After 4 years, 10 months and 16 days, I was laid off from my job. The next day, my former co-workers promptly took me out drinking. As you can see above, it seemed like more of a glorious day than a depressing one. But as I sat at the table gazing out at everyone in a haze of depression, coupled with relief and colored by inebriation, a realization was beginning to form. While I didn’t actually realize it at that time, I was at the very beginning of what I would later come to refer to as my “Layoff Cycle.”
A “Layoff Cycle” is the series of thoughts and events that you’ll go through before forming a final conclusion on the state of your life now that you are officially in the unemployment line. For some, this may take a very long time. For me, it has taken about nine days.
There are many reasons to be depressed about getting laid off. I think that most people would mention the lack of income or the terrible economy. For me though, the worst part has often been the pitying look I receive from people as they attempt to console me. It usually starts with them saying, “Aww, I’m sorry,” and ends with, “let me buy you a drink.”
While I have enjoyed the free beverage portion, I haven’t entirely been sold on the pity part. At first, it just depressed me more. I’d see that sorrowful look on a friend’s face and be reminded that yes, it had really happened to me. I had lost my job of, basically, five years. I was unemployed. And by the time I started sipping on the free drink(s) and watching the smile on my buddy’s face appear as he/she told me, “You’re going to be fine,” I mostly just felt like I probably wouldn’t be fine. Which is something that they knew, given that they were buying me alcohol? Right?
But you know what else I started to think? That maybe, the drink wasn’t about me. It was about them. They wanted to do their part so that they could feel better about what I was going through. We’d walk out of the bar and they’d be smiling and hugging me…but I’d just be drunk. And still unemployed.
This is not to say that I’m ungrateful someone has cared enough to buy me a drink. The minute you get laid off, all you think about is how expensive alcohol is, so that’s definitely not the case. It’s simply an observation about how much unemployment affects us. About how much we’re living to pay our bills. The idea of not having an income is absolutely frightening to people, so when they hear of someone they care about losing their job, it’s as devastating as if it happened to them. And perhaps, they feel a little guilty for being glad it wasn’t them…so they pull out their credit card and buy you a drink.
But the most amazing thing happened about a week into my layoff: I started to get a boost from the pitying looks. It seemed like, each time a person said “I’m sorry,” I actually felt better. And even a bit free.
I mean, my job had become a nightmare of sorts. Two years prior, there had been a merger and with corporate mergers come a change in culture. Suddenly, the company that I’d come to love was no longer the same. My job wasn’t the same. The minor annoyances I had before started to become major ones and finally, I reached a point where the job was only bearable because I loved the team of people I worked with. Slowly but surely, everything that I’d brought into was ceasing to exist. And just as a culture change follows a merger, so do a series of layoffs.
I’d been laid off from my previous job before starting at this company, so I was familiar with the process. While many of my coworkers, most of who have been with the company for 10 years or more seemed to be fine, I was nervous. I didn’t know when, but I knew the layoffs were coming. They always do and until they arrive, the office becomes a cesspool of gossip, backstabbing, false assurances and general paranoia. Remember, I said the merger happened two years prior. That’s years of stress while waiting for the hammer to fall.
And while I spoke to people that reassured me that, “because you’re the youngest on the team and have the lowest salary, you’ll be fine,” I knew that was a load of crap as well. Corporate America loves its seniority and they’re not necessarily ready to give that up just yet. The last hired is still likely to be the first fired.
Interestingly enough, being the youngest on the team also meant that I was more aware of the recession than others. I’d graduated at the end of 2007. My professors spent my entire senior year telling me about everything employers wouldn’t be offering anymore and within a year, the job market had actually collapsed. Fortunately, by that time I was moving full speed ahead at my new company, unfortunately, I did so while watching the majority of my friends drown in the financial collapse. It never escaped my attention how blessed I’d been to escape it all.
So yeah, as I thought back over everything that had happened in the past two years, while sipping on yet another “free” drink, it occurred to me that this layoff was actually the best thing that could have happened to me. I’d finally gotten out! Maybe, everything that is about to happen now will be glorious. Or maybe, everything that is about to happen now will be terrible and I’ll be faced with one of the biggest challenges of my life. Maybe.
But either way, at least it won’t be the same old shit.
I’ve found a job to be like a dead end relationship, except even more binding. It seems a hell of a lot easier to take a chance on finding a new woman than it does on not being able to make rent. And your cell phone bill. And your car note. And your electric bill. And organic produce if you want to live longer. Earlier, I mentioned that we were living to pay our bills, but perhaps, we’re dying to pay them.
Ask yourself this: Do you really feel bad for me? Or do you envy me?
And if you envy me, are you willing to do something about it?
I wasn’t. I had to get laid off in order to shake myself out of the comfortable, yet stagnant, corporate bubble of stress, paranoia and long days.
I wish I’d been more brave and bold. I wish I’d put my own mental health first and started my job search when I first felt so scared and miserable. I wish I’d have begun looking before I knew I was getting let go. Not because then I’d have a job, but because then, my life would be changing because of ME and not because some corporate drone dismissed the last five years of my life in a 30 second “we’ve decided to make a change” speech. You know, because it’s just business.
There’s no shame in being laid off. But there is shame in not having the courage to let go first. But I’m working on forgiving myself. I’m thinking that, after these 30 days pass by and my severance checks start to roll in, I’ll be fine. At least I got paid to leave.
But many won’t. And I’m hoping that maybe people like that will read this and realize that they can just move on. They can find the courage to go. I know you’re afraid, but you can go. I know those bills are there, but you’re always going to owe someone, so just go. You’re going to be so proud of yourself…if you just GO. Understand that to a job, you’re just another number, but to yourself, honey you’re the bee’s knees.
And there you have it. My “Layoff Cycle.” I’m a bit nervous. Actually, I’m a little scared. I question whether or not I’m good enough to get back out there and reinvent myself. I’ve had a quick cry over a job that didn’t come through. I’ve been nervous about getting back out there and interviewing as a lesbian that wears men’s dress shirts and slacks. I’m frantically trying to figure out how to slice my budget to accommodate the pay cut that’s probably coming if I do find another job. I’m afraid this Tampa job market is going to be a bust. I’m discouraged by how hard and expensive it is to relocate out of state. I wonder if I’m not going to end up on someone’s couch.
But man, even after saying all of that, I am so HAPPY to be unemployed anyway! It’s my opportunity for a fresh start.
So don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t pity me. Be happy for me. And if you know someone hiring graphic designers, send them my way!
Oh…But I will take that free drink! It’s hard out here for the jobless!