It happens to everybody, so prepare for it financially. Not since the birth of my first child have I gone this long without a day job. Coming off a 15-year professional stretch, I'm now realizing that there are two kinds of busy: the kind that saps your creative energy, and the kind that fuels it. More than anything else, it is so important to be financially prepared for a break in employment. Put away a year's salary, just in case. That's an aggressive goal—it obviously depends on your lifestyle and family situation. But it will make the difference between pursuing your next job or pursuing your dream. You can bet that I'm focused on the dream.
-Sallie Krawcheck, former CEO, Citi Global Wealth Management

Don't say "laid off"—say "fired." I spoke to a lawyer informally but then negotiated my own severance package. By pushing back a bit, I got a couple more months in salary and a big extension in benefits. The first thing I said to myself after I was let go was, You have to control the message. I sent an e-mail to 50 people saying I'd been fired—not laid off—because it has more backbone. I personalized each e-mail, explaining what had happened—that I'd developed a strategy and management chose not to implement it. Then, an old colleague asked if I'd do some consulting for a startup. Before I knew it, I was consulting for a handful of clients. I love making my own hours—I don't know if I'll ever go back to being in an office full time.
-Cathryn Cranston, former executive vice president of Mansueto Ventures

Keep your name out there. The night I was laid off, I went to a friend's birthday party and just told folks I was "looking for something new." I set up lunches and drinks, e-mailed my résumé to anyone who might be looking for my kind of help. I stopped by industry haunts—once I popped into a hotel that hosts press days when movies come out, knowing that some of my former colleagues would be there. I've kept busy with other things, too—I made myself project manager on my apartment renovation because the contractor wasn't type A enough for me. Mostly, I'm making sure people keep saying my name. Because even though someone told me it's in vogue to be laid off, my response is, "Yeah, not when you have a mortgage."
-Jennifer Abramowitz, former publicity director for a major movie company

Use the time to get your life back in order. Work had been so intense that in my off-hours I ran around with my kids, making sure lunches were in backpacks and library books returned. I grossly neglected my personal life, blowing off doctors' appointments or refilling the tube of whatever. I finally took control after being laid off. I organized my apartment and converted my husband's man cave--complete with Baywatch calendar and rickety Ikea desk—into a smart home office. I did a Blueprint Cleanse, started going to the gym, and had all of my heels repaired. After working for two decades, I don't need to find another job this week. Instead, I'm going to get things in such great working order that I won't need to organize for another 20 years.
-Dana Gers, former senior vice president of a luxury brand

As told to Lauren Iannotti

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