Sometimes bad news comes in the prettiest packages. One of the most common I see in the careers business is the generous severance payout. What seems like a gift from the highest graces too often turns out to be bad tidings in disguise.
The “severance vacation” — that fool’s gold of “time off” that turns a few well-deserved weeks into several empty seasons — has led too many professionals, executives, and high-performers to mistakenly act against their own best interests.
How can it be that something as seemingly non-controversial as a full year’s “money for nothing” can end up hurting you?
First off, the severance vacation can lead you into a false sense of security. “I’ve got enough cash put away so that I don’t have to worry for a while” or “I’m in good shape so I don’t need to look right away” are how we hear it from our clients here at TheLadders. This phony freedom from fear lulls you into believing that the future is far away. Instead of your sixth sense flashing warning signals and blaring the alarm siren, your pleasant-enough living situation inhibits you from securing your future cash flows and career prospects.
That serene sense of calm is harmful. When urgency is low, and the bank account is flush, it seems there’s always a good reason to spend another day contemplating instead of cold-calling. And more time spent on the sidelines leads to ever-worse habits and rustiness. You forget the more obscure industry buzzwords. All that sun leaves you a little slow on the uptake when it comes to the tough interviews. You get softer, you get happier, you get lazier.
That’s because the alternative — the job search — welcomes avoidance. The job search involves rejection, rejection involves pain, and pain is something most of us want to experience at the gym and not carry through our waking day.
The pain of the job search is the result of how unusual the job search is relative to the rest of our lives. A job search occurs perhaps twice a decade and involves meeting a lot of strangers so that they can assess you. That the assessment is in regards to your professional ability to meet their specific, narrow, corporate need, does nothing to alleviate your feeling of being a-foot-and-a-half short of puberty and still in braces at the junior high dance. It’s embarrassing.
It’s true, the job search is the most unusual, unnatural, unenjoyable part of our lives that is, nonetheless, unavoidable. (And avoid it, we try! If Dr. Seuss were still about, he could write a book about the job search entitled “Oh, the excuses you’ll make!”)
So how to handle the bad news that you got a year’s severance?
First, a layoff notice is actually an acceptance letter for your new job — and that job is at Your Job Search, LLC with you as the President and Chief Search Officer.
You’ll need to negotiate a start date. Give yourself an enjoyable, but manageable, severance vacation: one week if you’re antsy, two weeks if you’re bold, three weeks if you want to follow a flight of fancy.
Having a tight schedule for your severance vacation will make those days of leisure sweeter for their scarcity, and allow you to tough it out in a better class of airline, hotel, or amusement park. You need to take the break you deserve and recharge your batteries.
Because once you come back, your new job is full-time. You’ll need to approach it with a seriousness of purpose and dedication to success befitting a professional. And your new job has just one goal – getting yourself into a new seat at a new company getting paid in dollars, not promises or favors.
So don’t let good fortune ruin your luck. When the breaks go your way, bank your plenty rather than fritter it away, and make a timely transition into your new job-finding job.
It’s the best way to ensure that you’ll be collecting a year’s pay, and not a year of empty wandering.
Good luck with the job search this week!