Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

All the times I was laid off, I tried to be an optimist. The opportunity was to reinvent myself. A lay-off rattled the threat of complacency. No more letting one day slip into the other. I was going to actively think about what direction I wanted go next, chart my course, be the captain of my ship. I was going to be in control, not be controlled.

How long did my optimism last? Just about as long as it took to walk to the neighborhood café to discuss unexplored opportunities with a friend, also unemployed, only to find the line uncharacteristically out the door on a Monday afternoon, my first day of reinvention. It seemed like half of San Francisco was unemployed and had the same idea. California being California, I was not the lone re-inventor.

“Reinvent”, as I witnessed in myself and in others, often meant escape to a different career reality. A career coach and author summed it up at a lecture I attended at The Commonwealth Club, “When I ask people what they want to do, they say be a ballet dancer.”

I’m a proponent of dreaming big, but optimism completely unbound by reality leads to disappointment. When I was laid-off and unemployed in a down economy, I found that only by accepting my reality for what it was (I was going to be very lucky to get a job, any job), versus what I wanted reality to be, could I advance. Accepting my reality for what it was also helped restore a feeling of control and sanity that unemployment makes it so easy to lose. None of my choices were my first choices, but I still had one. I could wake up each day and try my best, or give up. I may never be a ballet dancer, but each choice could lead me to the next opportunity.