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"We're sorry, Mike, but it's just not working out. We're going to have to let you go."

I was floored. This can't be happening to me, I thought, after my ex-employer announced I was being fired. I felt shocked, mad, useless, shamed and afraid, all at once.

Being fired is a terrible experience for anyone. In Western New York, unfortunately, it's probably more prevalent than in most cities around the country.

It took me several days to bounce between the stages of grief that such a life-changing event triggers. But as I worked my way through the shock and fear, a strange thing happened. I realized that I was really special.

I went to a favorite restaurant and had a couple beers and a good meal. People reminded me of my interpersonal skills, my accomplishments and what was good about me. I had been in danger of forgetting those things.

I went to the New York State Employment Office and began the process of looking for a new career. In the process, I realized that one of the things that made me special was how well I could use the available resources to find a new job.

I also was persistent and tried multiple strategies to overcome obstacles in the job-hunting process. I started helping other job-seekers, who didn't have the firsthand knowledge of computers that I did. I was training people again, just like in my old job.

In the process of responding to job leads, I was aggressive. I visited every Western New York firm that needed someone who was even close to having my skills. I even visited a training center where I had learned new lean manufacturing skills and asked officials there if I could help their team develop plans for 2005.

One of the hardest things to do was call my former boss, the guy who only days before had said, "You're fired," to ask for a letter of recommendation.

But most people respect you, even though things didn't work out, and you'd be surprised to find how willing they are to cooperate in your search for a new start. This letter can go a long way in convincing officials at a company that you actually accomplished what you said you did.

Although there were moments of fear and despair, I began to realize that the world is filled with new possibilities. These are opportunities you only wished you had the time to examine when you had that mediocre job, but now you're free to explore them.

Unemployment gives us time to reflect and take a real look at what makes us tick and who we really are. Books like "What Color is Your Parachute?" provide the chance to honestly examine your strengths and weaknesses. Once you get back in touch with your true self, you can learn more about careers that lend themselves to these values, beliefs and talents.

I'm not saying unemployment is great. I'd call it a new kind of job. This process can reveal things to you about yourself that can actually give you confidence, and provide the faith you'll need to find that next assignment. You can be happy even when your world has been hit by an employment tsunami.

Don't let unemployment get the best of you. It's a great opportunity to become a brand new person. And most people only dream about an opportunity like that.