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layoff work stress

I’m no stranger to layoffs or challenging job searches. 

I graduated from college in 2009 in the midst of the recession. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a job yet at that time, so unemployment wasn’t an option. It was an incredibly challenging job search to find my first “real job.”

I got a job street canvassing (i.e. worst job ever) in NYC that I thought was a stop-gap to cover the bills while I found something else. Over the course of my year canvassing, I applied for more than 100 jobs.

I got extremely depressed. It got to the point, where I dropped down to 80% time and started going to therapy for the first time in my life. 

In 2014, I was laid off from an organization that I had been employed by for 4 years. The organization was struggling financially and decided to downsize. At the time my job was focused on training and capacity building for people on the ground doing the “real work.” Looking back, I can understand why my position was one of the first to be eliminated. 

When I first learned about the layoff though, I was distraught. On my commute home that day, I cried on the subway. It felt personal. I overanalyzed the reasons why I was terminated. I assumed that it must be related to my performance or likeability. 

With everything that’s been going on, I’ve been reflecting on these experiences again. It’s possible that I will be laid off again within the next few months, depending on what happens with this pandemic. I know many people who have already been laid off, furloughed, or given reduced hours.

I know a lot more than I did 5-10 years ago about searching for a job, layoffs, and the relationship between the employer and employee. I’ve been reflecting on how I would have approached these situations differently and how I would approach a future layoff.

If I Got Laid Off Today, Here’s What I’d Do Differently

Hindsight is always 20/20. I can look back and wish that I had done things differently in 2009 and 2014. I now realize that I could be in this situation again, so I wanted to distill my learnings. If I am faced with a layoff, I will be more prepared to manage the emotional turmoil and to figure out what to do next.

1. Realize it’s Not Personal

If I got laid off today, I’d need to remind myself that it’s not personal. I am not uniquely experiencing something. So many people are experiencing the exact same thing. 

When I couldn’t find a job in 2009, I internalized it. For some reason, my experience felt unique. I must be doing something wrong because I couldn’t find a job. I blamed it on my field of study and lack of experience. Surely those things contributed to it, but my experience was not unique. Blaming myself only bummed me out and kept me from taking actions to move me forward.

In 2014, I spent way too much time overanalyzing why I was in the earliest group to get laid off. What was it about ME? I looked at all my actions and second-guessed everything. Looking back, it wasn’t about me. The job I was doing wasn’t essential. 

If I got laid off today, I’d remind myself that it isn’t personal. This is a systemic challenge that we are experiencing in our world right now. I would try to remember that I was not singled out because I was bad at my job. 

2. Track my Accomplishments and Achievements

It can be easy to get sucked into negative thinking. In 2009, I definitely fell into the trap of feeling like I didn’t have value. This was because wasn’t receiving the external validation from my job search.

If I were to get laid off now, I’d figure out a way to remind myself of my accomplishments and achievements. One thing I’d do is to write down a list of things I accomplished in my last job that I feel proud of. I’d also reflect on the things I’m most proud of throughout my career. 

woman work accomplishments

Not only would this practice help me not feel as much negativity, but it would also help me feel more confident in my abilities when applying for new jobs. This practice would remind me that I have a lot to offer the world. 

3. Reset and Figure Out What I Want

If I were laid off today, I’d take this as an opportunity to both reset and figure out what I want.

When I was looking for jobs in 2009 and when I got laid off in 2014, I felt extremely stressed out. I didn’t give myself breathing room. I was constantly looking for jobs, writing applications, or analyzing why I didn’t get a job offer. If I could go back and change it, I would have stepped back to:

  • Take care of myself
  • Take time to reflect on what I wanted

Most people experience stress and burnout as part of their job. While I experience a lot less stress than I used to, I still think that I would want to spend time taking care of myself. I would make sure that I was sleeping enough, exercising, focusing on my relationships, and building fun activities into each day. 

Self-Care relax Reset

This would help me to remember that I have an identity outside of my job and my paycheck. These things alone do not define me.  

I would also use the time to figure out what I wanted in the future to see if I could start working toward that now.  I’d reflect on a few questions:

  • What aspects of my last job did I enjoy most?
  • What parts of the job made me miserable?
  • What were my peak experiences in my professional life?
  • What are the commonalities amongst my peak experiences? 

These questions would allow me to understand my vision for the future. I would be able to better articulate what kind of roles I should look for (and which to rule out). 

4. Finding a Job is about Finding the Right Match

When I was searching for my first real job in 2009-2010, I did a ton of interviews. Every rejection felt like a blow. I was extremely nervous about every interview because I felt like I needed to “prove” that I was good enough. 

I now realize that a job search is less about “proving” my worth and more about finding the right match. It’s about finding the match between what I can offer and what the employer needs. It’s also about finding the right boss and work environment that will allow me to thrive. 

Because I didn’t see interviews as a two-way street, I got into some organizations that weren’t a great match for me. Now when I interview, I ask a lot of questions about the culture and work environment. 

5. Drop the Idea of a “Dream Job”

I don’t believe in dream jobs anymore. Like many people, I imagined that there was one right job for me. Once people get their “dream job,” they usually realize that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

My friend who writes over at a Purple Life shares a similar sentiment. She started her pursuit of financial independence because she got her dream job and realized that she didn’t like it. 

If I were to be laid off now, I would now know that dream jobs don’t exist. Instead, I’d focus on finding a job where I could build skills and get into a field I was interested in. 

I would also remind myself that everything is temporary. My next job doesn’t have to be perfect. It only needs to teach me new skills. 

6. Connect With and Build My Network

Now, I know that applying for one job after another was not the best job search strategy. When so many people are applying for jobs at once, it’s better to focus on networking.

In 2009, I didn’t have much of a network. I had graduated from college in Tennessee. We went and taught English for several months at a university in Nicaragua. Then, we came back to the US and moved to New Jersey. When we moved there, we didn’t know a soul. 

If I were laid off now, I would definitely approach my job search differently. Utilizing my network would be key. I’m already on a bunch of industry-specific listserves, so I’d use those. I’d reach out to individuals in my network to see if they knew of anything available in their company.

I’d look for additional listserves and other networks related to my field or desired role. This would allow me to connect with like-minded people. I would also hear about job openings from a real person (not just a job description). I’d also look up the company or organization on LinkedIn to find people with similar backgrounds and experiences. Informational interviews are always a great way to learn more about a job and a company. 

7. Explore the Crazy Idea in the Back of my Mind

If I was laid off now, I would split my time focusing on applying for another job and building up my own business ideas. 

If I could go back in time to 2009 and 2014, I would have focused time on building up a business. It could have helped me generate cashflow while I was looking for work and after I found work.

If I had explored building a business 5 or 10 years ago, I might be running my own business full-time today. Then, I wouldn’t need to look for a job.

What to Do When You Get Laid Off: Focus on Today

I can’t change anything that happened or the way that I reacted to it in 2009 or in 2014.  I can only focus on what I’d do today.

If I were laid off in this current crisis, I know I would be more mentally prepared for the challenge. I’ve grown and learned a lot over the last 10 years. 

I hope that if you or I experience a layoff within the next several weeks or months that we utilize these learnings. 

What would you do differently now if you were laid off? 

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