The Unemployed Leader

"Can you drive down for a budget meeting?" my boss asked. Even though it meant a two-and-a-half-hour drive, I wasn't surprised by the request. I compiled my budget materials accordingly.

Walking into my boss's office, the President/CEO was there. "He'll be right in," he said. The air in the room felt heavy, and we sat in an awkward silence. Once my boss came in and sat down, I immediately knew the "budget meeting" pretense was a ruse.

Typical start to this type of conversation..."We really appreciate the many years of service you've contributed to building leaders..." I knew there would be a "but."

"But, we are at a place where crunching the numbers has resulted in the fact that we can no longer afford your services."

Dazed and confused, I asked a bottom-line question. "Are you eliminating my position?" Even though I already knew the answer, I needed to hear the President/CEO say it out loud. "Yes."

Followed by "We ask that you do not share this information with anyone until an official announcement is released tomorrow." I was incredulous and offended by the request. "I cannot comply with what you ask," I said in a shaky voice. "I will be contacting my closest colleagues on my way home so they hear the news directly from me."

A few more clarifying questions, a few more tears, and I was sent on my way. Another two-and-a-half-hours on the road home, alone, in tears with absolutely no idea what I'd do next.

Fast-forward a few months. Depression had taken hold, and I found myself in a deep, dark place where I stayed for many months. I was lost, literally losing sight of my true north. As my self-reflection began to become more clear, it seemed that people were handing me a ladder to climb out, one rung at a time. A glimpse of light and a glimmer of hope.

Job interviews were few and far between, and none felt right. In the midst of my frustration, I had an "ah-ha moment": go back to the beginning when my leadership journey began, The Leadership Challenge. Using a deck of Values Cards, I conducted a self-audit -- and realized that I had allowed my identity -- who I was -- to be completely enveloped by my job -- what I did. When "what I did" was taken away, I didn't know who I was.  Identifying and defining my values -- family, service, communication, growth, and love/affection -- helped put me back on track.

Fast-forward a few more months. Debating whether to move forward in the hiring process for a nonprofit executive director position, I realized that I didn't want to return to that type of position in that type of organization. In March 2011, Angie Chaplin Leadership Partners LLC re-emerged. And so did I.

Every strength comes through struggle. While in the thick of it, it's hard to see through the darkness -- let your values guide the way.

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