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Congratulations! You're Fired. What to do next for your career.

You’ve heard the clichés: “When one door closes, another opens…” “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade…”  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going…” 

But just because they are clichés doesn’t make them untrue. As the economy reels, all too many professionals are experiencing that silent walk into the manager’s office to get the word that their services will no longer be needed. If it happens to you, how will you handle it?

If you’re like most people, your confidence will take a blow just when you need it most. After all, a strong mental attitude not only helps you shine in job interviews, but it is invaluable in helping you take the long view about your career. This is where the “congratulations” part of being fired comes in. Since change has been thrust upon you, use it as an opportunity to choose a better long-term path rather than simply jumping to another job.

Admittedly, this is easier said than done. But much like a top athlete must learn to set aside painful setbacks and stay focused on the win, you must achieve the same kind of mental toughness and act with confidence and clarity.  With that in mind, we asked Pamela Enders, PhD, a performance coach and psychologist at the Harvard Medical School, how finance professionals should prepare themselves mentally during these difficult times.  “Psychologists typically cite successful athletes as having five ‘mental toughness’ qualities that can be useful to anyone who has to perform—and I’ve added a sixth,” says Enders.

The Six Qualities of Mental Toughness

  1. Reboundability: the ability to mentally and emotionally bounce back from mistakes.   

  2. Composure: the ability to handle pressure and stay calm.

  3. Concentration: the ability to focus on what is important and on the long-term goals. 

  4. Confidence: the belief that you have the ability to accomplish your goals.

  5. Motivation: the ability to forge ahead no matter what the circumstances.

  6. Championship Mindset: Dr. Enders’ sixth point encompasses elements of the first five while placing a high value on accepting honest feedback.

“Whenever we get bad news,” Enders says, “we tend to tell ourselves a story. Often, that story is negative. ‘I’m not good enough.’  Or some people blame others or the world in general. They construct a story where nothing is their fault.

“A true champion seeks the unvarnished truth, good or bad, and learns to move forward positively,” Enders adds. “If the decision to let you go was strictly fiscal, accept that and move on. If the decision was due to you not performing at your best, use that information, too, to identify how you can improve your performance and move forward without self-recrimination.”

When asked about the mindset of professionals during the present economic downturn, Enders adds, “There’s a tremendous level of research that shows that those who do best during times of adversity maintain a ‘realistic optimism’ about their futures,” she said. “And ‘realistic’ is an important word here—not a Pollyanna view that everything will simply turn out all right. Often we come through downtimes as stronger, better, and healthier than ever.”

To learn more about mental toughness, check out Enders’ Website.