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Surviving a Non-Compete

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

It is difficult losing your job or in my case losing my job on the same day that I was going to ask for a promotion. Honestly, it is embarrassing sharing this, but it is the truth, and I cannot change that. I was laid off on the same day that I prepared a summary of my accomplishments and impact to my organization that I believe supported my being promoted.

While it was happening, I felt so much anger at my employer and at myself for having the audacity to think that I might have deserved a promotion, when in fact, I was not worthy of saving during an organization-wide lay off. All the negative self-talk I gave myself, was confirmed, I really was not good enough. Who did I think I was?

I picked my children up from school that afternoon and could not shake the feeling that I let them down. I let my husband down. All the plans we made and all the goals we had were suddenly so far from my grasp, it was hard to breathe. All of the years of working so hard to dig myself out of debt, move beyond paycheck to paycheck, and my plan for the future was lost in a two-minute conversation. The instant fear was suffocating.

Then there was the non-compete agreement that I barely read and signed years earlier in a whirlwind of excitement to have landed the job of my dreams. The non-compete that said that for one year I could not work in the field that I had spent close to two decades learning and growing within. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to support my family when I was not allowed to do the only thing I was qualified to do? Did this company know the impact this would have on me and my family? Did they care?

Having a new employee sign a non-compete agreement is standard in several industries and although there are debates regarding the fairness of such agreements, which is not my focus. Surviving a non-compete period is difficult, intimidating, and requires creativity. I am happy to say that I did it and I am obligated to share this now, during a time when there is so much uncertainty. Doing these ten things kept me sane during my one-year period and I hope it helps at least one person:

  1. Plan ahead- as we grow in our careers and our income increases, we must be diligent about saving to soften the blow of unexpected job loss. None of us are immune to layoffs and termination. We need to accept this and plan.

  2. Attempt to negotiate (if you can)- When I was being fired, a lot of information was thrown my way about severance packages, benefits, and deadlines. It can be overwhelming for anyone and may make someone think they must agree with everything. During layoffs, it is acceptable to say that you need time to review the documents and think before agreeing to anything. If the terms are unacceptable, you can try to negotiate. It is ok to ask for the things you believe you deserve.

  3. Consider not accepting a severance- This aligns with my previous point. Severance packages are presented during the layoff process and because of fear many will agree and sign because they do not want to jeopardize their ability to have some money coming in while they look for another job. Again, you do not have to accept a severance amount or accept the severance at all. It is important to consider what you agreeing to in exchange for the severance and decide if it is worth it.

  4. Consult with an attorney- I suspect several folks with a non-compete did not consult with their attorney before signing, I know I did not! However, if you lose your job, it is a good time to consider doing so. Seek assistance with understanding the parameters of the agreement to ensure you do not unintentionally violate the terms.

  5. Network and Say Thank You- It is a “no brainer”, that resumes, and LinkedIn profiles should be updated but there is so much value in the relationships that you created within your career. This is not a time to be shy. Call, email, and text previous colleagues, ask for recommendations and permission to publicly post them. Ask for guidance on potentially “out of the box” opportunities that again, will not violate your non-compete. Ask for their honest opinions of you. Are there areas that need improvement? Reach out to previous leaders and mentors and say thank you for their investment in you and be open about your current situation. It is ok to be vulnerable with others.

  6. Find new ways to use your skill set- Working in a certain field does not require only one skill set. There are several skills needed to be successful at anything, so figure out what yours are! If you were a successful recruiter in the real estate industry, can you pivot and shift to healthcare or engineering? Can you train other recruiters? This is a good time to list the things you liked about your job versus the things you did not. Focus on the likes!

  7. Assess your financial situation- It is not enough to save and plan but this is the time to reevaluate your spending habits. Play the game of “what don’t I need” and cut your expenses, or in my case, constantly walk around the house and turn lights off behind family members.

  8. Grab that mirror- This one is hard! Look at your performance in your last role. Were you really an asset to you company? Were you a high performer? Did you achieve some of the things they expected of you? This one was difficult for me because after I got past being angry and hurt, I could honestly say that I could have done better, and I was not the best fit for that job.

  9. Mark the calendar- Your non-compete has an expiration date, so mark that calendar and a plan for how you will celebrate and tackle the next phase in your career.

  10. LET IT GO- This one was hard for me but what’s done is done. I cannot change that. In fact, I do not want to because I have learned so much about conquering fears because I did not have a choice. Also, this was not necessarily personal. Companies lay people off to save people. I now understand and accept that.

Although it will be hard, please remember, do not give the loss of your job or your non-compete more energy than they deserve. Use this time to become better. Use this time to reassess priorities. Most importantly, use this time to be grateful for the ability to turn this situation into one of your greatest opportunities. Good luck to you!

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