You've Been Laid Off, Now What?
I stare at the exercise equipment in the middle of the Panhandle, a 1.3 mile eucalyptus-lined, paved loop in San Francisco where I live. The collection of pale cream and hunter green equipment, which appeared right before the pandemic, reminds me of the 1980s playgrounds of my childhood.
I’d never used the equipment – until today.
My face is tight and crackly from where my tears have dried on my cheeks. My foggy mind tries to process the events from the morning.
What was meant to be my mid-year check-in with my manager turned out to be a meeting where I was informed my role was being eliminated due to business priorities. I’d been at the company four years, and envisioned myself there for many more years.
A deluge of feelings – embarrassment, shock, shame, and fear – push me to the Panhandle. At the shoulder press, I thrust my arms rapidly above my head. I move to other pieces of equipment in no order; counting some reps, not counting others.
I move my body. I listen to my breath, and try to steady my emotions. It's not as if I hadn't considered independent consulting in the past, but I'd always been too scared and too comfortable to take that leap.
Now, with a literal shove from the universe, how would I respond?
If you also have been handed an unexpected push from forces outside of your control, here are few things that helped as I prepared for a new phase of my career:
Feel the losses to make space for the gains. Jobs become part of our identity. Through this loss, I lost a team of people I respected, some of whom I called friends. We survived the pandemic together. I lost my routine and daily rhythm of how I worked and lived my life. I lost a stable paycheck and good healthcare. I lost my confidence and faith in a company I respected.
People deal with grief in different ways. For me, I cried, yelled, ran, slept, and then didn’t sleep; over-functioning while making lists of the administrative tasks I needed to take care of and scribbling ideas of how I wanted to use my time. I created my own “sabbatical,” amid concerns from others this was irresponsible. I was mid-way into marathon training, so I threw myself into my long runs. I traveled half-way around the world, sweating and running long distances on roads not designed for runners. I drank rosé with my sisters on my parents’ back porch and splashed around our neighborhood pool with my nieces and nephew. I went to Burning Man for the first time where it rained in record amounts, and got stuck in the mud. I now know all of these ways of processing were okay, because there’s no roadmap or timeline for processing grief, even as the other doors start to open.
Find support for your journey. As I started to make space for something new, I knew I also needed community. The day I was laid off, a dear friend drove into the city, picked me up from the park, and sat with me curled up on my couch talking me through what I needed to do the next few days. I joined the coworking space and community: Groundfloor. I leaned on friends and my network who’d went off on their own for tips, leads, ideas, and introductions. I’ve been surprised by the unexpected generosity of friends, and encouraged to find my rocks amid the moving sand.
Choose your own adventure. Everyone will have suggestions for what you should do. One friend-of-a-friend knew she wanted to build an agency with a unique niche from the day she graduated with her MBA. I took the tips that worked from her experience and used them to create a plan that is right for me – right now. And I keep adjusting my sails, like a new sailboat on an ocean I get to captain -- ever adjusting to changing waters and weather.
While I haven't been back to the exercise equipment since that day, I now know that in a moment where I was drifting, moving my body gave me an anchor amid the storm.
If I could share one thing from this experience – one so very many of us go through – it is to let the warm, gut punch of rejection, failure, and shame live and pass through your body as they need to.
Slow down. Be curious about what is actually happening as if you’re awakening to a sky you’ve never seen, and consider these questions:
What is still good in your life amid the disruption?
What needed (needs) to change?
How will this push serve as a warm hand guiding you into the next chapter?
What is that quiet little voice in your heart whispering to you when you’re courageous enough to listen to her?
We cannot control “business priorities,” yet we do get to weave together the story we tell ourselves; the one that offers the grace, smile, and energy we need to move forward through the experience.