I've been on the corporate treadmill since I was 19. I was the green-eyed go-getter who plowed through a full course load on multiple scholarships while working two internships in college.
I was gainfully employed in my competitive creative field immediately upon graduation at my first choice of Fortune 500 companies, and I was grateful. I had laser focus on the come-up, willingly sleeping under my desk on occasion and pulling all-nighters to get ahead. (Before you think This kid's annoying, know the theme of this article is my comeuppance.)
I had the loyal, enthusiastic, tirelessly devoted heart of a dog for all my employers. That's why the words "We are eliminating your position" fell on stunned ears when, at the age of 30, I experienced being laid off for the first time. My job was my identity, and my identity was being stricken from the payroll. It took Kiefer Sutherland, multiple unfinished vision boards with my girl gang, and a few plane flights to get my groove back. It came back sevenfold.
You won't find this advice in Forbes, but I highly recommend revisiting the debut seasons of acclaimed Fox drama 24 as a first step upon any layoff and/or firing. After the initial shock subsided, my first blind instinct was to hunker down. And by hunker down, I mean burrow and binge-watch federal agent Jack Bauer blow things up while reaching deep into my soul to ask What would Jack do?
Surely his pithy, cynical dialogue and relentless moxie would be enough to jettison my lapsed enthusiasm into an epiphany. Did I draw several meals out of a single pack of gummy bears for fear of facing the outside world? Unconfirmed. I had a spectacular mope.
It was Jack who put things into perspective best with the words, "This last year—do you know what I went through? What'd I get for it? A pat on the back. In the end, a demotion and a heroin habit. I'm tired of putting my ass on the line for nothing. I'm done putting my ass on the line for nothing."
I asked myself, What would I put my ass on the line for, given the choice? What juice would be most worth the squeeze? Life suddenly seemed rosy in the lack of kidnappings and intravenous drug use sense of the world. The longest day of Jack’s life was a far cry from my champagne problems. The day you get laid off, wallow. Have your moment. Then get real, count your blessings, and roll up your sleeves. To quote Jack, "Keep moving. I'm out of bullets."
According to Forbes, one of the most detrimental aspects of a layoff is the soul-crushing self-esteem hit. Your first task is building up your support system. Spend weekends with friends who will buoy your self-worth, help you refocus, and keep you in good spirits. Keep your vibrations high. Spend your now wide-open workdays taking lunches with as many inspired, successful connectors in your rolodex possible. Source your mentors. Model their success.
If you cushion your fall with a network of problem-solvers willing to send the elevator back down, you'll be back on your feet in no time. Every wildly successful person has dealt with failure on multiple levels. It is likely the defining factor to their success. Ask thoughtful questions. Yes, a layoff is a temporary setback. This is your opportunity to control the narrative, and spin it to your advantage. Investigate areas in your skillset you can build out. Do you need further development or training in a certain area? Do you want to venture into a new direction entirely? Go to the people you trust and brainstorm. Ask for help. Good things come to those who ask.
Travel broadens the mind. I boarded a plane within a week (or three seasons of 24—whatever metric you want to use) of being laid off. I went home to Austin. It was a three-hour flight, but it may as well have been transatlantic. The mental clarity that comes with relocating cannot be overstressed. Get out of your zone, and break with your routine. It will force you into feeling adaptive.
I launched my freelance business a month after being laid off. I had the luxury of savings and unemployment to float me until I landed my first big fish in the client arena. The months I spent traveling and honing what I really wanted to do proved invaluable. I had been so busy keeping my head down and doing my work day in day out at my office gig that I hadn’t fully defined my long-term goals.
Fleshing out which aspects of my previous job that I loved, which tasks I was more than happy to never revisit again professionally, and, most crucially, where I wanted to go would be the very things that prepared me for negotiating my next gig.
The saying "Nothing succeeds like success" is an idiom that rings true for all forward thinkers. If you have succeeded in the past, sleep well knowing you will win again. So you've temporarily been sidelined—so what? As we learned viscerally from Sylvester Stallone through multiple iterations of a billion-dollar film franchise, "expendables" have worth.
Do you have a specific skillset that was absorbed by another department at your company? Your expertise is an asset. They can’t afford to keep you on staff full-time? Look forward to a lucrative freelance billing cycle with a more diverse client portfolio. Post-recession, the notion of being a generalist instead of a specialist became the norm. Companies downsized, and as a result, employees morphed into wearers of multiple hats with vague, far-reaching job descriptions, often for less pay.
Specialists thrive in the freelance market. Being cut loose from a job where I did 20 different things focused me creatively. I learned where my true assets were in the marketplace, often demonstrated by the eagerness with which I was being hired elsewhere. And even better, I started getting paid for the things I actually wanted to do. All of those tasks from my previous job that I had to do because a manager assigned them to me to cut the bottom line? Not in my wheelhouse anymore.
Clients were actually happy when I informed them they didn’t need me to fulfill certain rolls. "Pay me to do X, Y, Z, and have your team handle the rest internally" became a frequent conversation. In my experience, the only reason you are in the room as a freelancer is to offer an expert approach. Bill accordingly.
After surviving your layoff, you'll do one of two things: go into business for yourself or take a job somewhere else. In my experience it was one and then the other. I was happy freelancing, but I also missed being on a team. I knew the next full-time job I took would have to be something amazingly special to pull me away from the freedom of my gun-for-hire existence.
The pitch came from a woman I very much admired. It was to come onboard as a senior editor for MyDomaine. At this point, I had turned down multiple offers from other parties, and I was even planning a move to Texas. After carving out a new life for myself post-layoff, my confidence was through the roof.
Looking back, I couldn't be happier to have been placed in the ejector seat. I never would have left of my own volition. The new me knew what I had to offer. I had a vision for my future. I knew my worth. I was only willing to entertain an offer that dovetailed with my personal career goals. This is the spot you want to be in when negotiating: completely fine with walking away from the table. Move forward with your agenda, and don't waver.
You know what Jack Bauer has to say about conceding your values? "You can look the other way once, and it's no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time, and pretty soon that's all you're doing—compromising, because that's the way you think things are done. You know those guys I busted? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren't, they weren't bad guys. They were just like you and me. Except they compromised… Once."
Are you compromising?
Ever been laid off? Tell us how you survived, and shop our selection of career-furthering reads below.
The Career Code by Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power ( $20 ) ($13)