"It doesn't make sense."
That's the common refrain from across the table - the one thing the handful of people who will talk to you will say over and over again when you are unemployed: "It doesn't make sense."
There are many reasons for that refrain.
Some are simply trying to understand.
The work that you did, the contribution that you made, the stack of commendations that you received, the article that featured your work, the claims that the company relied on your efforts, the towering sales figures, the careful craftsmanship, the on-time deliveries, the overtime hours, the extra efforts, the invisible (but annual) merit raises - all of that is strangely out of sync with your being fired.
They know about some of what you've accomplished. They worked with you, and it doesn't make sense.
In a lot of cases, being fired, laid off, terminated, or "made redundant" is like being taken out by a comet or like being hit by lightning. Most of us don't register the shifting realities and sinking sand - the tiny clues that a new boss doesn't like you or doesn't care about the work that you do - until it's too late.
But even when you think something is not quite right, no one wants to live in a defensive posture. So, you settle in, you do your work, and you live your life.
How can it make sense to them? It doesn't make sense to you.
Some who say, "It doesn't make sense," want you to explain it.
There has to be a subplot, what they've been told can't be the whole story. So, the statement is really a question, "Why does it really make sense?"
In a lot of cases, the answer is, "Who knows?" After all, the nicely crafted letter that shattered your life was designed by lawyers to leave you, head in hands, without legal recourse. So, you are looking for your own explanation.
Sure, you could venture a guess or two. This was said, that was said. The human mind thirsts for explanations and yours wants an explanation as much as theirs.
But being asked to provide it over lunch to the remnant is like being required to explain why you are the one who died of the plague.
"So what do you think?
"I don't know. It hurts to think."
Others say it because they want you to reassure them that it won't happen again - and, more to the point, it won't happen to them.
But, of course, you are not in a position to reassure them of anything.
Your own sense of security has just been shattered. What do you know? Up until a few hours ago, you would have said what they are saying.
You have learned the truth of the paranoid's dilemma: "Just because you don't think they aren't out to get you, doesn't mean they aren't."
And after all, the vast majority of layoffs are evidence something went wrong - in the workplace, in the business plan, or with the leadership.
All of them, however, are trying to do what all people try to do - they are trying desperately to impose order and reason on an administrative decision.
This, of course, is the human dilemma, but it is also the lemming's dilemma: "We must be going over this cliff for a reason."
That, however, isn't true at all.
I have seen organizations announce that they are no longer doing the work they did, they no longer have the staff to do it, and they no longer have a facility for doing it, but they are at the forefront of their industry. I have watched institutions and corporations fire people, cut their strength, sell property they were dumb-lucky to own, and never ask themselves how they got there.
Sometimes things make sense. Other times the lemming is a participant-observer in a mad dash for the cliff.
And therein lies the dilemma of the un-employed. It just doesn't necessarily make sense. But the day after you are gone, the excuses are made, the staff shrugs, and life goes on. And that, of course, makes no sense at all - to you.
So, knowing that not everyone will heed the advice the title offers, what can you do if you are unemployed?
One: Surround yourself with people who are able to live without explanations; people who don't need to make sense of everything that happens; and people who don't need to make sense of what has happened to you in the name of making themselves comfortable.
Two: Be gentle with yourself. Know that you are loved. If there is no explanation or no explanation that you can take responsibility for, then you need to own your own goodness and reject the notion that what happens in your life is a referendum on your worthiness.
Three: Do what you can to free yourself from a dependence upon the job that you once had. Make looking for a job your new job. Find objective friends who can help you repackage what you have learned and the work that you do in ways that can offer value to a new employer. Craft a speech to explain you are looking for and a brief explanation for why you are looking and deliver it with confidence. Be prepared to apply for a lot of jobs and a lot of rejection letters.
Four: Keep those in your family in the loop. Lean on them when necessary. But don't allow the job-search to become the end-all. If losing a job has anything to teach us, it is how unreliable a substitute a job can be for the enjoyment of life. As the old expression has it, "work to live, don't live to work."
Five: Maintain your spiritual balance. Our value as human beings is rooted in God's love for us, not in what we do for a living. Find ways to affirm "the goodness that you are" in that love. We spend 18 or more years preparing for a job. We work for 4 decades or more, depending upon our health, the wellbeing of our work-worlds, and the fortunes of the institutions that we serve. Then we spend another 2 or 3 decades in some form of retirement. Far too much of life is lived outside the work world to justify entrusting our identity to the jobs that we hold.
You are not what you do. You are the human being you are becoming, at home, at work, in relationship with the world around you, and the people who love you.