I think getting laid off made me stronger.
I’ve worked in Silicon Valley for 15+ yrs now as a SW engineer. I look back and see that I was brash and overconfident. I was good at what I did. I got raises, promotions. Hell, after less than 10 yrs out of college, I was worth millions on paper.
These were the dot com days, from 1998 to 2002.
Then the music stopped.
I remember I thought the company would have layoffs because there were rumors in the grapevine that our revenues were far below for the quarter. But I didn’t think I’d be one of those laid off. After all, I was a good programmer and I felt invincible. They needed me, no other people in the company knew the component I was working on.
But one day, about a week before the quarterly results were to be announced to the public, my manager told me, abruptly, to hand over what I was working on to a junior developer, someone just 7 months of out of college.
I became suspicious and I talked to my manager’s manager (Emily). I asked why my work was being transferred and what I would be doing instead. At our meeting, Emily told me that I would be tasked to do something else. I pointedly asked her, to her face, if I should be concerned about getting laid off. She responded that I had nothing to worry about. But from her body language, I could tell that she was lying and that she was uncomfortable about lying — she felt guilty about doing this to me.
I went home and even though I hadn’t been laid off, I was in shock. I went into work the next few days in a fog. My junior developer was helping me but she could tell that I was just out of it.
My manager’s manager Emily came to talk to me and asked me why I thought I was going to get laid off. I told her it was because my work was being transferred to another junior developer when I had no other tasks being given to me. She understood and asked me to keep it quiet, but that I would get laid off. She promised that she’d do me a favor if I did.
So I, now despondent, just went through the motions. I cleared out my cube the next day, just waiting to get laid off. I expected the layoff to be on the same day as the public release of our quarterly results.
Well, the day before the release of the quarterly results, I had a planned day off. But Emily called me, on a conference call with HR, to inform me that I was being laid off. The HR person took over from there and I got the usual spiel. I told them that I was willing to come over and hand over my badge that day, rather than wait until the next day, because I felt I’d be better off if I ended this as soon as possible. They agreed. I came back to my office, which surprised a few of my coworkers.
What bothered me most was that I was specifically told not to say anything. I could not warn any of my friends at work what was going down. I found out later that some had suspicions that there’d be a layoff but some were just oblivious. I guess they thought that the dot-com bubble would go on forever, like Henry Blodgett.
Anyways, I drove to my office, and 30 min. later, I turned in my badge, picked up the severance agreement and left.
Emily did feel sorry for me, and because I kept my mouth shut, she got the company to accelerate my vesting schedule so I was able to get more stock options that weren’t to be vested until 2 more months. I really appreciated that.
Well, the next day, my phone started ringing. From my coworkers. I knew there’d be layoffs but I didn’t expect 40% reduction in headcount. It wasn’t just the rank and file. One VP got let go, so did whole groups, including department heads. It was a bloodbath. One of my good friends Susan, vomited, as she left the office for the last time. That’s how shocked she was.
My coworker Mark complained why I didn’t give him a heads up on the upcoming layoffs when I knew about it. He accused me of betraying his friendship. I told him that I was instructed not to. I couldn’t help it. Mark too was shocked and he said he sat in his car in the parking lot for hours before driving home.
For 3 months after that, I was in a funk. I rarely left my house and spent most of the days slacking, not even changing out of my PJs. I was depressed. I felt my world had ended, all my dreams of being a successful guy by 30 was gone. Oh, and my girlfriend dumping me for a doctor, yeah, that was like getting kicked in the balls after my company gave me a hard punch to the guts.
But eventually, I snapped out of it and the trauma of my first layoff slowly faded and faded as time progressed.
I was out of work for 29 months. Yes, 29 months. Thankfully, my stock options and savings kept me afloat for that period. I didn’t have money for “funemployment”, like travelling, but I did have money to pay the rent, pay the bills, and eat on the cheap. But it was close – I had panic attacks of becoming homeless. At 28. Asking myself how the hell did it come to this?
I spent months and months sending out resumes, only to find that for every open position, there were 200 other applicants. It was dead in Sillicon Valley. No one was hiring.
I spent this part of my life either chasing jobs or taking programming classes at the local community college to upgrade my skills. But those 29 months, especially the first 3, were harrowing
I seriously considered becoming an electrician. To get out of tech and do something blue collar.
I had no love life. Who wants to go out with an unemployed dude? That made me realize that we put way too much of our identity in our jobs.
After 14 months of job hunting, I received one offer. The salary was 40% of what I was making at my last job. I really thought long and hard about this offer. I was scared that this would be the only offer I would see for the next 6 months.
But I turned it down. I couldn’t go back to 40% of my previous salary and try to make it back up again.
But finally, I found a job, 29 months later. It was a contracting position but it paid me more than I had previously made.
That contract led to another contract, then another contract, and finally, to a permanent job.
What did I learn from my 1st layoff?
1) Your job is not your only identity. It defines what you do, not who you are.
2) Your first layoff is like your first breakup in high school. Yes, it will hurt and it will hurt a lot. But you can get through it and it will make you tougher.
I’ve been laid off 3 more times since then. Layoffs don’t bother me anymore because I am psychologically prepared for them.
3) I spent more time with my family when I was unemployed. Funny how being unemployed made me realize the importance of my family. I cherish the time I spent with my family. Having them give me moral support when I was down and out. Yeah, that was a reset. For the better.
4) Save at least one year of your salary. This is your emergency fund. After getting a new job, I didn’t splurge and buy things I didn’t have the money for when I was out of work. I paid off my debt. Credit card, student loan, everything. That meant I spent a lot of weekends at home, watching movies from Netflix or playing video games. It didn’t help my social life. I no longer had the nicest clothes or the newest technical toys or a honking 40 inch TV. But I had something better – piece of mind. If I get laid off tomorrow, I have no debt and I don’t have to worry about whether I can make the mortgage or car payments. I have over 1 yr of my salary in savings. I learned this the hard way. I learned to give up vacations or buying a new car every 5 yrs so I have a piece of mind if I ever get laid off suddenly.
Looking back, I don’t feel invincible as I was back then. But I feel more secure now.
That first layoff really changed my life and lifestyle around. I think for the better. Because I don’t fear layoffs anymore.
This post was submitted by DotCommed.