Laid_Off_GG

A Gentleman’s Guide to Not Losing Your Shit When You Get Laid Off

No matter how pissed you are, don’t go nuclear

I’m not an expert on many things. I know how to make soup — all kinds. I once paid the IRS thousands of dollars in back taxes so I know how to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I know a lot about comic books, but that’s not a unique area of expertise, really.

But I am an expert in getting laid off. Now, I’m not suggesting I’m an expert in macroeconomics or workforce reduction management. No. I just know what it feels like to be led into a room and informed that I’m obsolete, then told to get out — sometimes nicely, sometimes not.

My bona fides in this regard: I was first laid off at the turn of the century. I worked for a company that wanted to be YouTube five years before YouTube became YouTube. During the Great Recession, I was laid off again because all the money disappeared. I was laid off a third time in 2016 because I pivoted to video and then pivoted to oblivion.

My experience then qualifies me to write up some suggestions for courses of action for those who have been unceremoniously separated from their job. Now, I’m not offering up tips on the days, weeks and months that are going to follow. I’m just sharing how a gentleman (or gentlewoman, or gentleperson) should deal with the immediate news that they’re no longer employed. These are basic, but important, guidelines. You can log onto LinkedIn later.

Breathe

I’m not inclined to new-age platitudes, but you’re going to have to breathe deeply the moment it happens. Layoffs come in like the fog, on little cat’s feet. Everything is fine until it isn’t. You’ll notice a sudden, strange, calendar invite one night. Or leadership will have been locked away in a meeting room for days, and you’ll wonder, “Well, that’s odd.”

That said, it doesn’t really matter whether you had a clue what was coming or not, because it blows either way. I mean, we all know death is coming for us one day but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a surprise when the inevitable happens. And that’s not to say getting laid off is an inevitability. But if you suddenly get a phone call from HR, or you see a colleague openly sobbing after returning from a meeting, just know that you’re going to feel shocked. Adrenaline is going to surge. Your pulse will quicken. Anxieties will start lighting torches. Knees will go wobbly.

So I swear I’m not being some hippie right now: Once you realize what’s happening, you need to start regulating your breathing. Just breathe slowly and calmly. It will prime you for what happens next. This video can help you prepare.

Feel

There’s a moment in the play Macbeth that I’ve always remembered since I read it in high school. Now that I think about it, it may be the first English-speaking play exclusively about toxic masculinity. Anyway, at one point in the play, the heroic Macduff is told his wife and children are dead, murdered by Macbeth. Malcolm, an ally, insists they get their revenge. But Macduff is heartbroken. He mourns. Malcolm, however, impatiently insists that Macduff “dispute it like a man.” Fight, he means, like a man. To which Macduff responds: “I shall do so, but I must also feel it as a man.”

Welcome to my life’s primary challenge! A layoff can feel as devastating and random as any loss. It’s the perfect opportunity to want to fight. But a layoff, at least while it’s happening, isn’t the best time to fight back. Instead, feel what you’re feeling. Be aware of the fear, anger and sadness that will bubble up. This is the only way to control the only thing you can control, which is yourself. You don’t have to share your feelings at the moment. It’s probably for the best that you don’t. Just be connected to them, or they’ll drag you under. (Macduff gets his revenge on Macbeth, by the way.)

Think

Don’t think about what led you to the layoff (the truth is you did nothing since we’re all just line items in spreadsheets), and don’t think about what’s going to happen (you will work again but that doesn’t mean the short-term future isn’t going to suck). When I say you have to think, I mean you have to be present and in the moment. Alert. Aware. Don’t get distracted. The layoff won’t take long so you need to have your head in the game. You will have time to think about important things, real blood and guts things, like rent, health insurance and the plan you’ll have to create so you can bounce back as soon as possible. That can happen the next day, though. For now, stay frosty.

Talk

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’d keep the questions limited to the layoff. But communicate. Crack a dark joke if that’s your style or speak in a colorless, steady monotone, like a Terminator. There’s no wrong way to do this so long as you advocate for yourself. Don’t let HR rush you. You’ll be nervous and furious. You’ll want to beg and bargain. Don’t get distracted though. Ask about vacation days. Ask them to explain any non-disclosure agreements or non-competes. You don’t have to comfort anyone in that room, but you do have to speak up for your self-interests as best you can. (Layoffs take a toll on the people who have to conduct them, but at the end of the day, ‘tis better to give bad news than receive.)

There’s a chance you may not remember any of the answers, but that’s okay, because you can call back and ask again. If a severance package is offered, you’re under no obligation to sign it right there, either. You have every right to read it, re-read it, and if you can, have a lawyer read it. Whether or not you’re led into a windowless office that smells like despair, or a conference room where an executive no one has ever seen opens up a firehose on all assembled, the only thing that matters is getting out of there as soon as possible, with all the information you need.

Walk

Get out of the office. If rent-a-cops are waiting for you to clear your desk, this shouldn’t be too hard: pack up and go. There’s nothing at your desk that’s so precious you can’t walk away from it. If there is some unsupervised time, make the most of it. If IT hasn’t already shut your computer down, spend a few minutes dumping files into the trash and deleting your browser and password history. But don’t dally. There’s literally nothing you can do to improve your fortunes in the next few hours so GTFO and go for a walk. A nice stroll.

For many, the impulse after getting laid off is to go to a bar. I’ve certainly done that before. The second time I was laid off, I went to a bar and didn’t leave until a year or so later. I’m eight years sober now. I don’t believe everyone who drinks has a problem. I don’t think that all problem drinking is alcoholism. I would never begrudge anyone having a drink or three after their world gets turned upside down. I do recommend, however, walking immediately after getting the news. The exercise will trigger all those good brain chemicals.

You don’t have to walk fast. Unzip your face and let the balloons out. Float if you want. I’d also suggest walking somewhere quiet, and most of all, inexpensive. Like a public park or a library. Or better yet, an art museum. Most art museums are nonprofits, and you can just pay the minimum donation. (I always pay a quarter when I go to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, especially post-crisis.)

Whatever you do, go somewhere still, where you can be with your thoughts and fears. Tomorrow you can take a step back, take your meds and take a good hard look at the situation. But today? Just put one foot in front of the other. Maybe hydrate? Slurp a bowl of soup?

The abrupt end of a job is the beginning of a journey, and I know how hokey that sounds. It’s true, though. Start that journey watching birds, flipping through books or looking at grand oil portraits of dead people. Paintings are the Instagrams of the past. I promise that you if you take the first few hours after a layoff alone, somewhere beautiful, hushed or tranquil, your next steps will be firmer. They will be surer. Then call your friends and family. Call your people, the ones who love you because you are you. Talk to them. Break bread with them. Quaff a beer or two. Laugh. Cry. Plot your future.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, like an ice-cream sundae, and it’s a highly underrated pursuit. Let your revenge be, eventually, running toward a future you can own. It won’t be easy, but if you spend the first few hours after getting laid off breathing, thinking, talking and walking, you’ll live to fight, and feel, another day.