The number of people losing their jobs is staggering. It’s unnerving to hear big name employers in town like Target, Best Buy, Ameriprise, and the StarTribune; all laying off workers.
Each week I receive calls and emails from friends and acquaintances who are “reconnecting,” only to then casually mention that they are doing a job search. I’m glad when they reach out, even if I have few ideas about how to help them find work. What I do offer is perspective from someone who has lost a job due to a merger. It was long ago, but these things don’t easily get forgotten.
When I got a phone call one Thursday with instructions to attend a meeting at 4:00 for an undefined purpose, I was pretty sure I knew what was about to happen. My company had been acquired, and it was common knowledge that there were going to be significant jobs consolidations.
Once I was given the news and met with the HR person, I packed my boxes and headed for home with a strange feeling of disorientation. Things looked and felt different than they had on prior days.
At 3:00 a.m. I suddenly awoke with an overwhelming need to get up, unpack those boxes and get on with my life. For a couple of years prior to this moment, I had been thinking I might one day want to start my own consulting business. In the wee hours of that morning I was convinced it had to be up and running before the sun rose.
In the days that followed, I remember reaching out to as many of my now former co-workers as possible. In previous layoffs I noticed that those who were let go were treated as if they died. We stopped talking about them and didn’t call them. Based on that experience, I knew that if relationships were going to continue, I was going to have to take the initiative. In this process of calling people, I almost immediately had the recognition that networking is important. Along with this came the awareness that my previous lack of effort in this arena was a huge mistake.
When I did connect with people, they talked to me like a bereaved family member at a wake, offering sad expressions of sympathy. But one day I ran into a woman I knew who when she saw me, smiled, and greeted me enthusiastically saying, “Tom, I heard a whole new world of opportunities opened up for you last week.” This got me thinking about what those opportunities were, and what I was going to do with them.
First up was the decision I had to make about starting a consulting business. I thought I’d be good at it, but still it had always seemed risky. I just couldn’t imagine quitting a good paying job to try something on my own. Luckily, the job quit me, so that barrier no longer stood in my way. After all these years of running my own business, that was one opportunity I’m glad to have recognized.
Next, the layoff helped me gain more self-understanding. Prior to this my introductions usually included my name, company and job. With two of three now off the table; it forced me to figure out who I was, what I valued, and how I was going to spend my life. Can’t say these questions got much attention when I had a job.
Finally, living through a layoff made me a less fearful person. Maybe you’ve had the experience of dreading a trip to the doctor for some unwanted procedure. Once it was over, you wondered why you were ever so worried because it wasn’t that bad. Getting laid off helped me see that I had far less to fear than I thought. After some time to process the emotions and deal with the practical needs, losing my job resulted in me feeling stronger and more confident.
I have no idea how things are going to come out for people losing their jobs right now. My guess is that there will be some hard times and then things will start to improve, and finally it will be back to business as usual. Many will find themselves in a better situation than the ones they left behind. The big question for most people isn’t the what, but rather the how long.
As people work their way through their transitions, my hope is that they recognize the opportunities they’ve been given. They didn’t ask for this, but it is what they are now facing. May they seize this moment and take from it all that it offers. For many, they may never have this opportunity again.