What to Do When You Lose Your Job
Written by Ashlie Johnson
[Editor’s note: This article discusses job loss from the perspective of a person with middle class privilege. It is in no way representative of the entire spectrum of job loss experiences, especially in cases where someone lacks a strong support system or is experiencing poverty.]
On August 8, 2017, Time ran an article declaring: “You are less likely to be laid off today than anytime since 1967.” On December 1, 2017, that headline couldn’t have been further from the truth for me. I was laid off. Economies go up and down, but even when they’re up, clients leave, companies fail, and job losses happen.
For the past seven years, I’ve worked in the (particularly volatile) advertising industry. Advertising agencies rely on clients to keep their businesses afloat, but client retention is tough (and let's not even talk about winning new clients). Internal reorganizations, poor performance, shifting priorities that move to meet the market (hello, Facebook algorithm changes) create an environment where you’re enjoying a client win one month (likely over a lavish dinner and drinks on the company card), then packing up your office the next.
This is the second time I’ve been laid off. Both times were precipitated by clients leaving, at no fault of the agency. The first time, my boss tried to protect my job by moving me to another team. It only delayed the inevitable. In the third round of agency layoffs, I got the dreaded phone call to come into a conference room for an unexpected meeting. I knew it was my turn. A few of my colleagues in nearby cubicles had already returned from their unexpected meetings, cursing and hastily packing up the family photos and posters that adorned their workspaces. Even still, I cried when I got the news.
The second layoff was less dramatic. Again, the agency had lost clients and my work had started to dry up. This time, I worked remotely, away from the daily office grind. One of my coworkers and I would use Facebook Messenger to chat about the state of the company and the security of our jobs. I told myself I would start looking for something else, but I was comfortable and not feeling ready for a big change. But then one day I had a conference call with my boss and HR showed up, and it didn’t matter whether I was ready or not. I didn’t cry this time. I was numb.
Both layoffs came at highly inconvenient times. (There is probably never a convenient time to lose a job!) The first time I had JUST signed a new lease on an apartment walking distance from work and I was days away from my 27th birthday. The second time was right before the holidays. My boyfriend was about to graduate with his master’s degree and didn’t know where he’d be working. We were desperate to move out of our apartment, which had become moldy after Hurricane Irma barreled through. Everything was uncertain.
Uncertainty has a funny effect; it can level you or raise you up. And what seems obviously bad on the outside, can actually be transformative. Yes, it’s scary. It’s understandable if you’re panicking. But if you can manage the flood of emotions and channel your energy into forward motion, being laid off can be a manageable catalyst for change. Here are some suggestions for making it positive change:
Post-layoff to-do list:
1. Let yourself be sad for a bit.
Find that friend who is great at listening and dealing with emotional people and let it all out. Binge a show on Netflix you’ve been waiting to watch. If you’re into writing, journal all your feelings. You will likely learn something valuable by sitting with them for a minute. That insight could be the first step down a path that leads to your next job.
2. Put things on hold if you have to, but don't give up.
Problem-solving is the name of the game during crisis moments. Some people will experience a layoff and give up on a dream entirely. If you’re going to give something up completely, make sure you feel it’s the right decision (even if it feels sad in the moment) and not just a reactionary move made out of desperation, pessimism or spite.
3. Don’t be afraid to apply for unemployment benefits.
(If you were offered severance, you’ll have to let that run out before you can apply.) A friend who has experienced a couple of layoffs in his career said his only regret was being too proud to take unemployment. In fact, take help whenever it’s offered, including from friends and family. Only you know each relationship, but if it’s a true act of love and compassion (meaning they won’t hold it over you in the future), accept it. And when you’re in a better place and someone else needs assistance, pay it forward.
4. Tell everyone.
You may want to hide it, but the best (and often quickest) way to find your next job is through someone you already know. An acquaintance of mine lost her job just before she and her husband were about to finalize a loan to buy a house, while she was in the middle of fertility treatments to start the family she always wanted. They had to rewrite the loan last minute with only her husband’s income and she had to stop fertility treatments abruptly. She was understandably heartbroken, but she didn’t hide it. She bravely posted about her situation on Facebook and let everyone know she was looking for a new opportunity. Within a month, she had a new (better) job she would have never expected, which came from her existing connections. And—it brought insurance that covers fertility treatments.
Make job-hunting your full time job. When you’ve gotten through the initial wave of emotions and reflection, get up reasonably early, get dressed and get to searching. Email your contacts. Update your resume. Use LinkedIn the way you would normally use Facebook. Start a spreadsheet so you can track your progress, the jobs you’ve applied to and the contacts you’ve emailed. Did you go to college? Reach out to their career services department, even if you graduated years ago. They can help with resume review and interview prep. You paid a lot of money for that degree. Cash in.
6. Get yourself a mantra (or three).
We all have that negative internal narrative that likes to pop up in especially difficult times. It’s fine to look at your situation with a realistic eye and assess what you might have done differently or better, in order to learn and grow. But don’t abuse yourself in the process. My therapist gave me a great mantra that allowed me to accept something difficult without letting it compromise my self-compassion: Even though I lost my job, I still love and accept myself fully. You may not believe it—but say it until you do.
If you’ve recently lost your job, you may feel like you have a huge mountain to climb. And you do—but it’s not insurmountable. Be kind to yourself and stay open. You've got this.
Ashlie is a digital marketer and creator living in the Washington DC area. She’s particularly fond of cats, karaoke, sharing good meals with friends, building community through the arts, and looking up at the sky. Follow her on Instagram at @ashlie_elsewhere or visit her repository for all things creative at heyashlie.com