Based on longitudinal fieldwork with unemployed managers and professionals in their 50s, the article examines the meaning of job loss to these people and charts their subsequent efforts to restore their lives. The article identifies core similarities in their experiences and discerns different narrative strategies through which they have tried to make sense of their dismissal and sustain their selfhood. For all, job loss was a considerable trauma leading to a fragmentation of identity; this was compounded by subsequent rejection and perceived discrimination. Few were able to resume their earlier careers; the majority had to adjust their expectations downwards and opt for either virtual deskilling in less well paid and less demanding jobs or for an assortment of part-time, casual and voluntary work. Best 'adapted' (and least fragmented) were those who were prepared to forsake hopes of a return to high-powered jobs and display flexibility, resourcefulness and opportunism in adapting to their reduced circumstances.