Your First Five Questions After Getting Laid Off
My first layoff wasn’t a huge surprise. I hadn’t done anything for months because there wasn’t much to do because no one was looking to change anything. So it was a meeting in an office with a supervisor who wouldn’t look me in the eye and the nice-enough HR person telling me what to sign. I walked back to my desk, pushed everything off into the trash can (and I mean EVERYTHING - papers, coffee cups, keyboards, desk lamps), and never thought about them again.
My second one was the kind of layoff I wish everyone had. My manager took me out for coffee to have the conversation we both knew was coming. Q1 changes, different directions, blah blah blah. He had been checked out for months - sustaining a head injury in July had him reassessing priorities and what he wanted to do with his life. We had both worked for a small company as it was slowly incorporated into a corporate colossus.
He wasn’t supposed to, but he said my last day was two weeks out. He wasn’t supposed to, but he negotiated a far more significant severance than I deserved. He wasn't supposed to, but he got me a bottle of Bowmore 15 Year.
His last day was three weeks after that coffee date - life is too short for corporate shenanigans.
For most, layoffs suck. Even if there is writing on the wall, the day comes as a shocker. Layoffs, by definition, is the process of removing logistical and financial redundancies from a company’s bottom line. You are no longer a line-item, you are once again a person - and maybe that’s a good thing?
Everyone you know who kind of liked you at the office might want to take you out for drinks. Your mom wants to know if you’ve updated your resume. A thousand “recruiter” types on the internet want to sell you a $500 package that will “launch your LinkedIn Profile to the TOP!”
The next Monday, when everyone else goes off to work, and you’re left alone in the apartment, looking through random job boards, assessing how much is in your checking account - the question creeps up.
In a perfect world there are six months of savings in an account you've forgotten about. The world is not perfect, especially for those in their twenties and thirties. You’ll cull all of your expenses, “borrow” someone’s Netflix password and hack your neighbor’s wifi.
Cheap living. Minimalism. Marie Kondo the hell out of your life. Go for the cheap coffee, find the discount groceries, wear last year’s fashions and find more nights in. You know, smart people things.
The ship may be rocking, but you at least have two feet on deck.
So what would you do now? With today?
This isn’t a proclamation that you should hustle and find a new gig or get sucked into a new job that you took out of desperation (which, turns out, isn’t right for you or your new employer).
This is one of those moments where you say things like:
If I went back to work tomorrow, what would I like to be doing?
What have I been missing out on in the last X months/years that I couldn’t do because of my job?
What do I want to get really good at?
Of course, this shouldn’t be a license to book a month overseas in Paris on the premise of “finding yourself” (that is not a smart-person thing).
What can I be doing today?
What about next month?
What about next year?
Admittedly, the most recent layoff was a lucky one. I had a few week’s headstart. I had a sizeable severance that gave way to unemployment insurance. I had (and still have) a wife who was supportive and could put me on her health insurance. I had room; I had support; I had to do something worthwhile.
Was it worth it?
Remove the idea of “benefits” and “paychecks” and the line item in your resume. Now ask: was your time at the company worth it? Did you learn something valuable? Did you do the stuff you set out to do? Grow as a person?
In any job, it’s easy to fall into the routine. Work for the weekend, and you’ll start to hate Mondays. Anything you do during the week is just enough to look busy so your boss will stay off your back until Friday at 5. You aren’t really working towards anything. Instead, you’re selling off 40 hours of your week so you can pay your mortgage and keep your health insurance.
As you restructure your resume, you start to think back on the things and retroactively quantify them as valuable. How many adverbs are you using? In the grand-scheme, looming mortality spectrum of it all, was it worth it?
My second layoff was from a digital advertising company. It was the fourth digital advertising job I had over the previous seven years. Every one of them eventually went down the same path of diminished value. The industry changed too quickly for anyone to build the foundation of a stable company. By the end, I hated the idea of working with another adTech/ Programmatic advertising firm.
Was it worth it? Hell yes.
If only to know that I didn’t want to go back.
But it also loaded me up with tons of insight about the barely-working systems that companies were dumping BILLIONS of dollars into. This insight helped pave my way for the next thing I wanted to do.
Where did you sneak off to?
Some days, there were two-hour lunches. No one noticed, or they pretended not to care. These lunches were always laden with conversations about the stuff we hated about the company or things we would have rather been doing with our time.
When it was slow, there were certain blogs I kept going back to, the videos I watched, podcasts I listened to. There was a vast world of things easily grabbing my attention outside of the very thing I was paid to pay attention to.
Today, about 90% of what I’m paid to do was what I bitched out during the two-hour lunches or listened to in the background while being a spreadsheet jockey.
Would you go back?
What if you got a call where your old boss said: “hey, there was a clerical error, we need you back here on Monday.”
Would you go?
Your answer will give you guidance for your next move.
If you would go back, then it’s time to find a job in a similar field or in a similar environment. If not? Well, maybe turn 180 and see what is over yonder.
I couldn't’ see myself going back to a job that required careful observance of spreadsheets, reconciling numbers, and having to speak for the performance of advertising campaigns, which were mostly dependent on the random behavior of billions of people we would never meet. I didn’t want to have to chase down a set of numbers every month, every quarter, only to have to chase down a number that is 10% higher next month.
I was tired of riding around in a busted car driven by a child. It was time I got out and walked.
What made for your WORST day?
You know the kind of day. The one where you may as well just walk out. Where someone felt they could talk down to you. The kind of day epitomized by a red Swingline stapler. What was the trigger?
Or, if not the worst day, what one little thing frequently happened that brought down an otherwise ok day?
I had to deal with a guy who was an exceptionally poor writer. He was in charge of all of the brand’s PR and advertising. His work was awful, but he had been in the industry so long everyone was afraid to say anything about it.
Then came the day where I took liberties with some of the ad copy, sneaking improvements where I could, because I couldn’t imagine how the audience would react to things that were misspelled.
“You have no right!” he barked at me, “this is NOT the kind of work we do.”
I glanced at my manager - was this the kind of work the company was putting out. He shrugged - it was the way it had always been.
PR guy was let go a few months later. The advertising copy was absorbed into another department where it improved, but didn’t exactly blowback any hair.
What are you worth?
This is a fun question that can quickly go dark.
So, don’t let it.
Layoffs mean the company didn’t think you were worth the $XX,XXX.00 they were paying you. At first, it’s a shitty feeling. Don’t let it be. Chances are, you are worth at least five times whatever they were paying you.
I don’t think anyone is worth the minimum wage. Time, as a construct, is significantly more valuable than the everyday economies believe it to be.
The next step forward, while difficult, can be far more lucrative than what was behind you.
My advertising management job yielded me $70,000 a year, before taxes. I’ll readily admit, for an ad-trafficker, I was overpaid.
Today, though, as a freelance creative director, I’m worth much more. Leveraging my knowledge of digital advertising with copywriting and content development, putting it all through the lens of audience and attention - I’m worth more than my salary to every client I meet.
Today, I am worth more than ever because I get to control what my time is worth. The days where I have $0/hour in billings are the ones I value the most. It is a chance for me to step back and make sure I am providing the right value to the right people - my clients, my close circle, and myself.
Everyone fears the big layoff. You don’t have to. It’s an opportunity.
Maybe it’s time to do your own thing or do a completely different thing.
Or, maybe this is just a mini-siesta before you go back to doing the same thing.