Saturday, September 14, 2013

Anatomy of a Layoff

The community here is a healing place. Thanks for all the supportive comments on the news of my sudden joblessness. They mean more than you can ever know. The euphemism used was: Your position is being eliminated due to corporate restructuring, it pains me to do this, and so on. I kept a pretty good poker face, and I didn't get suckered in to comforting my executioner and making her feel better about the whole thing although I didn't try to make her feel worse either. I didn't ask many questions. I didn't want to sit through what I knew would be platitudes. The decision had been made. I'd had an inkling. Who schedules a meeting for 5 p.m. on a Friday evening? I just said, Okay, so what's the next step here? She gave me the name of the human resources person who was waiting to go through my package with me. I said thank you (reflexively), and left. 

Truth is, it is humiliating to be fired. Or job eliminated. Apparently it's an important distinction, the latter allowing a company to simultaneously release you and hold you blameless. I didn't dissolve. I shut down instead. I told four people what had happened, people I care about beyond the job, and asked them not to say anything till I figured out how I wanted to handle it. Then I went to meet with HR. They had my wrong hire date, I explained the discrepancy, and they're looking into it. 

After meeting with HR, I stood on the sidewalk to hail a cab home. There were none in sight. Then a limo driver I have come to know, a Haitian man who drives some muckety muck at the company, called out to me from across the street. He is often just parked there waiting for his boss and he has driven me home sometimes in the past. Just out of the goodness of his heart and for some extra cash, but even though he has a very fancy big black SUV with tinted windows like the movie stars use, he charges me less than a yellow cab. And yesterday, there he was, hailing me and asking if I needed a ride home. He was like an angel sent to give comfort. For some reason I felt like crying again. Anyway, I rode home from being laid off in grand style. 

I had texted my husband and when I walked into the house, he met me at the door and just enveloped me and I did cry then. It felt good being wrapped in his arms, and safe. And then, strangely, I didn't want to take off my work clothes. For hours I walked around in them, aware that I would not be getting up and getting dressed for work again for some time to come. I feared the lack of structure. I called my kids. No answer. I texted them, "I just got voted off the island," a reference to the reality show Survivor, and to my son, who during a particularly intense period of layoffs used to say to me as I left for work each morning, "Don't get voted off the island today." My kids called me immediately. My daughter said, "Mom, I'm going to get a job and I'll help pay for college!" I told her not to worry, we were going to be fine and would figure everything out. And we will.

My son was just getting out of a movie when he called. He said, "I'm coming straight home." I told him he didn't have to, I was fine, but he insisted. It was touching. I felt mostly numb for the rest of the night. People from work kept calling but I didn't answer. I wasn't ready yet to talk to anyone. I thought, So this is how it feels. I've watched so many get fired over the past eight years. So many. And now I know what they were feeling in the days after the axe fell and they disappeared from my daily life. Mostly I worry about having enough money. I worry about finding a comparable position at my age. I worry about making the right moves. I'm inspired by people like Steve, our friend here, who went through something similar in New York media. And he remade his life in the most wonderful ways. So I also see the potential here. I need to keep focused on that.

I lay awake last night for hours, staring at my thoughts in the dark. Then I made of list of people to call, places to inquire about, actions to take next.  First thing this morning, I called the writer I have worked most closely with, who had called and texted several times last evening. She urged me to take my time and gather information, don't sign anything precipitously, and really figure out what I want to do next. She said, "I know you. Your instinct is going to be to barrel out the gate and find another job, but take a minute with this. Think about what you really want. You're going to be fine and you have every resource I can bring to this to help you." I so appreciated that. She also called another woman, a former colleague, who she said wanted to help me as well. There are people around me offering support, and I don't know if any of it will pan out, but right now it feels good in the face of being unceremoniously let go.

My daughter just called. She said, "You sound so calm." I am trying to model courage for my children, and faith in the future. At this moment, my son and my husband are watching soccer and hooting over a score. It is so good to have our son home. He is not as snippy with me on continued association as he is in short bursts, like visits home from college. Living together again, we're good. And he and his dad are such pals. It's beautiful to see. Life goes on. 


  1. Yes, life will go on and it does but at the very least, change is hard and especially change which you certainly did not orchestrate.
    BUT, I think your friend gave you excellent advice. Take time to think. And breathe. Revel in the fact that so many people do really care about you and want the best for you. Be proud of the fact that you handled the meeting with such aplomb.
    You will reap what you have sowed which is goodness. I believe that. It already started with the fancy drive home. That will continue to prove true.

  2. Yes. What Sister Moon said. You are amazing. I think you know that but it bears repeating. You are a gifted writer and we are so fortunate that you didn't lay us off. You know? Seriously. You could have recoiled but you didn't. You did the thing you do so well. You wrote. You shared your truth with us as you always do and we are perched on the edges of our seats soaking in every morsel. This is the way of you, the writer. And how it shall always be.

    Yes. Take your time. But don't lay the world off. It needs to read what you write.

    Your friend and mentee,


  3. You did great with receiving the news! I'm glad you have such a great family and support system. It's all going to work out.

  4. Just like your friend, Steve, you will find a whole new life for yourself--a life you never thought you'd be able to live. Now you can live it. A lot about this post reminded me of my own experience. I know from experience that it may be too soon for you to realize your possibilities and that you have a wonderful support system, but you do. There are stages to the emotion you feel in circumstances like this, but what you will eventually find is euphoria and a sense of freedom unlike none before. Know you are blessed.

  5. Wow. You will find something better, at least better for your mind. I know it's a cliché but it's their loss. Right!
    It's funny, around me right now, my friends of all ages above 35 up to 65 are making changes. Major ones. Moving away from big city to rural or beachy towns where sure they will no longer have "THE" career, everything is less expensive, housing, food, going out, living. You'll come out of this. You will.

  6. I'm sorry to hear this. My mom just got notice that her company was bought, and they will all be out of a job, most likely, after Christmas. I see the fear in my mom and I know it's so hard. I also know how bright, respected, experienced and talented you are. It will work out.

  7. Your description of the friends and family that surround you -- well, that's a beautiful thing. I think you are so wise and good to acknowledge how devastating it is to lose a job -- your resilience will stand you through that.

    I feel that you will -- parlay this experience into something really transforming and good.

    Unless you want to break bad, with me. (see my post tonight)

  8. You seem grounded and it has been such a short period of time. There is no doubt that this is a transition that will fill you with many emotions yet I have complete faith that wherever you end up, you will feel happier and more fulfilled than before. It seems in retrospect that every change I've been through has led me somewhere better no matter how hard it was at the time. I wish this for you. Sweet Jo

  9. It sounds like you have a great support structure, and bravo for your kids, seeing how important this is and offering their assistance too.

    Your friend gave you some excellent advice about taking your time and not plunging headlong into anything. The advice about not signing anything right away is especially valuable. That business about your hire date bears watching. It's my own experience that companies will manipulate details like that to lowball on severance. (My boss, who got laid off at the same time I did, negotiated a much better severance package for both of us based on a reclassification of our positions within the company -- long story, but it made a huge difference for us.)

  10. I'm thinking time for property management...starting with your mother's would be perfect with that!

  11. i missed all this, angella...i am so sorry. but i immediately gravitated to the writer who was so supportive. her advice is right on. take your time. see what's out there. i know it's hard, but this may be the best thing that ever happened. i am a huge believer, as you prob know, of walking through the next door. this scary situations offer possibility; it's the only way to look at it for someone of your talent and background. and we're all here, to hang onto during the slippery parts.
    love to you.

  12. Sending you virtual hugs and reassuring prayers that God will take care of you and your family! Take your time and things will get back into place. All the best to you!

  13. So sorry I'm just finding this out. I know how you feel. Everything will alright. You will see. HUGS

  14. So sorry to hear this. Please know that this too shall pass. I went through something similar and though I couldn't see it at the time, there were blessings in that storm.

  15. Angella, I'm so sorry about this and so sorry for being late and not seeing this until now. It's so sad our business. I know you aren't in newspapers, but it's all the media and I know what you mean when you said you've watched a lot of friends go. But of the people I have seen that go, they end up making a beautiful new life for themselves. In an industry that cares about them, that thinks they are worthwhile. With newspapers at least, people were worked to the bone. Absolutely take your time, breathe, figure out where it is you really want to go. I'm thinking of you. Keep your heart up. xoxo