10 lessons from being laid off 3 times in 5 years

I’ve been laid off 3 times in 5 years. Ouch, right? It only hurt the first time. You might be surprised to hear how I handled it the second and third times.

I’m not going to mess around here, let’s jump right to the good stuff.

Layoff #1 – July 2009

I’d been working for a Chicago-based management consulting firm for five years on big US and state Government projects. I had just came back to work following a paid 4-month maternity leave around the time Obama took office. Government spending on contractors was cut, and the company lost a few important projects.

I had no idea what to expect when my Managing Director called me into his office shortly after lunch. When I got to his office there was some other dude in there, who I learn is from HR. I was a deer in headlights and was in total shock for the next 15 minutes and the weeks that followed.

I returned to my desk stunned. They told me to take my time and gather my things. I later came to appreciate how they let me do this with grace and dignity. Unlike layoff number two. I gathered everything I could fit in my bag and tossed the rest. I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I sent a few emails to let some of my friends and coworkers know and booked it out of there on the next train. I held my shit together until I got home. I didn’t pick up my son from daycare yet because I needed to process this business first. I fell apart in a ball of snotty, ugly crying mess on the floor. I felt like such a loser. I was angry, “why me?”— I wished I’d quit first.

Layoff #2 – August 2012

After the first layoff, my husband, 1-year old boy and I moved to Canada. I’m from the Toronto area, and hubby is from New York. I figured, we have a baby now, we should live closer to my family. Always up for an adventure, instead of looking for jobs in Chicago, I looked in Toronto instead. I landed a job in Crisis Communications at BlackBerry pretty quickly and worked there for three years. During this time, I birthed another baby, a daughter, and a few months after returning from maternity leave, guess what happened? Since BlackBerry is a high-profile company, there were news trucks outside on days when layoffs were happening.

I knew it was my day. I had packed my personal laptop and a spare BlackBerry and that morning, I told everyone, “If we get shit-canned today, I’ll meet you at Starbucks.” Sadly, a bunch of them met me there.

When a Director came to our desks and called two of us to follow him, I knew it was happening. We wiped our phones while trodding along behind it. When we landed in a conference room with a bunch of envelopes on the table, I knew what was up. I’ve done this before! Like getting on a bike for your second time, but not quite as cool. My coworker with was crying, but I was stone-faced, “How much is severance?” Our manager was apologizing on the way out of the door, and he was stunned when instead, I apologized to himI told him I couldn’t imagine being in his position today and wished him a better rest of the day. Empath forever.

My husband had an opportunity at a Chicago start-up and had been traveling back and forth from Chicago to Toronto when I was let go from BlackBerry. That layoff was the trigger to put the rest of our plan in motion. I called my old boss to see what was new. “Oh, we just won some massive contracts, when can you come back?”

Me: “Give me a month.” No jokewe sold our home for a tidy profit, found a place in Chicago, hired a nanny, and did an international move in 4 weeks. We don’t mess around.

Layoff #3 – May 2014

At first, it was a little weird being back at the place I “got left” from in 2009. Until the rest of the team was hired back toothen it was like old days. We had big government work, this time thanks to Obama and Obamacare and life was good. Up until we lost a few big contracts and they let the whole team go, and then some—again.

I knew it was likely and I had been looking for another job. For a few years I’d been toying with the idea of building my OWN businessbecause seriously, I want the next time to be on my terms.

When I received a 2:10 pm meeting invitation on a Tuesday (layoffs are almost always on a Monday or Tuesday) from a Managing Director I hardly spoke with and arrived in the conference room to see the somber faces, I literally laughed out loud. I told them to stop explaining, I know the drill, and asked, “how much is severance?” They looked at me like I was crazy.

I was free.

On the way home I stopped at the store and bought an expensive bottle of wine, some good salty dark chocolate, and flowers. I actually skipped.

Now, the important lessons:

  1. Crying is unproductive. Get it over with quickly, and move into Get Shit Done (GSD) mode and contact everyone you know.
  2. Look for another job IMMEDIATELY. Even if you have four months of severance pay, that’s roughly how long it was from pink slip to new employee orientation at a new job every time.
  3. Apply for unemployment insurance IMMEDIATELY. We pay for it after all, and you need to apply right away because it takes a while to kick in. Don’t feel weird about it, just do it.
  4. Enjoy it. Especially if you have severance pay. I tried to enjoy the unexpected extra time with my kids.
  5. Start a side-hustle. If you get your pink slip, your side-hustle could become your full-time income, or it could help you build your savings account and save your ass when the time comes. I did NOT do this in advance, and I wish I had. This way, if you find yourself jobless, you can have enough momentum going on the side that you can quickly sweep in and shift your focus while keeping your bank account healthy.
  6. It’s not personal. In big layoffs, it comes down to a percentage on a spreadsheet. You ARE just a number. It’s not personal so don’t take it as such.
  7. No one is layoff-proof.  NO ONE IS LAYOFF PROOF. You can be extremely valuable and well-liked, but it all comes down to a percentage on a spreadsheet. The old school thinking of getting a job and working there until you die is dead.
  8. There’s no such thing as job security. When people say their job offers them “stability,” I completely disagree. It provides you a routine and a paycheckuntil it doesn’t.
  9. Always be prepared for a layoff. Have a plan that includes a budget that is pre and post-layoff. Outline what subscriptions and services you’ll cancel the moment the “trigger” is pulled. This also means your LinkedIn profile and resume should ALWAYS be ready.
  10. Your job is not you. When we use a job to define us, the blow hurts when you lose it. If you’re not identifying yourself and basing your self-worth on your job, you won’t feel like a piece of you was lost when you lose your job.

A better something is on its way.

Layoffs happen for a reason. It’s the universe’s way of offering you a better opportunityand giving you a severance package while you figure it out.

I left my last job on my terms, when I decided it was time.