How to Bounce Back After Getting Laid Off

Okay, let’s talk layoffs. But first…

This photo was taken in Summer 2008. It was my first day at Lehman Brothers and my wife took this right as I left for the office.

Two months later, Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. I was out of a job. But then I wasn’t. Barclays acquired the U.S. team. I was saved.

Until I wasn’t.

On January 14, 2009, I was sitting at my desk when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and was greeted by the head of my team. He asked me to swing by his office. I knew what that meant.

I sheepishly followed him, like a kid being escorted to the principal’s office, my heart pounding uncontrollably. He said a lot of words. I don’t remember many.

I went back to my desk and was told to call HR. They told me I had to leave the building immediately and I couldn’t talk to anyone. I had spent years taking all the “right” moves to land an investment banking job and it was over in an instant.

I couldn’t call my wife because my phone was taken from me. I drove to her office. We went on a walk. She cried. I told her everything was fine and I’d find a job in a few weeks.

I was wrong. It took more than four months. Not that long in the grand scheme of things, but an eternity to someone who’s full-time career was all of six months.

That period of unemployment was brutal. Self doubt. Rejection. Anger. Depression. I went through it all. It took years to recover from the setback.

In hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened to me. But those words ring hollow to someone getting kicked in the stomach.

To those who’ve been laid off recently, I feel for you. I’ve been there. It’s really hard. It may get harder.

I’ve written a lot about this topic. Here’s an article I wrote for The Muse that goes deeper: How to Bounce Back After You Lose Your Job (and Feel Like the World’s Ending)

I hope the piece brings you some comfort and support. You’re more than your job. You’ll bounce back stronger than ever.

(This was originally posted on LinkedIn)

Lessons From Zoom: How to Lead During a Company Crisis

This is a guest post by Derek Pando, the founder and CEO of Beeloo, whose mission is to give parents of young kids daily alternatives to screen time through printable crafts and activities.

It has been hard to look away with all the drama happening at Twitter the last few months. It is obvious that they have been in a full blown crisis now for months. I feel for Twitter employees and especially for all the leaders trying to help their teams while dealing with their own personal reactions to the difficulties at work. 

I know a little bit about what an ongoing crisis at work can feel like. I led international marketing at Zoom when the pandemic hit. From the outside, while it might have seemed that the pandemic was the best thing that could ever happen to Zoom, the pendulum always swings both ways. The attention and scrutiny from Zoom’s astronomical growth brought on many crises about privacy, security, relations with China and many more that threatened the company’s existence. 

At Zoom, we were lucky enough to have strong leaders. I watched, emulated and got advice from them as I tried to lead my own team through multiple back to back crises.

If you find yourself as a leader at work during a crisis, here are some of the things I learned that hopefully can serve as a cheat sheet for you on how to lead in a crisis. 

Be authentic. I remember Eric Yuan, Zoom’s CEO, addressing the company at an all-hands meeting one week when there were 100’s of negative headlines around the world about Zoom and acknowledging how difficult it was for him and the rest of the company. He did not try to act tough, ignore it or do anything other than express his authentic feelings. 

Empathy first. A company crisis can have cascading effects. It can impact an employee’s mental or physical health, their family situation or their financial situation. A crisis might also cause a dangerously high workload for employees. It’s best to always first take a breath before diving into what needs to be done  with your team to empathize with each employee as a human being, even when you’re in emergency mode. 

Help your team see beyond the job. At Zoom the crisis was so intense that one of my teammates was having severe stomach pains that were brought on by anxiety. I remember at one point he came to me a mess and I told him. “Listen, no matter what happens at Zoom, you will be successful and your future is bright.” He was young and early in his career, he was having trouble not projecting this moment onto his entire life. Sometimes as leaders at work, we have to help employees see beyond work. 

Be candid. This is tough as a leader as there might be sensitive topics, or you might be getting guidance from your company not to talk about certain issues. My advice is to use your personal judgment and push the limits to the side of candor. Most companies unfortunately will over index on trying to control too much information in a crisis, even when they have no actual chance of containing it among employees. Sharing as much as you can will build trust with your employees and help them feel confident that you are looking out for them.

If you’re in a crisis right now remember as difficult as it may be, this is a time to learn and grow as a leader. As the saying goes “smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. Hang in there. You’ll make it through it and you’ll probably come out the other side a better leader. 

Three Timeless Truths Needed to Build a Great Career

Years ago I wrote a career development book. I’ve often told my kids I’d pay them $10 if they read it. My 9 year old recently decided to take me up on the offer. 

After reading it, he had a book report and needed to write 20 facts from the book. This picture is the list. He put it together 100% on his own and it cracked me up. 😂 

Some of them are funny. Yes, I did get called stupid. Yes, I had a blackberry (remember how cool those were?). Yes, Mike Robertson and I did carry a mattress on our head down Broadway for 20 blocks during our NYC internship. No comment on #13. 🤷

Others facts are timeless truths and I hope they stick with him:
1) Learning doesn’t stop when school ends
2) Networking is an important skill
3) Mentors can help you find a job and grow your career

What key lessons have you learned in your career? How are you sharing those with others?

Becoming Ironman: Everything Went as Planned–Until It Didn’t

Here’s a short summary of my Ironman race at Bear Lake on September 17, 2022. I may provide a more thorough recap at some point.

On Saturday I set out to complete an Ironman triathlon. It was insanely hard. Harder than expected. But when this picture was taken I felt incredible. I had no idea what was about to hit me. 

2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of cycling were in the books. All I had to do was run 26.2 miles. I was feeling confident. The afternoon sun peeked through the clouds. 

In many ways I thought the hardest part was behind me. It was 42 degrees at 7am when I jumped into the cold water of Bear Lake. It had rained hard multiple times during the bike portion. It was hard. But I knew it would be hard. Months of training had prepared me for this.

But then reality came crashing down on me. I was 11 miles from the finish line when the weather turned for the worse. It got cold and windy. It started raining. Then it poured down. My pace slowed. Stomach cramps literally brought me to my knees. Darkness descended. I felt so alone. 

21 people had signed up for the full Ironman distance. 13 triathletes had either finished or were somewhere ahead of me. 7 had already pulled out of the race. Most of the volunteers had gone home. 

With 7 miles left and the rain still coming down a truck pulled up to me. A volunteer rolled down the window and asked if I wanted to be picked up. My body screamed yes but I slowly uttered no. They drove off. 

I wanted to stop. I was in pain. I was cold. I was wet. I was exhausted. I had to keep going. This meant so much to me. I knew if I could just make progress, regardless of my speed, I’d ultimately get there. I kept going. 

I was the final person to finish the race. DEAD LAST. Maybe I should have been embarrassed. But I felt nothing but joy as I shuffled across the finish line. I made it. I had persevered. I was an Ironman. 

Triathlon is a good metaphor for life. There are a million lessons that can be pulled from this experience. I’ll mention one. A few weeks before the race, my daughter asked me why I was doing an Ironman. It sounded silly to her. I shared the story of JFK and his speech about putting a man on the moon. 

He said, “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

You get stronger by doing hard things. You gain power when you set an audacious goal and do EVERYTHING in your control to accomplish it. You don’t give up when things get hard. You keep going.

I wanted my kids to see that. I wanted my clients to see that. To be candid, I needed to remind myself of that. 

We keep going. We don’t give up. Do hard things. Then do harder things.

Don’t Manage Your Time, Manage Your Energy

We focus so much on managing our TIME but we rarely focus on managing our ENERGY. Some work drains us and leaves us exhausted. Other work actually energizes and sustains us. 

Here’s a three step exercise to optimize your energy.

1) Make a list of all the activities you do in a typical week. For each one, note whether the work drains you or energizes you. 

2) Take the items that DRAIN you and ask yourself:

  • Can I stop doing this entirely?
  • Can I delegate this to someone who would be energized by doing it?
  • If I’m the only one who can get it done, when’s the best time to do it? Can I change HOW I do this work?

3) Take the items that ENERGIZE you and rank them by priority (i.e. how important they are to your success).

  • For items of high priority ask yourself, how can I spend more time doing this work?
  • For items of low priority ask yourself, should I be doing this work? If so, when? (Note: often we spend time doing work that energizes us even if it’s not important)

We can’t always control the work that needs to get done, but the better we understand ourselves and what energizes us, the more effectively we can operate. 

I’d love your feedback. How do you manage your energy?

How This Weekly Practice Will Sustain Long-Term Performance

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an athlete, or pursuing anything of meaning, top performance requires intense effort. And the more intense the effort, the more critical rest becomes. 

How do you find rest? 

For as long as I can remember I’ve set aside one day for rest. Rest from work. Rest from the daily grind. I read. I go to church. I spend more time with my family. I often go on a long walk. Sometimes I take a nap. 

This day is set apart from the others. It feels different.  

Sometimes on this day I feel like I’m falling behind. I tell myself I should be doing more. I should be hustling. But I’ve learned that I need time for rest. I may slow down temporarily, but taking a day for rest sustains me for the long haul. 

Abraham Lincoln said that if he had six hours to chop down a tree he’d spend the first four sharpening his axe. Having a day of rest is how I sharpen my axe. It refreshes and revitalizes me. It helps me prepare for the challenges I’ll face in the new week.

What habits or practices help you rest and recover? How do you sustain long-term performance?

Don’t Focus On Motivation to Change Your Behavior. Do This Instead.

You know building good habits is key to success but both building and ending habits can be really hard to do. BJ Fogg is an expert on behavioral change. Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from his book, Tiny Habits.

B = MAP. 

Behavior happens when Motivation & Ability & Prompt converge at the same moment. 

To start or stop a behavior you need all three. Motivation is your desire to do the behavior. Ability is your capacity to do the behavior. And Prompt is your cue to do the behavior. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ve focused almost exclusively on motivation. “If only I were more motivated I’d be able to change.” 

It sounds counterintuitive, but motivation is the last place we should start. The fastest way to change your behavior is to have a prompt. Two personal examples. 

1) For years I wanted to exercise more consistently but it didn’t start happening until I laid out my workout clothes the night before. Each morning those clothes were a reminder (prompt) to exercise and I immediately put them on. 

2) I knew expressing gratitude each day would lead to greater wellbeing but I was inconsistent. Once I created a daily notification (prompt) on my phone the habit was created. I was motivated and had the ability to express gratitude, I just needed a reminder.   

Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt

Motivation and ability have their role in building stronger habits, but often all you need is a simple prompt to make the change.

Icarus and the Dangers of Playing It Safe

You’ve heard the Greek myth of Icarus. But there’s an essential lesson you’ve likely missed.  

Icarus’ father fashioned wings made of wax and feathers and told him not to fly too close to the sun. But he ignored that warning. The heat from the sun melted the wax, the wings fell apart, and Icarus plunged to his doom. We’ve retold this myth, and many others like it, for generations. 

All these stories have the same lesson: Play it safe. Obey your parents. Listen to the experts. Don’t fly too high.  

But there’s another part of the myth that gets glossed over. Icarus was also warned by his father not to fly too low. If he did, the ocean water would ruin the lift in his wings.  

That second lesson gets skipped but it’s even more relevant than the first. Flying too low is actually more dangerous than flying too high. Flying low feels safe. Deceptively safe. 

We hear the story of a reckless entrepreneur who flew close to the sun, plunging his company into the ground. Those who flew too high become easy targets. It’s fun to call them out. But we don’t hear about the thousands of people who flew too low. Those who played it safe. Those who never swung for the fences. Those stories happen every day but rarely get told. 

Yes, there’s danger in flying too high. But there’s more danger in flying too low. 

Don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t play it safe.

Fly high.

Show up. Then Keep Showing Up.

I’ll let you in on a secret. One I’ve learned from studying and working closely with high performers over the years.

What’s the biggest difference between those who succeed and those who don’t? Two simple words.

Show up.

That’s it. Show up today. Show up tomorrow. Then keep showing up every day. Some level of talent is required of course, but your drive is the differentiator.

I’ve been reading the Iron Cowboy’s biography. He’s the guy who completed 50 Ironman triathlons in 50 states in 50 days. 🤯 It’s an insane accomplishment. One that was thought impossible until he proved it wasn’t. In his words:

All you need to do is just keep showing up.
The more you show up, the more you learn.
The more you learn, the more you evolve as a human being.
The more you evolve, more becomes possible for you.
Just keep showing up.

Want to be successful? Show up. Put in the work. Learn what it takes to get better. Work smart AND hard.

Show up. Then keep showing up.

How Politics Is Killing Your Organization (And What to Do About It)

One of my favorite things about Neighbor is our No Politics rule. No, it’s not a rule against discussing politics at work, it’s a rule against BEING political. What do I mean by that?

In the words of James Courier: “The fundamental particle of politics is the simple act of saying different things to different people.” 

Companies can’t thrive in a political environment. Full stop.

Organizations where politics run rampant are draining. They’re exhausting. They suck the life and fun out of work. Employees are too busy playing political games or strategizing what to say to which person that they’re distracted from doing actual work that will move the business forward.

One way we avoid politics at Neighbor is by “exposing to daylight” any comment or idea that seems like it’s political.

For example, if a VP of Engineering is saying something to me that he won’t tell directly to our Recruiting Lead, then we have a moment of politics. The antidote is to have the VP say it directly to the Recruiter. These direct conversations can be tough, but they’re powerful and necessary.

Neighbor isn’t perfect, but consciously deciding to avoid politics has led to less friction and drama than is typical at a startup. New employees regularly tell me that the environment at Neighbor is refreshing and they love just focusing on doing good work.”

“No Politics” starts from the top (shout out to JosephPreston, and Colton for setting the example) but everyone plays a role here.

For more on how to build strong companies where politics don’t exist, check out this James Courier article