I met Arlene Sheff, former senior meeting planner at Boeing, many years ago when she was working as an independent planner and teaching for Meeting Professionals International. She’s a vibrant personality—friendly, smart, and incredibly talented. (That describes just about everyone I know these days who has been laid off.)

But Arlene, having been a business owner, knows the decision was just that—business. It was how her situation was handled and how she was treated that made it hard. She was uninvited from an industry advisory board meeting (Does that hotel company really think she will she ever use its properties again once she lands her next job?) People avoided her at work. She describes feeling like she was walking the halls with a stamp on her forehead that said: “LAID OFF.”

But again, she knows better. She has been heavily involved in MPI (she was just named “Planner of the Year” by the Orange County chapter), she has supportive friends throughout the industry, she’s plugged in when the right job surfaces—and she will be just fine.

Other smart women I know have used the experience of being laid off to grow in entirely new directions. One, in her sixties, who spent her entire career at IBM (remember when they used to call them “lifers?”) started a knitting business. Another, a book editor in her fifties who was let go from Readers Digest (which used to be another one of those “stable” companies), is now an agent for budding authors.

My advice? If you envision your next job in this industry, get involved now—whether that means teaching a course, or joining an advisory board, or volunteering for a committee with an industry association. Taking every opportunity to meet colleagues, both buyers and suppliers, is far worth the time investment. These are the people who will help you move beyond your present job, layoff or not.

Or, if you don’t know what you would do if you lost your job and aren’t sure you want to continue in the field at all, start exploring what you think you might want to do now. Talk to people who are doing it, take some classes, try it out as a hobby. Your talents are many, your future is wide open.

Ask Arlene. There really is life after layoffs.

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