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How to be laid off

Folks, Terri is back! Today she’s here to offer some good practical advice for surviving a layoff. —Rachel ✨

Image: Kiyana Salkeld / Just Good Shit

Image: Kiyana Salkeld / Just Good Shit

Back in January, I got laid off from my job along with Rachel, our entire team, and 200 or so other coworkers. I’ve been working in media for the past seven years and have watched the industry shift and shrink. I’ve witnessed layoffs happen around me, both at work and to my close friends, and yet when it happened to me, I was completely floored. As in, on the floor crying in shock.

I don’t know if anything could’ve prepared me for the sting and multiple stages of grief that accompanied losing my job — the numbness, the confusion, the anger, the hurt, the bargaining, the desperation — but I do know that being laid off is an incredibly specific state of being. It’s also probably different for everyone who experiences it. Some people are relieved, some quickly pivot to the next thing, some people have had something like this happen to them many times before and already have their go-bag packed. But for me, and a lot of people I’ve talked to (turns out, LOTS of people I know have been in similar situations, especially in the past six months), the experience of being laid off and the time that ensues generally follow the same outline.

So, should you find yourself in that boat, here are some tips that helped me survive my layoff:

  1. Take time to absorb the shock.
    Even if your layoff wasn’t unexpected, moving from a reliable schedule of spending most days feeling productive with the same people to...not...is a major life change. I tried to fend off the Bads by networking and setting up freelance opportunities literally the day after getting laid off. A week later, I had a full-on meltdown right in front of CVS because I was feeling like a part of my identity was gone. I’d loved my job. I led with it during small talk; I cherished the work I did and still look back on it with pride. Instead of gradually acknowledging this truth by letting it seep into my consciousness, I’d try to shoo it away. As a result, had a big old “Come to Jesus” cry on the phone with my mom in public that, blessedly, the citizens of New York let me carry on in peace. (I do love New Yorkers.) After that, I gave myself a weeklong break from any kind of work/job searching, which helped a lot.

  2. Also, unfollow/mute/cut your former employer out of your life if you need to.
    Losing your job is like going through a breakup! Especially if you worked somewhere that has a big social media presence! Seeing them continue on as normal can infect still-fresh wounds, so just block them out for a while. You can always re-follow later, or ask trusted friends to give you only the most important highlights. After a while, you might realize you don’t even care about them anyway.

  3. Realize that you will probably deal with constant guilt.
    I was not prepared for the crushing waves of guilt that happened every time I stopped doing anything job-related. With a lot more “free” time, it’s easy to feel like you need to spend all of it looking for and applying to jobs, networking, doing side gigs to scrape together money… anything that feels “productive.” And yes, job hunting really is a full-time job. But! You still need to, like, clean your home and bathe and maybe even go read a book for pleasure in a coffee shop. There is literally nothing wrong with doing any of those things, even though it feels like a violation of some kind of rule. Not being on a regular work schedule means you can very easily do worky-type things all day, but if the circumstances allow, try to avoid that. Because I was lucky to have a good enough savings and severance to augment job-related stuff with more less goal-oriented tasks, I was able to create some rules and guidelines to free myself of guilt. Maybe for you, that means you get one (1) matinee movie for every three jobs you apply to, or maybe that means carving out nap time every day because you need it. The guilt of not doing “enough” never truly goes away, but accepting it and telling it that it doesn’t need to define your laid-off self helps.

  4. Start making a daily schedule.
    You’ll be doing a lot of the same things over and over: You’ll send a lot of introductory emails, spend an equal amount of time willing certain emails to pop up in your inbox, wash endless dishes, spend countless hours alone (a nightmare for an extrovert like me), and become invested in the personal lives of daytime TV personalities. A schedule helps with the monotony and with the guilt.

  5. Figure out your lunches.
    One of the most thoughtful things someone asked me after I got laid off was, “What have you been eating?” Turns out, feeding your stupid body thrice a day is really annoying! At least when I was working, lunch was provided twice a week, and on the others, I could run out and buy something. But alone in my apartment without a steady income, I had to...make?? Food?? I’m not a great cook and I have a tiny-ass kitchen, and every time my stomach grumbled at 1 p.m. I cursed the human digestive system (and my former employer lolololol). I ended up making a lot of toast. There were many fried eggs in there, too, along with many bowls of Corn Flakes and simple dishes like chickpea pasta and lemon butter pasta. I usually love eating, but during the long, lonely days, food was sustenance, and comforting meals like these were manageable and filling. All you need is a few go-to meals to make lunchtime a little less awful.

  6. Accept that paperwork for health insurance and unemployment fucking sucks.
    Figuring this out was so stress-inducing that I asked my friend at one point if it was even worth collecting unemployment (it is, but getting money has hardly ever been less fun). Don’t beat yourself up if your heart is racing and you feel sweaty by the time you’re done with these tasks.

  7. Don’t be afraid to tell your loved ones what you need.
    When I’m struggling, I need to talk and let it out and just be with people. Pretty much everyone in my family and friend groups showed up for me in a massive way after my layoff, presenting their shoulders to me when I hadn’t even asked for one to cry on. But some people thought I needed space or that I didn’t want to talk about it or that I was doing fine. I had to say, “I am constantly grieving, but this is what I need from you if you want to be there for me.” And you know what? That’s OK! Some people needed the nudge and were relieved to be told what to do in a weird and awkward time. It’s an incredibly vulnerable, raw thing, but I’ve felt closer to my friends and family than ever since getting laid off because I was open with them.

  8. Lean into activities, if you can manage them.
    Since getting laid off, I’ve become obsessed with crosswords and the New York Times’s Spelling Bee game, tracked my Jeopardy! Coryat score, and done many jigsaw puzzles. I have not, however, become a gym rat or a master baker like I said I would. I only had the bandwidth to do so much, and I’m happy I was able to hone a few new activities during this shitty time. (Related: A case for having activities instead of hobbies.)

  9. Lean into the good things that accompany being laid off that you might miss when it’s over.
    Since being laid off, I’ve had weekday lunches at hard-to-get-into restaurants and spent quality time with friends who’d also lost their jobs. I’ve easily scheduled midday doctors appointments. I’m a terrible sleeper, and my new loosey-goosey schedule has been so generous to my restless nights. I’ve seen my parents a lot more than usual, and forgotten about Sunday Scaries (although they’ve been replaced by constant existential ennui, so…). I’ve gotten to spend some gorgeous spring days outside while people with jobs are stuck at their desks. I watched all of Fleabag and rewatched many old episodes of The Real Housewives of New York. I’ve traveled and felt more spontaneous than I did on a constricted, 10-6 schedule. Being laid off isn’t all bad, but I’d be lying if I said it was easy to enjoy these perks unreservedly (see: guilt). I know that when I start working a regular job again, I’ll wistfully remember that chunk of time when I didn’t have to set a morning alarm. But I also know those things are small, cold comforts in an epically terrible time. Know that it’s OK if you can’t summon much gratitude right now. ✨

Terri Pous is a writer, editor, two-day Jeopardy! champ, and an Aries. She loves abbrevs, reality TV, obscure facts about the US presidents, and the 🥴 emoji. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @terripous, and on sidewalks @ petting every dog.

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A modest proposal: all office bathrooms should have a radio in them

Image: Kiyana Salkeld / Just Good Shit

Image: Kiyana Salkeld / Just Good Shit

Not long after I started working at BuzzFeed, a CD player/radio appeared in the women’s bathroom. It was the kind I had growing up (which retails for around $25), and it appeared without any fanfare or information about who put it there or why. At some point, there was a brief conversation about the new radio in the Women of Edit slack channel (“So there’s a radio in the bathroom now!” “Do we know who put it there?” “I like it!” “Me too!”) and then it just...was. Eventually, I am told, the men’s room got their own. We eventually moved buildings, into a space with a bathroom on each of the seven floors, and all of the bathrooms had radios in them. It was such a small thing, but I loved it.

Aside from the fact that the office bathroom radio makes a lot of people way more comfortable, it was also just fun. Like, what a treat to walk in there and discover that a bop is playing! Because I don’t spend much time in cars these days, I basically never listen to the radio. I cannot tell you how much pop music I learned about solely from hearing it playing in the BuzzFeed bathroom. (Weirdly, many of us noticed that we each tended to have certain — discrete — bathroom songs during a given season that would always be playing when we were in there.) Sometimes it would be tuned to a different station, and I’d be subjected to a truly monstrous shock jock prank for the duration of my bathroom visit, but on the whole, I heard a lot of Cardi B, Drake, Taylor Swift, and that Justin Timberlake song from Trolls.

The BuzzFeed bathrooms may have had the worst, most unflattering mirrors known to humanity, but the radio did its part to make using the restroom a little more pleasant. I’m now convinced every office bathroom should have one. Anyone can put a radio in the bathroom, but I think it’s an extra-nice move if you’re a manager. (BTW, it doesn’t need to have a CD player; we literally never used that feature, and it just makes the radio bulkier. Also: if your office bathroom has an outlet, definitely look for one that has an A/C adapter so you don’t ever have to replace the batteries.)

You can get a cute little radio from Amazon for $19.95 or a super no-frills one from Amazon for $7.99. 📻

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Just a bunch of good things to read if you want to be a better manager

Image: Kiyana Salkeld / Just Good Shit

Image: Kiyana Salkeld / Just Good Shit

I recognize that my current job status — just partly employed — might mean this isn’t the ideal time to publish this post. But! Before I got laid off, I had been managing for three years, and in 2017 and 2018, my teams grew significantly and I began managing managers. I really liked managing and cared a lot about doing it well, so I was often looking for thoughtful, practical advice about being a good manager.

So even though I’m not currently a manager, I thought I’d share some of my favorite resources! (BTW, most of these are helpful for everyone with a job, even if you’re not a manager and/or have no desire to become one!)

Ask a Manager

Ask a Manager, written by Alison Green, is my go-to for all things work-related. If you aren’t familiar with Ask a Manager and want a funny and entertaining intro to the blog, here are a few posts I wrote while at BuzzFeed to get you started:

Those posts are on the wackier side, but I have truly learned so much from reading the more mundane AAM posts (plus the comments) every day for years. I also spent at least one Friday nights a few years ago going deep on the archives, which served as a pretty great crash course in how work works. (By the way, if you’re a manager, you may want to browse the being the boss tag.)

Beyond the AAM blog, I highly recommend Alison’s 2018 book, Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work. After I read it, I passed it around to my team so they could read it too. Alison knows so much about how businesses and professional relationships should work, and always gives practical advice in an empathetic and straightforward way. I recommend AAM for everyone, regardless of where you are in your career.

Get it on Amazon for $10.87 or find it at a local bookstore.

Radical Candor

The first time I read this post about radical candor, it sort of blew my mind. It’s not that I hadn’t been practicing something akin to radical candor before...but I had never thought of being direct and honest in these exact terms. It’s a concept I returned to again and again as a manager. And although radical candor tends to get all the attention, I think ruinous empathy is a really, really important concept that we should all be talking about more at work. I think about this quote — “The vast majority of management mistakes happen in the quadrant that I call ruinous empathy” — a lot.

The Mind of the Leader

The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results was one of my favorite non-fiction reads in 2018. It's genuinely inspiring and I immediately wanted to buy it for all of the managers I managed. The main idea is that the best leaders have three qualities: compassion, selflessness, and mindfulness. If you want to get a better idea of what it’s about/the tone, check out this podcast episode/transcript: "Leading with Less Ego” from HBR IdeaCast.

Get it from Amazon for $16.99 or find it at a local bookstore.

Harvard Business Review

Speaking of the Harvard Business Review, I really like HBR and the HBR IdeaCast. (They also have a bunch of other podcasts, but I haven’t personally listened to them.) TBH, it’s not a site I remember to check as often as I should, but I just signed up for a couple of their newsletters to get it on my radar every week. (See all their newsletters.) Here are a few articles I liked/saved in Pocket that you might like:

Jeff Weiner: Leading with Compassion

When my friend Millie — one of my best, most inspiring manager buddies — recommended this episode of Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast to me, I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical. But! This episode turned out to be really great and is worth listening to. (If you prefer to watch instead of listen, there are also videos of the interview.)

Reorgs Happen

Finally, this one is pretty specific, but I love this Reorgs Happen deck created by Camille Fournier. My friend Rachel (a very good manager!) sent it to me a few years ago. It’s funny and well-done and extremely accurate, and I wish more managers thought about reorgs (and, really, any big changes at work) this way.

That’s all I’ve got! But I’d love to hear about the specific resources that you’ve found helpful with regard to management. Since I don’t have comments turned on yet, feel free to email me at rachel @ justgoodshit dot com. I’d love to put together a Part 2 of this post with your suggestions! ✨

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