Why Hitting Rock Bottom After Job Loss is Good For Your Career

Success in life is measured less by opportunities and more by how people deal with setbacks and challenges

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Losing your job is hard. No matter the reason, getting the pink slip can have a profound effect on one’s emotional well-being. In fact, job loss is the one of the biggest reasons for stress, besides other life-altering events such as a death in the family, serious illness and divorce.

A 2017 study by the University of East Anglia and the What Works Center for Wellbeing in the UK found that people who get fired from work feel worse than those who get a divorce or mourn the death of a spouse. The study, which was based on a review of 4,000 research papers, explains that people who are fired from their jobs never return to the same level of well-being based on measures of mental health, and satisfaction with life and self-esteem.

Where it hurts

It’s not too surprising. Work takes up a significant part of our lives, almost prompting us to identify ourselves by the work we do for a living. Such intimacy, if taken away, can lead people to lose track of who they are and even hitting rock bottom.

But it’s all for the good. Remember the saying: “When you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up?” Well, it’s more true when it comes to work and business. A study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University in the US says hitting rock bottom can sometimes be the best way to find the way back to the top. It’s so because when people fail in business or lose their job, they actually get an opportunity to find the long-sought path that will lead them to recovery.

“On the way down, we frantically do all sorts of things to try and repair the situation, and suffer as [we] fail,” explains Dean Shepherd, the Ray and Milann Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Mendoza College of Business in the Notre Dame University, and the study’s lead author. “Bottoming out frees us from the misconception that the problems can be fixed, and in the process, frees us from other constraints and negative emotions and provides the conditions necessary to find a viable solution,” he adds.

Left or right?

Shepherd explains that individuals who eventually hit rock bottom come to realize their identity has been lost, and that realization can lead to either of the two paths: toward recovery or toward dysfunction.

 “Using ‘identity play’ provides a safe environment to escape the situation and try new things, discarding bad ideas or finding and refining a new identity and returning stronger than before,” he says.

A new identity can help the professional on the rebound discover a new self. “A failed corporate executive might consider a variety of other potential roles. For example, sitting on the board of a nonprofit organization that is desperate for experienced managerial guidance, exploring government positions or running for office, working with startups, and so forth,” says Shepherd. “Similarly, a failed entrepreneur might explore how skills learned in starting a business could be applied in a corporate setting, take standardized exams to be considered for law school or engage in other low-risk exploration activities. In these cases, hitting rock bottom opens up myriad new opportunities.”

Pooja Singh

Written By


A stickler for details, Pooja Singh likes telling people stories. She has previously worked with Mint-Hindustan Times, Down To Earth and Asian News International-Reuters.