Tuesday October 22nd 2013 started off like any other day. I had my morning egg whites, packed my lunch, hit the gym, showered and headed to the Law Firm. Chats in the kitchen over coffee, stacks of paperwork on the desk, cute pictures and calendars in my cubicle, nothing new. At around 10 o’clock, I got a memo to go to the conference room, so like every ambitious employee looking to advance their career, I grabbed my pen and notepad and skipped on over. I walked in to 9 women and the HR lady sitting around the table. Since we had a social committee at work, my naïve and overly optimistic self thought perhaps we are starting a women’s support network, wouldn’t that be lovely. I was beaming. I had a seat and in came two of the Firm’s Partners to deliver the news. We had just lost a major client and had to make major cuts. With their “deepest sympathy” and “heavy hearts,” we were being let go.
My entire world came crashing down. As I signed the paperwork, a stream of worrisome thoughts flooded my mind. I had no family in the city, no family in the country, I had just spent $2000 on a coach to start training for a fitness competition, I barely had enough savings, my gym membership was going up. I thought this only happened to people at the end of their career? Older people? This was my first real job My predictable, structured, balanced life had been turned upside-down.
Leaving the office, I overheard people calling their boyfriends, wives, cousins to come pick them up and that is when it hit me. I had no one. I was making my way to the bus stop on a cold October morning all alone, with boxes of supplies and eyes full of tears. It was one of the most heartbreaking and devastating moments of my life. The tears that rolled down my cheeks were tears of anger, betrayal, and most importantly fear. Fear of uncertainty. The future had never seemed so pitch black.
“Getting laid off, It will happen in your life time” – Warner Brothers Pictures Vice President of Integrated Marketing, Jill Benscoter
Earlier last month, Warner Brothers Pictures Vice President of Integrated Marketing, Jill Benscoter participated in a luncheon on campus, discussing her career path. The crowd was shocked to learn that she too had been laid off earlier in her career. What would she have done differently? We wanted to know. Lived. She responded. She would have lived, seized the free time to explore the things she loved and do them. Here is what I would have done differently and note to my future self, should I ever get laid off again.
What I would have done differently, I would:
Ask for space
Recounting the story to concerned friends, family and loved ones only revives the feelings of anger and confusion. Most loved ones bombard you with unsolicited advice and questions that you too are seeking answers to. Some times for your own sanity and stress management, you must say “I love you, but please do not call me every day asking me how I am, what I did today, what I plan to do, etc”
Know that not everyone will get it
The weekend I got laid off, a friend of mine called me to go out. After ignoring calls and texts that night and for days to come, I finally responded to one of her messages, clarifying that it was nothing personal and I had lost my job. She proceeded to tell me how bad of a friend I was for not picking up her calls. How can you be mad right now, I’m the one who lost my job! I thought. Unfortunately, I was so frustrated, I let that friendship go down the drain. Know that not everyone gets it or gets the depth of your fear and anger. Also understand that under such stress and anxiety, you may be snappy, emotional and sensitive. Don’t lose friendships over it.
Map out a new, or revised career plan that leaves me buzzing with passion
Playing the last 11 months at the firm in my mind over and over again, I realized I was neither interested in Law nor politics. I dug deep to the core of who I am and what I have always wanted to do and decided to apply for a Master’s in Global Media and Communications. Eventually I moved to LA, and couldn’t be happier with my decision.
Take conscious steps in the direction of you new exciting career
While I did use the time wisely to re-plan my life, I fell in the same patterns when it came to job applications. Funds were running low, and my previous internships and experience revolved around law, politics and customer service. About a week after my lay off, I found myself in training for a job at a call center. They say it’s easier to get a job when you have a job, but jobs consume time, energy and mental capital, so make sure you are making a wise investment of your resources. In this case, I wasn’t. I had worked at a call center throughout undergrad, and knew I hated it but hey, it was money. On day 1, I quit and received my luxurious check of $14.72 two weeks later.
Not everything has to change all at once
If you are lucky enough to have already paid your rent and recurring bills for that month, realize that contrary to popular belief, your entire world isn’t turned upside down. The only difference between today and yesterday is that today you aren’t waking up at 6 to prep for work. Most of the other things can remain the same for a few weeks before you have to be concerned with this life adjustment. Hopefully in that time, you can prepare yourself accordingly.
Go at your own pace
I was in such a rush to “get back out there” and while it is important not to let yourself get comfortable and sit back in a downward spiral, it is equally important to listen to your body. Cry when you need to cry, sleep in when facing the world may seem like one more task you aren’t quite ready for. What worked for me may not work for you and vice versa. Do not feel the need to abide by any timeline or routine. Your journey is different.
Realize it is not personal
If Jill Benscoter could get laid off and now be a VP at Warner Bros, I don’t think getting laid off speaks much to your individual abilities as an employee. I later found out that both men and women had been laid off, both white and nonwhite employees, and both new and veteran employees. In fact, one guy I know had been at the firm 8 years! There is little to nothing you could have done to prevent it from happening.
Four months later, as I got ready to start my new job at an international school, the firm reached out to rehire me. Walking back into the building, what I looked forward to the most was seeing my old friends. That was my confirmation that I had outgrown the work and it was time to move on. However, it made me happy to know that it wasn’t me and in fact, they wanted me back. I could give you a list of things to do: calm down, breathe, live, smile, volunteer and you can choose to apply them or not, but the reality is that getting laid off sucks. However, as much as it sucks, you will make it through, we all did.