I Learned from Getting Laid Off

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income. Pat is a popular podcaster, blogger, and author of the book Let Go. Today, Pat and I are doing a guest post swap and live event to share the messages of our books.

There’s a lot of different ways to say it:

  • out of a job
  • laid off
  • terminated
  • discharged
  • pink slipped

But my favorite is: Let go. 

Swinging
Photo Credit: [auro] via Compfight cc

How I lost my dream job

In June 2008, I was let go from an architectural position I absolutely loved.

To make matters worse, this was two months after getting engaged. My fiancee and I had already started planning the wedding, and now this.

I had no idea what was coming, which only made the pain in my stomach even sharper.

The first few moments after receiving the bad news are still crystal clear: I stormed back to my desk, immediately started calling every single architecture firm in the area, and began begging for any jobs available.

I didn’t care that people in the cubicles around me could hear what I was saying. I wasn’t going to see them for much longer, anyway.

I remember being so desperate that I was willing to cut my salary in half and take any entry-level position I could. But there was nothing. The recession had taken its toll on the entire industry, and there was no way I was getting back in anytime soon.

Architecture was my life, and at that point, my life didn’t feel like it was going anywhere anymore. I felt like a failure. For days, all I did was sit around, completely depressed.

And therein lies the danger with having a plan.

Learning to let go

It’s good to have a plan.

Plans guide us. Plans give us something to shoot for. But the moment you feel like you’re a failure because things don’t go according to plan, that’s when you’ve really failed.

As Jason Fried says in Rework,

Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can’t actually control.

Plans are important to have, but they are dangerous to stick to. [Tweet]

There are certain things you cannot control that will affect your plans. And although those unplanned events are often scary, sometimes they are the most beautiful, interesting, and exciting things to happen.

If you’re worried about sticking to the plan, you’ll never give amazing things a chance to happen.

My failed attempt at a public speaking career

For example, if you ever plan on public speaking, don’t do what I did.

Before delivering a speech, I would script and memorize the whole thing. I did this partly because I was scared of forgetting something and partly because this is what I thought it meant to “be prepared.”

That’s 30-45 minutes of a presentation, completely written out on 25 pages, that I would memorize word for word. When I shared this with a speaking coach, he said,

Pat, not only is this a complete waste of your time, but when you script your entire speech, you don’t allow for those amazing, off-the-cuff conversational type stories to happen, which are more engaging with your audience. If you know the material, trust yourself to be able to support yourself and make your point. You shouldn’t have to script the whole thing.

Ever since following his advice, my presentations have gotten much better (and I’ve had way more time to work on my slides).

And the same holds true for any opportunity in life. Sticking too closely to the “plan” robs you of the chance to see those amazing, unexpected stories unfold.

Exchanging the old path for a new one

Back in 2008, after some much needed support from my fiancee and family, I decided to let go of the path I was on.

Even though I had invested a lot of time and energy into becoming an architect, it was time to move on. Time to step into a new opportunity, something even more amazing than what had been my dream job.

Realizing that losing my job was not within my control, I had to trust — and work harder than ever to succeed on this new path, the path I was now going to have to create.

It was an exhilarating feeling to make that decision, but it was also hard and scary. At the time, it felt like I was risking everything, giving up what I’d worked so hard for. But I’m glad I did it.

It turns out that losing my job was a blessing in disguise.

Another way to look at it

The traditional metaphor for careers is a ladder.

In order to get higher up, you have to climb the “corporate ladder.”  When you switch jobs, it’s like stepping onto a different ladder, often on the same rung, or maybe one or two rungs higher (if you’re lucky).

But when you’re going through a major job change, how you look at the situation can help determine what happens next.

If you compare losing your job, as I did, to getting thrown off the ladder, then there’s only one way to go — down.

Gravity will pull you downward until you either hit the ground and go splat or desperately grab hold of something to save you. This was me after getting laid off — falling down, arms flailing, grasping for salvation.

But what if, instead of being thrown off, we looked at unexpected change differently? What if was more like letting go?

Here’s the truth…

You are in control of how you react to the curve balls life throws at you.

You can choose where to place your foot before letting go or whether you grab onto something else at all. As you fall, you decide how to land and what to do next.

Sure, we don’t always get to choose when change happens, but we never lose complete control. Because we always have a choice: We get to choose who we are during those difficult times.

Sometimes, you just need to have a little bit of trust. The plan is there to guide you, but you are there to take whatever happens along the way and make the most of it.

The best and worst things that happen in life are usually what goes unplanned. There are miracles and misfortunes, big breaks and huge let downs.

We remember these moments in life like surprise scenes in a movie — we didn’t expect them, but we sure wouldn’t take them back.

How we react and live life after those moments, all of what happens in between, is what shapes who we become.

Note: Join Pat and me for a free Google+ Hangout  today at 3:00 pm Central. We’ll talk about our journeys towards self-employment, what we learned, and how to share your story with the world. We’ll also take questions from the audience. Click here to sign up for the hangout later today!

How has an unexpected change in your life turned out for the better? Share in the comments.

Pat Flynn is a beloved thought leader in the areas of online entrepreneurship, digital marketing, and lifestyle businesses. You can follow his blog or connect with him on Twitter @PatFlynn.

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