Five lessons I learned after being laid off

Five lessons I learned after being laid off
Real talk today. I've been vaguely referring to shit going down in my life over the past few months, and in today's post I feel ready to shed some light on what happened. 

The long and the short of it is that I was laid off at work. 

The job that was my first choice after finishing my PhD, the job where in just a few months I got so much closer to my awesome team of colleagues than I had ever expected would happen, the job that I felt was a perfect fit with my aspirations and talents, where I saw myself evolving professionally towards a bright and fulfilling future, where I had received nothing but positive feedback from everyone I worked with and where I had already learned so much in such a short amount of time.

And then, a little after I had been with the company for a year, I was called into our CEO's office and told that the company was struggling financially. That they were sad to say that they were letting me go, and that my two month's notice would start the next week. Which meant that I would be out of work just in time for the holidays.

It had been years since I cried at work, back when I worked in retail and a particularly nasty store manager made me hang up pounds and pounds of coats until my hands were bruised, because she didn't feel like doing anything herself. I had told myself that my crying-at-work days were over, that I was a proper adult now and that I could maintain composure. But then life threw me this complete curveball that hit me right in the smacker. For the first few minutes I didn't really feel anything - my heart was racing and the message barely sank in. But then it did, and there I was. Crying, and cursing myself for crying at the office.

If you know me, you know that I set myself some very high standards. I remember so clearly being about 10 years old, playing videogames and thinking to myself "wouldn't it be nice if every day had a reset button so that I could redo everything time and time again, until I got everything just right"? Yeah, those people who wrote About Time should really pay me royalties. 

I've never felt like being "ok" was good enough - I need to ace all things all the time to feel like I'm on the right track. So obviously, while being laid off is on no one's bucket list, it certainly wasn't on mine to put things mildly.

And how did it feel? Like being discarded like an unwanted item. Like being dumped by a significant other you were still very much committed to. Like being told I wasn't good enough. Like seeing all of my hopes and dreams being popped like a balloon. Like my life wasn't mine anymore, because someone else had made the executive decision for me. You know all of those carefully constructed walls we put up to tell ourselves that we are safe, that life won't sweep us away just like that? Being laid off makes you realize that those are actually just an illusion. 

In short, it feels like a humiliation.

Five lessons I learned after being laid off

Those two months have since passed, and after hustling hard and falling back on my network, I'm incredibly lucky, relieved and happy to say I was hired at my new job just in time for Christmas, before even truly becoming unemployed, saving me from awkward conversations with relatives over Christmas dinner. I made a career switch from market analyst and brand consultant to PR and communications account executive, and I feel like that change will work very well for me. The company I'm joining is thriving, brimming with talented young people, ambition and fresh ideas, and I will be working for one of Belgium's biggest telecom providers.

But does that fully erase the trauma of being laid off? Honestly, I know it may sound absurd but I still feel a bit unmoored. When things like these happen they make you second-guess everything, from what you have to offer to who you are, how much of you is defined by your job and what it is you want from life. 

Why am I writing this? I don't want to do that typical thing where after sharing some realness/negativity, you seamlessly bring it back around to an "inspirational" or "encouraging" conclusion. I'm a very positive person, but life isn't always supposed to tie up neatly with a bow. Life is messy, it challenges you, and it isn't fair. But I found a lot of strength, affirmation and insight from reading other people's stories of being fired or laid off. It may sound silly but at times like these, that vast online world filled with realness and testimonials is almost like a form of therapy, allowing you to work through your issues and feel less alone, more understood. I'm hoping that this blogpost will provide the same help to someone out there.

But I would like to end with some words of encouragement, things I have learned through the whole ordeal.

  1. Take time and space to work through your emotions. You're not overreacting, this is a huge blow to your self esteem and your feeling of security, and your mind needs to process this. You're going through a type of mourning, just like when you're going through a breakup.
  2. Try to make the best out of the extra time you'll have on your hands: do things that you enjoy, reconnect with people or hobbies you've neglected because you were putting everything into your job. This will provide you with positive energy and help you rebalance and rediscover your core motivations. I've been reading books, watching movies, preparing new dishes, listening to podcasts.
  3. Re-evaluate your professional path and ask yourself whether this is the field you want to be in for the next part of your life. I quickly figured out that I missed being more creative, strategic and communicative since most of my previous job revolved around pasting numbers into Excel tables and data cleaning. I adjusted my job search accordingly.
  4. Reach out to your network and ask them if they have any tips on open positions. I have amazing friends and acquaintances, and the most interesting prospects I got through them. Going through your network is the best way to find a new job because those people often know about a job offer before it gets published.
  5. And finally, because lists of five look better than lists of four: trust your gut when going through the application process. Not excited about a job when a recruiter describes it to you? Feel like your future boss might be a micro-manager? Does the company culture just not feel like a fit with your personality? Believe that you will find a better option and keep looking. And just because you don't even get called in for an interview for one particular position, that doesn't mean that another company won't be incredibly excited to hire you.
 Peace out!

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