Shock Happens: The first time I got fired

Getting fired from a job can be a traumatic event, but our featured writer Mick Kubiak says it has the potential to be a liberating learning experience.

WorkingNation welcomes back Mick Kubiak as our featured writer for January. Kubiak is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in parent counseling and life coaching. She is based in Los Angeles where she is a mother and meditation teacher. You can read her previous articles here.

Mick Kubiak, MA, LMFT Photo – Angus Ross

I will never forget the first time I got fired.

I was young at the time, so I didn’t see it coming, even though I should have. It was a complete shock to me, made even starker by the fact that it happened in the morning before my shift started. I had cheerfully dressed for work that day, prepared for an eight-hour shift.

Instead, I found myself literally out on the street in the harsh morning light, all dressed for work and no place to go. If my mother could have seen me in that moment, she would have said, in her colorful way, “You look like you’ve been slapped in the face with a wet fish!” And that is exactly how I felt. There were no thoughts in my head as to which way to walk down the street. There were no thoughts in my head at all. I was officially in shock.

Shock sounds like something we all want to avoid, much like being slapped in the face with a wet fish, but shock is actually a great liberator of consciousness. The fact that it obliterated all my thoughts, if only for a short time, is evidence of its power to clear the mind. There are people who meditate all their lives to get to that state of consciousness, and all I had to do was get fired!

As a typical human being, I wanted to reestablish my sense of control as quickly as possible. I rushed past the opportunity to experience a completely empty and open mind by filling it up with chatter as quickly as possible -calling friends for reassurance, making a plan to get another job, trying to sweep the humiliation of it all under the rug. As I’ve gotten older, though, I have gotten a bit better at noticing that shock has some surprisingly positive side effects, and occasionally, I even have the patience to sit with it when it comes my way, rather than mindlessly rushing to restabilize my life.

While I would never want to minimize the challenges associated with unemployment, or any sudden change in life plans, I do want to encourage myself, my clients and you to always look for any hidden treasure, any surprising resources, that come along with the losses we sometimes incur in life. As Carol Anthony writes in her book A Guide to the I Ching, “Shock…has the helpful effect of discrediting (at least momentarily) the neat grid of logic by which we explain life and its phenomena. While clinging to this grid of certainties makes us feel less threatened, it is the chief barrier which prevents us from seeing things from a new perspective.”

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Looking back now, I can see that, even without consciously choosing to harness the energy of the shock of getting fired, I benefited from it. The loss of my job disrupted a life that I was living by default and losing my job allowed me to see that there wasn’t much holding me in place without it.

I was in a relationship that wasn’t working and living in a city that didn’t offer me many opportunities for growth. In fact, not long after getting fired, I ended the relationship, moved to another state and started on a new trajectory altogether.

I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t gotten fired, but the experience revealed things about my life that I hadn’t been able to see just moments before and cleared the space I needed to create something new.

RELATED STORY: On dealing with the shame of unemployment

The effect of a shocking event can range from “you are not going to do what you thought you were going to do today” to “you are not going to do what you thought you were going to do for the rest of your life”. These experiences are the origin of the expression: “Mind. Blown.”

When I work with clients who are suffering in the aftermath of shock, I always encourage them to breathe a little into the openness of a blown mind, of not knowing. It is our impulse to return as quickly as possible to some sense of normalcy, to fill up space and re-establish some sense of order. That’s understandable; no one wants to linger in a place of confusion and fear. But taking some time to breathe sends the important and true message to your central nervous system that for this moment anyway, everything is okay. Your hair is not on fire. There is not a wild animal chasing you through the forest. You can afford to take a moment to breathe. One thing we can learn from a shocking event is how not to panic.

Another positive side effect of shock is that it allows us to see and hear our thoughts more clearly. In the spaciousness of a “blown” mind, we can observe our habitual thinking patterns, and see how they may be undermining us. You may notice how your mind gravitates toward scary thoughts and worse case scenarios.

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You may notice thoughts like, “This is a disaster,” or “I’m too old to get another job” or even that classic horror movie line, “We’re all going to die!” (Hey, don’t laugh–some of us are a little more dramatic than others.) I can assure you that none of your habitual thoughts – no matter how dark or dramatic – are yours alone. They are the thoughts of humanity. They come and they go and have done so for thousands of years.

You don’t need to take them personally, and most of the time, you don’t need to take them seriously. They are just clouds in the sky, to use a metaphor from the meditation playbook. For the moment, just stay where you are and observe them as they go by. You will find there are depth and stillness to your experience – the sky, so to speak – that offers answers of its own, that will inform your next steps.

Join the Conversation: What were your first thoughts after you suffered the loss of a job? Tell us your story on our Facebook page.

Connect with Mick: Via email or by setting an appointment through 310-593-4216. Download the Evenflow app for Mick’s meditation training.