If you’ve recently been laid off, it’s important to remember that you’re not an anomaly, and that it’s normal if you don’t know what to do next (or even right now). To get advice from those who have “been there, done that” when it comes to layoffs, we talked with nine women about what they wish they’d known before being laid off. Though, spoiler alert: Getting let go could end up being for the best.
Job then: Staff writer at a digital publication
Job now: Freelance writer
“The first time [I got laid off], I was completely blindsided, so I would tell myself to stash some money away in case of emergencies—especially since I was working at a startup in such an unpredictable field. That layoff devastated me, financially, and I had to put a hold on my student loans, which resulted in my interest compounding and being added to my principle (so my total payment ended up going up, even though I had been paying steadily for a few years at that point). That set me back about five years in terms of my repayment plan.
The second time, I was financially wiser, but definitely still took a hit. Both times, it was a blow to my self-esteem and made me feel like a failure. I felt discouraged and like I had lost momentum, like I was never going to find a stable career and figure out my finances. (Honestly, still questioning this.) Job hunting in New York City is also probably the most difficult task in the world. I would tell myself to stay positive and know that everything is working itself out. And also to relish in off-peak Trader Joe’s trips while I can.”
Job then: Underwriter for JPMorgan Chase
Job now: Real estate asset manager for Arbor Realty Trust and author of The Unemployment Guide: How a Setback Can Launch Your Career
If you have debt, call your credit card and student loan companies to inquire about their hardship forbearance programs.
“After you’ve reviewed your severance package and unemployment benefits, it’s important to set a realistic budget. If you have debt, call your credit card and student loan companies to inquire about their hardship forbearance programs. Many companies will forbear your payment for a few months during your unemployment period. Since your income is now limited, you need to get a clear understanding of your monthly expenses. Find out exactly what you owe and proactively call to negotiate payment plans or forbearances.
[Also,] a layoff is not the end of the world. It’s simply a reset button on your life and career. When I was laid off, I finally admitted to myself that I had been unhappy with my career for some time—however, I was too complacent to change it. My layoff reawakened possibilities and dreams that I put to the side for a consistent paycheck. Take this time to dream big and go after what you’ve always wanted to do.”
Job then: Client marketing manager at Diligent Corporation
Most recent job: Client success manager at First Media
“There are lots of things I would tell myself before being laid off, but I think the biggest thing would be to constantly remind myself that it is just a job. It isn’t your chief identifier. In Western culture, we get so caught up in this projection of ourselves to the outside world that we sometimes forget who we are or who we are really striving to be.
Another thing I would have told myself is to keep up a regular schedule (exercise, meditate, pray, volunteer, etc.), and also to always keep a nest egg, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Karen Brown Tyson
Job then: Global communications manager for a pharmaceutical company
Job now: CEO and founder of my own business, Constant Communicators
“Finding a job at age 50 is different than finding work at age 25. As with any job hunt, you need to have a plan. When looking for a job, I asked myself questions like: 1) At this point in your career, what kind of work do you want to do? 2) What makes you happy? 3) Does this company have employees who are my age or do they only hire recent college graduates? 4) How can I make my resume look ageless?
I sent out more than 200 resumes and went on a few interviews. But nothing seemed right. So I decided to take the lemons in my life and open a lemonade stand. I started Constant Communicators to support companies looking for remote public relations, communications, and writing support.
Since starting my business, I wrote a book, Time to Refresh: How to Renew Your Mind After Being Laid Off, Fired or Sidelined, and signed new corporate clients. I also teach writing support courses at a local community college (Wake Tech Community). Becoming my own boss has been a blessing for me, and the transition was not hard since I had savings, no debt (which I learned from two previous layoffs), and a supportive family.”
Glenna Lynne Schubert
Job then: Paralegal
Job now: Higher education administrator and adjunct instructor
“While being laid off was terrifying—especially as a young woman with little to no savings and a good amount of student debt—it truly was one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my career. I wish I could go back and tell myself to lean into the skid, and give myself permission to feel scared, angry, confused, hurt, excited, and to not be afraid of any of it. The fear of ‘failure’ is what kept me in a job I hated, in a city I couldn’t stand, and in an overall pretty unhealthy lifestyle. In reality, being laid off was not a personal failure, but the ending of a not-so-great chapter.”
Alicia M. Morgan
Job then: Process engineer and capital asset manager in a manufacturing facility
Job now: Vice president of education and programs at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas
“I wish I had been a better advocate in speaking up for myself and keeping a portfolio of my work. I was mid-career and essentially had to start over. I believed that if I just worked hard, I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. I didn’t build social capital all of the time, so I had to network with a sense of urgency, which is not the best approach.
I worked part-time for almost five years as I transitioned into the nonprofit sector, and had to rebuild my finances and self-confidence to advocate my unique value as a leader in the workplace. Now, I work full-time and encourage career professionals to consistently build relationships of value and empower others to succeed through sharing your personal story.”
Job then: Illustrator, graphic designer, and social media marketer at a publishing company
Job now: Freelance illustrator and social media marketer
“I would tell myself that taking a break is okay. I have been working since I got my working license when I was 14, with school and work combined. I haven’t stopped. And even though I live in New York City, it’s okay not to work, at least for someone other than yourself.
I would tell myself that taking a break is okay.
I would tell myself that the severance package they give you is going to be half of what they tell you you’re going to get, due to taxes—which my company made very unclear in the paperwork—so save your money. Also, I would tell myself that unemployment is great and don’t ever feel bad for taking anything from the government.”
Job then: “Permalance” overnight news writer at Refinery29
Job now: Freelance writer
“Find the bright side and focus on that. It freed up a lot of my time so I could pitch new outlets and pursue new opportunities, and I’ve grown as a writer as a result of that. I did enjoy being a news writer, but there wasn’t really room for promotion or movement on that team, so I would have just been doing the same thing (5 – 6 short news articles per night) for as long as I stayed there.
When I went back to full-time freelancing, I was able to place heavily reported pieces that I worked on for weeks, sometimes months, and felt really proud of. It also freed up my schedule to go on trips and write travel pieces. When I was at Refinery29, I had to turn down a lot of travel opportunities because I had set hours with that job. I started traveling a lot once I got laid off and was able to become a travel writer, which is really fun. It’s easier said than done, but I think seeing the layoff as a chance to explore new opportunities and broaden your horizons is a good way to look at it. Even if you loved your role, you may find that you love something else more and would never have found out if you stayed at the original job.”
For additional unemployment resources, visit USAGov. Plus, read how one writer’s layoff was actually the best thing to happen to her and see what the new frontier is when it comes to work-life balance.
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