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Forced Out of a Job Because of Avoidant Behavior

Do you avoid important to-dos because they make you feel uncomfortable?

Key points

  • Avoidant behavior can be comfortable, yet risky.
  • Only sometimes is protracted grieving helpful.
  • It's possible to make even being forced into retirement a positive.
 Luis Prado/Noun Project, CC
Source: Luis Prado/Noun Project, CC

It hurts, really hurts, to be terminated. It may be particularly difficult if you’re older and decide you have to retire. I had such a client today. Here’s her story, with irrelevant details changed to protect her anonymity.

She was an executive at a major nonprofit. Over the years, I tried to help her reduce her avoidant behavior: She avoided touchy phone calls, difficult projects, and replacing weak employees. She mainly liked being a nice person, praising and mentoring her employees, granting raises, and giving upbeat talks.

Despite warnings from her boss and, yes, from me, and having promised to change, she didn't change much. And so, one day, at age 66, she was terminated. She was shocked. Somehow, her relaxed personality made her view the warnings as not that serious. And then it was.

This person, whose self-esteem was tied to being a VP, had her by-phone session with me as she drove home from work for the last time. She said, "Damn, they forced me out. They forced me the hell out!"

Here were the questions I asked her.

What’s going to work best for you now: Take some time to reflect? Jump right into creating a good retirement? Look for another job? Teach nonprofit management? Start a business, maybe consulting, maybe something completely different?

She said she’d like to take a week to do nothing: sleep late, drink tea, and mull about, yes, her life, but also the way she interacts with her husband. Then, probably she’d try to create a patchwork life: some more time with her husband, kids, and grandkids; photography; perhaps volunteer to tutor kids or at SCORE: The Service Corps of Retired Executives, who mentor young entrepreneurs. She ended by saying, "For now, I mainly am looking forward to gardening — getting ahead of the weeds."

Then, when she was feeling calmer and seeing her life's next stage as possibly okay, I asked, “Are there any lessons learned that you want to apply moving forward?” She knew what I was driving at — the need to reduce her avoidant behavior — but she said something like, “Marty, that’s just who I am and I’m comfortable in my skin. Like all animals, I seek pleasure and avoid pain. The world is going to have to take me or leave me with my strengths and my weaknesses.” | waited and then she added, "But I am going to, every day, make a list of things I should do but would be at risk of procrastinating."

Finally, I asked about baby steps: “What do you think you want to do today, right after our session?” She said, “Make my to-do list for tomorrow.”

The Takeaway

Whether or not you’ve been terminated, it’s natural to avoid the difficult, whether it’s the hairy things you should do or something more macro — for example, that you need to improve your work ethic, control your alcohol use, or be kinder to your spouse. We benefit from avoiding things that feel uncomfortable, but doing that can impose a price. Is there anything you want to be less avoidant of?

I read this on YouTube.

A related post is "I'm Over 60 and No One Wants to Hire Me." It tells a story that embeds tactics on what works.

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