Downsized workers are not the people who should be looking for jobs. "They’re feeling trampled. They’re not seeing all of their gifts," says Linda Sepe, a personal and business coach who is now getting calls from people have recently gotten the tap on the shoulder. "It’s not as bad as it was four years ago," she says of the new crop of lay-offs in central New Jersey, but for those affected it is bad enough. No matter how long "downsizing" has been part of the business vocabulary, no matter how many stories of mass lay-offs make headlines, individuals are still shocked to see their own personal pink slip.
"A woman called just yesterday," Sepe recounts. "One month ago she had been told her job was absolutely secure. The day before yesterday, she was laid off." The newly unemployed woman has two children in college. Fortunately, she also has a spouse in the workforce, and therefore, a little maneuvering room. "She’s interested in considering a whole different set of interests," Sepe says. "In just one day, she had done an assessment and realized all the advancing she had done was because of hard won skills, but also because of flattery." She enjoyed the flattery, and happily accepted the promotions she was offered, but didn’t especially enjoy the work they brought her. "It didn’t fascinate her," is the way Sepe puts it. She will be working with Sepe at identifying just what kind of work will.
About half of Sepe’s clients are in career transition, and many of the rest are individuals with attention deficit disorder, who recognize, perhaps because they see their children struggling with the hereditary condition, that their career progress is being impeded by characteristic ADHD behaviors, which include difficulty with organization and time management. Sepe has been coaching this mix of clients for seven years. She speaks on "Smart Ideas for Developing Your People and Yourself: Coaching the Soul," on Tuesday, March 5, at 7:30 a.m. at the Main Street Bistro and Bar in the Princeton Shopping Center at an event organized by Lindenberger Group Consulting. Judith Lindenberger speaks on "The New Rules of Mentoring" at the event. Cost: $75 for one talk, $100 for both. Call 609-730-1049.
Sepe, a graduate of Syracuse University (Class of 1964), has been through career transitions herself, accumulating diverse skills along the way. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, she worked in educational research for the Syracuse Research Corporation. There she developed an alternative to the G.E.D. test that confers a high school diploma on adults who never finished high school. At that time, she recalls, "more than half of the adults in New York State did not have high school diplomas, and more than half of those people were women."
Sitting for the test was terrifying for women who had been out of the classroom, and very likely in the home, for decades. Sepe developed an alternative, an applied test mechanism. "We asked them to measure a room. We said `How would you purchase a major appliance?’" So successful was the program that Sepe traveled around the country teaching education departments how to administer it. Then she took a full-time job with the Maryland State Education Department.
After her son, now a freshman at Rutgers, was born, she took her career in another direction. "I’m a foodie," she says. "I started a cooking school and catering business." She ran the business for six years before selling it to her partner and moving to New Jersey in 1990. Here she worked for the Private Industry Council and then for the Mill Hill Child and Family Development Center in Trenton.
Then an encounter in the sweet potato aisle of her supermarket changed her life. "A friend told me about coaching," she says. Back then, in 1995, the concept of coaching was new on the east coast. Sepe learned that the Newgrange School was holding the first coach training program in the area, and she signed up.
"There are many natural coaches," Sepe says. "You know if you’re one of them." She knew. Right away. "I knew that was what I was doing when I was teaching cooking and developing new education programs," she says. "I was just a natural. I started immediately." Within two months, her Hopewell-based practice had a solid roster of clients.
Sepe says she couldn’t be happier in her work, and it is now her mission to help clients say the same thing. It isn’t always easy, especially when the sting of a lay-off is fresh, but she suggests the following steps:
Be glad. Yes, it can sound cruel. And, yes, it has become a platitude. But lay-off veterans often say the push out the door was the best thing that ever happened to them. Says Sepe, "think about the lay-off as a wonderful opportunity to reassess what you want, need, think, and value, and about all the skills you have."
She acknowlegdes that this is not easy. "It’s a monster transition," she says, a major life event, right up there with marriage or with integrating an elderly relative into a home full of teen-agers.
Try not to act out of a singular need. Some people state their goals as: I need to get a job that pays $150,000. Period. Completely focused on that narrow goal, and in a big hurry to achieve it, they miss a trove of opportunities. "I’ve coached people who have made bad decisions," says Sepe. "The were thinking only about the need, and the speed. They say `I’ll take any job for $150,000.’ They’re not confirming all of their skills and energy to focus on a new enterprise."
Talk out loud. Sepe advocates a kind of networking that is different from the get-an-in-at-a-good-company kind of thing that is what most think of when they hear the word. She suggests reviewing all the of things you most enjoy doing, and then talking to people who are doing them. "It gets your imagination running," says Sepe. "You think of the world in a whole new way."
Scan all your skills. The market for the skill that has brought you a paycheck may have shrunken — or disappeared. Don’t panic. "Maybe," suggests Sepe, "you know more about roses than anyone else." You are more than a retail executive or a bank officer. Look to all of your skills for career ideas.
Make a schedule. Write down all the hours you are awake, subtract necessary activities, things like eating and driving the kids to school. Then make conscious decisions about what to do with the remaining hours. Decide, for example, to work on the job search from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and to devote specific segments of the rest of the day to exploring new activities, catching up with old friends, taking a class, or hanging out with your kids.
This is especially helpful for anyone who has been booted from a job. It is all too easy to fall into depression. "When you lose a job, you lose control. You lose focus," says Sepe. Using time productively — and pleasurably too — provides a sense of control, and satisfaction.
Move around. "Exercise, exercise, exercise," says Sepe. Strenous physical activity releases endorphins, providing a powerful sense of well-being. Downsized workers need all the endorphins they can get.
When clients get in touch with Sepe right after a lay-off, they are, she says, "in a state of confusion." Many have no idea what to do next. When clients arrive after weeks — or months — of unemployment, they are "much more discouraged."
Sepe’s goal is to replace confusion and discouragement with possibilities. "I ask hard questions," she says. In doing so, she prompts people at a difficult time in their lives to discover what it is they are truly meant to do. What will get them out of bed each morning with energy and enthusiasm.
Those who are open to all options may be lucky enough to find themselves in front of a bin of sweet potatoes at just the right minute, and to seize upon an interesting option. Just as Sepe did.