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