Remember that scene in Mean Girls, when Regina George gets hit by the big yellow school bus out of nowhere? I can say with confidence that’s what it feels like to get laid off from work during the holiday season.
It happened to me the Monday before Thanksgiving. I had been working on a major national news magazine’s online team, where I wrote and edited stories about women’s career advice, mental health, and political interests. It seemed like a normal Monday until the deputy editor asked me to chat for a minute. I met him in a conference room with a notebook, assuming that we were going to discuss a new project. Instead, he closed the door and before either of us could sit down, he informed me that my job would be terminating in two weeks. He then handed me a business card with the name of someone in HR, told me to call her to go over the specifics, and left the room.
I stood there, alone, totally dumbstruck. I almost wanted to laugh, because it was definitely a joke, right? This was not happening. It could not be happening to me.
I immediately found another empty room where I could call my mom and cry a bit. I texted my boyfriend, my brother, and three of my closest friends the news. I emailed as many of my mentors and former colleagues as I could to let them know what happened, because I knew it was important to put out feelers for opportunities as soon as possible.
But on social media—the place where one usually shares big life updates (graduations, engagements, weddings, new jobs, new relationships) and where I usually communicate with the rest of my family and friends—I stayed totally silent. This was one news bulletin I was too ashamed to share.
Being laid off feels personal, no matter what anyone says
Looking at it logically, there’s nothing inherently shameful about being laid off from your job. It’s nothing personal, everyone says. It’s not about your performance, or about how much people didn’t like you. It’s about balancing numbers on a spreadsheet, and sometimes your number is the one that has to go in order for things to add up.
But when your self-worth accidentally gets tied up into your job like mine did, it feels really f*cking personal. I lived and breathed that job. I thought obsessively about work at all hours, an issue that was exacerbated by a manager who would email me late at night with questions and (usually negative) feedback. I was always on and desperate to get everything right, because I believed so strongly in the work I was doing. I didn’t see friends, I didn’t really have a social life, and the only vacation I was able to scrape together in the 11 months I worked there were two long weekends—a grand total of five days off.
I had gotten a shot at working at my dream job and somehow, I told myself, I messed it up.
By the time that fateful day rolled around, the very job I was told wouldn’t exist in two weeks had essentially taken total (and toxic) control of my life. But my mind computed the situation differently: I had gotten a shot at working at a prestigious, renowned publication—the dream job!—and somehow, I told myself, I messed it up.
I felt so ashamed of getting laid off—until I didn’t
In the days immediately following the layoff, I kept the news to myself. A week later, I cleaned out my desk and hugged my favorite coworkers goodbye. I walked out of the building and past the festive, cheery Christmas trees in the lobby feeling anything but.
I thought ahead to Christmas at home in a few weeks. I dreaded the inevitable questions I’d get from well-meaning extended family. My stomach churned imagining sharing my news with my closest high school friends, all of whom are so talented and smart and driven. The last thing I wanted was to lay bare my biggest failure to the people I loved and admired the most.
The layoff narrative I had playing in my head was all wrong. I wasn’t a victim—I was free. I was miserable at that job, and I didn’t know until the job was taken from me.
But then it was Monday, two weeks to the day of my layoff. For the first time since the previous January, I didn’t have to get up, make the hour-long trek to work, and be on the clock for nine-plus hours. My inbox wasn’t filled with emails that needed answering; I didn’t have to brace myself for harsh feedback from my manager about something I’d written. And you know what? It felt fantastic.
The layoff narrative I had playing in my head was all wrong. I wasn’t a victim. I was free. Because…holy sh*t, was I miserable at that job. MISERABLE. And I didn’t know it until the job was taken from me.
I took full advantage of every silver lining
I swear I’m not normally all Pollyanna about crappy things. But truly, once I stopped thinking about what I’d lost when I was laid off (a job, a salary, some pride), I realized that there was a lot to be gained here.
Because no one was really hiring in December, I decided to go on what I called a “f*ck you” trip instead of wringing my hands with worry in the confines of my apartment. My boyfriend and I spent five glorious days in Amsterdam (the coolest place we could find for the least expensive airfare), eating cheese and drinking gin and exploring art museums and overall just having the actual best time of my life. Should I have saved my money instead? Probably. But after a year of grinding myself to the bone at work, I fully back my decision to do something fun and just for me in the name of self care.
I wanted to find a path where I could do great work without being expected to sacrifice every other part of myself in order to succeed.
And on a more serious note, I gave myself the time and space to think about what I truly wanted from my career. I’d thought that former job was #careergoals, but while it absolutely offered me some amazing challenges and opportunities, it was also intensely draining and, at times, demoralizing. I could admit now that a traditional newsroom was not for me. More than anything, I wanted to find a path where I could do great work without being expected to sacrifice every other part of myself in order to succeed. Because, as I learned, it could all be taken away in an instant—and then what would I have?
All of these revelations took the shame out of losing my job. So that Christmas, instead of fielding awkward, well-meaning questions from family about how I was doing (in a tone generally reserved for a terminal health prognosis), I got in front of their furrowed brows and queries, proudly told them about my trip, and shared how I was re-thinking my career. Getting laid off wasn’t something to hide anymore. It was just a thing that happened.
I was able to get my life back on track
Ultimately, my layoff timing was impeccable. My friend and mentor asked me to come and interview for a position at the women’s health and lifestyle magazine where she was working. I wasn’t sure at first if the job description was a perfect fit, but I wanted to work with people who would value me and help me grow—and I knew I would get that from her. I ended up getting the job, and working on her team was one of the best experiences of my career.
Obviously, this is not how unemployment works for everyone. I was very fortunate in that I had some savings, that my former company gave me two weeks’ notice, and that I even got severance at all (also, the fact that I knew someone who could vouch for my skills with a potential employer). I also am not currently financially responsible for anyone other than myself. I know in many ways, the crappy hand I was dealt was still oh-so playable. And trust me, I’m grateful.
But I also know that getting laid off doesn’t have to just be a sad, hard thing, no matter the situation. Don’t get me wrong, it sucks in so many ways. And although I still get salty sometimes thinking about how it all went down, I’m ultimately still grateful that it happened at all so I could get my life back on track. If that makes me Pollyanna, fine. I’ll take it.
If you’re no longer in love with your current career path, here’s what you can do. And if you’re on the job hunt, you can actually harness your Myers-Briggs personality type to find the job that’s right for you.
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