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. 

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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42 thoughts on “The Problem with Plans: What I Learned from Getting Laid Off

  1. I think this happens to a lot of us in the romance department. You’re convinced that you’ve found “the one” and you build your life’s plans around that person. Then you’re heartbroken when it doesn’t work out – until you find the real Mr. or Ms. Right, and realize that it was for the best, after all.

  2. For me it was about learning to trust…my partner and I are on round 2. We were a “couple” in our late twenties and it lasted for around four years. I loved him deeply but he wasn’t ready to settle down and I was wired too tight. We parted and each married someone else.

    My relationship ended in divorce, his in tragedy; we reconnected after his wife passed away. It turns out that I’m still deeply in love with him, but I had to learn to “let go” of the past and trust that who we have each become has made us the partners we were destined to be. It has been over four years this time around and I’m so glad that I have been able to grab on to the new path and hold his hand on this journey.

  3. My mom had a baby when she was 40 and my sister and I were 12 and 11. Mom handled this “surprise” with a welcome and open arms. This shaped my sister and I to look expectantly to the new baby’s arrival. We learned so much in caring for our baby sister that when we both become mothers years later we both felt super equipped to transition into motherhood without the fear and fumbling that some must wade through without firsthand experience. Thanks mom, for setting the example of taking the high road when life throws a curve ball! 🙂

  4. Great article! Sometimes we can’t even think up the “plans” that the infinite has in store for us. Everyday is a blessing and the fact that I am still alive and doing what I love is simply amazing. Thanks again for the read!

  5. Thank you for sharing. You are right, we make plans to succeed and then life happens. I taught beginning and classical piano for 15 years. In 1990, the music stopped because of my health. Studied journalism and worked as a freelance writer and was published by Moody, Day Spring, Decision, Discipleship Journal, Home Life, Standard and also did medical writing. In 1998, more problems and by ’99 the writer could no longer read. A friend put a paint brush in my hand, knowing I had to find a way to express the loss. I was in my first art show in 2012 and I also returned to teaching piano that year. (God sent a child from the African bush to convince me I could teach piano again.) In God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted when we return it to him.

  6. Working from home is the best thing that’s happened to me – I’ve met lots of great people and had the chance to develop my writing skills. I wish I could have been on the Google+ hangout today, but unfortunately I had to work at my work at home job. Oh well, maybe soon I’ll actually feel good enough about my book to publish it and then maybe I’ll start getting some more freelance writing income coming in…

    1. No worries Erica! I believe there will be a replay somewhere, and don’t let you hold yourself back from sharing a book that could potentially make an impact on someone’s life! That’s something I have to tell myself all of the time. Happy Thanksgiving Erica!

  7. “If you know the material, trust yourself to be able to support yourself and make your point,” Such great advice! I think of it as being about the business of continually filling my well so I have plenty to draw out for others.

    1. That was absolutely the best advice I could ever receive. On the bigger level, really it’s just about trusting yourself, which for me for the longest time, especially when it came to public speaking, was very hard to do.

  8. Thanks Pat. I value your input. I have been in such a situation before and I found this time amazingly difficult but also life changing in that I could explore new things and indeed have stepped into a world that is much bigger as a result. As I set out on my new journey running an organization helping orphaned youth in southern Africa ( I have found that the journey has been worth it.

    1. It’s hard to know upfront that it will be worth it – that’s the scary part, but it’s also the most exciting part too. I hope this encourages people to see the glass half full!

  9. I needed to read this today. My husband was “let go” two months ago, and I (and he) had been feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under us (I’m self employed, a freelance writer). But yesterday we started talking about making our own opportunities, figuring out a new way to do things. And this just reinforces that it’s time to really let go. Thank you.

    1. My pleasure Julia – if you think of it as transitional, with the entire world at your disposal – you can really choose what you want to do now, then it really opens your eyes to what’s available. I received an email once from a customer who knew I got laid off who said, “You should thank your former employer for taking away your ball and chain.”

  10. I love hearing your story each time I run across it, Pat. The success I am experiencing in my side business (career coaching) comes back to a lot of the principles I’ve learned by following you and listening to your podcast. It may not be passive (yet), but I love serving other people in that way. I took a job in NC a few years back that didn’t work out. I quit after 11 months and moved back to Chicago. Long story short – that series of events are what led to adopting our son. I still think we all need to have a written plan, but we have to be willing to adapt and change that plan also.

    1. That’s so amazing Tom! Congrats on the adoption, my wife and I have discussed that for the future and I can’t even imagine how amazing that feeling must have been!

      1. Adoption is an amazing thing – and there are so many kids right here who need homes. It has to be right for you, but hope you keep it front of mind as a possibility.

  11. I had a bad fall this spring and badly injured my knee and broke my wrist. I was a construction worker, but my wrist will never again be strong enough to allow me to do the heavy work I’d done for years.

    Needless to say, this posed several problems. Fortunately, I spent years in academia and picked up some skills that I turned to.

    I’m now a freelance writer and editor, and loving it. Construction work was getting harder as I entered my 40s, and I no longer had any passion for it. But it was safe: It provided a good income and job security. So I stayed – until I couldn’t.

    I can’t begin to describe how happy I am that I required surgery on my wrist! It allowed me to take stock and decide what I really wanted to do. It was an opportunity to do something that made me very uncomfortable. And the uncomfortable has turned out to be fulfilling.

    1. Great story Rhonda! Thank you for sharing that. I often see the uncomfortable as a sign that whatever it is that I’m doing is worth exploring more. That was the case with my videos, my podcast, public speaking, and a whole lot more. Was scared to death before starting each one of those ventures, but am completely happy that I stuck with it.

  12. Great post. Lately I’ve learned to not be worried about anything and do my best at work, as well as anything else. I will explain. My employer instigates us to do what they need and not pay us right. Sadly no one stands for themselves. We all fear to lose our jobs , due to economic issues. I’ve learned and set my mind to ask for what’s right, fear treatment and a reasonable compensation. I no long fear to lose my job because for being honest and demanding my rights I know I wont. Of course it takes a lot of courage but I compensate with impeccable performance and high quality, hope this helps.

    1. It’s amazing when you think about how life is when you think about those few people who were willing to stand up for what was right in our past, face fear and do what they knew was right. You rock!

  13. Loved this post …So true, Pat … we are embroiled in society’s web and forced to make life plans, which often are not actually the best for us. Sometimes stepping back or away from a defined course of action or a job or a relationship is the catalyst for a much bigger and often better change. The very first time this happened to me was when my husband and I gave up the security of house and home in a first world country to go (with our 5 week old baby in tow) to a job in The Himalayas, Nepal. How that changed our lives for ever.
    So yes: “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.”

  14. Pat, thank you so much for sharing this post. This past year has been pretty rough for me personally and this post was quite a bit of inspiration for me. I recently started blogging and it’s amazing how radically that has improved my life. I know It sounds corny, but honestly just the network of people you can connect with and the community that you can join online can be such an encouragement. I’m an avid fan of all your stuff and I’m amazed by your personal story of overcoming such great adversity. You are an inspiration to the masses, man!

    Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

    Josh May

  15. Wow…a very thought provoking post indeed. In the last few years I have been laid off twice, desperately tried to make a go of “doing my own thing,” failed miserably, and am now in a job I hate trying to find something else without going from the frying pan to the fire. Since I was a kid, the phrase “let it go” would send me into an absolute fit. I am still pretty terrible at letting things go. I hate change and hate the fact that I can’t be in control of my own destiny. I am still trying to learn to “let go.” I’m still pretty bitter about getting laid off from a job I had close to 13 years – things have been in constant flux since. Learning to let go is a hard lesson to learn and I’m not there yet – but I’m trying.

  16. Those sharing your very interesting and exciting, that’s what you’ll probably see it when it’s shared valuable and practical.

  17. Great post Pat. I was “let go” or laid off a few years ago from my job which I had for over 14 years. I was more upset about the friendships I had made with the people who had helped me learn how to be a business woman than actually losing my job. I owe a great deal to them, but it still was a little hard to get through. I did end up “letting it go” and as many of us have done I had to turn to a not so great job that pays the bills.

    It’s up to me to change the direction I am going in, and just as a few people have posted below connecting with others who give you options – the balls in your court to either pass or sink the 3 pointer!!

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