Layoffs: one door closes and a window opens

Note: This is more personal than most posts that I write here. It has been multiple months since the layoff happened now and I’m in a pretty reasonable place emotionally at this point, though triggers do still happen sometimes and publishing this post last week was a trigger in the few seconds that it went live, which is why I held off on publishing it for a week.

Layoffs. We think they happen to everyone but us. To no one we know. To no one in our family. Until they do and our world explodes. No matter how much you possibly wanted to leave your job, a layoff still results in far more emotional shock than you would think it does.

I could write a post about how to prepare financially for a layoff, but it’s pretty simple: keep your finances in great shape and you will be okay when you get laid off. That two year liquidity fund I was saving up with so I could take a sabbatical? Super handy when I was unexpectedly laid off this year. As was my severance package.

Nothing, however, can prepare you for the emotions that come along with getting laid off. How it feels to be told your job was eliminated in a room with multiple other people by someone you’ve never talked to before. How it feels to go into work one day and see a mysterious email about a mysterious meeting. How it feels to go into work one day assuming you have a job and leave no longer having one. How it feels to most definitely now be the lower income earner in the household for a bit. How it feels for people to assume your spouse is supporting you financially because you are “unemployed”. How it feels to wonder if you should spend any money at all on joyous things when you spent years teaching yourself how to spend money on yourself. How it feels to not get paid on the last business day of the month for the first time in almost seven years. How it feels to live off of your savings account for an indeterminate amount of time. How it feels to be laid off in an expensive season of your life.

You find sad joy in knowing others who also got laid off that day, friendly faces in a time of uncertainty, making for a shoulder to cry on. You follow your list of self-care, going on long walks in the sunlight every day that week. Somehow your partner is the one more unsure of how to proceed through this, confused that you are simply in checklist mode until you break and then he’s there, holding you steady.

But the finances? It is so wonderful to not worry about those in this strange time.

That checklist that you had ready to go for when you gave your notice? That checklist is so key at keeping your emotions in check while you wade through the last week at a job you didn’t love. In a haze, you call your 401(k) plan provider to request an after-tax 401(k) in-service distribution the afternoon you receive your layoff notice. The check comes in the mail the next week and you deposit it into your Vanguard Roth IRA.

Health insurance? You don’t even think about it. Your checklist already knew based on where your deductible was for the year, that it makes sense to keep COBRA for the remainder of the year even if it costs the insane $500/month versus joining your partner’s plan.

You’re free. After a series of jobs where you didn’t fit or didn’t succeed after a series of jobs where you had flourished, you’re set free to figure out what you want. What will you do next? You’re not yet financially independent, yet you don’t need to immediately find a new job. You can take the time to figure out what to do next, rather than rushing on to a new job that you don’t love either.

Your sense of independence has always been so key in your life. How do you reconcile that with being unemployed for a season? How do you reconcile that with your partner earning more than you ever have while it also being a success for him to be earning so much as it shows how valued they are in their organization?

The layoff took away your decision on when to leave the job. That bandaid was ripped away from you, by someone you don’t even know. The door is shut and gone forever. The job can no longer be fixed or improved or gotten better, no matter what your manager told you the previous week. Which window do you pick?

You try to be cautious about who you tell because everyone else has their own Feelings that they then want to discuss and this isn’t the time for you to manage everyone else’s Feelings. This is a time for you to get support. You shut down the person who offers you a job in their group like five times in a day. You ignore the person who outbursts their emotions about when they got fired. (Not the same thing, buddy.) Your parents try to tell you that having the mortgage paid off would be better than having cash in the bank and you call bull on that – liquidity is far more useful.

Life goes on. That self-care that you had been working on all year when you started to realize you hated your job? It, your partner, and your savings account carry you through this confusing time.


37 thoughts on “Layoffs: one door closes and a window opens

  1. I’m sorry for you and I’m happy for you. Happy for the preparation Past You put into waterproofing you (both financially and emotionally) for this time, Happy for the support Present You is getting and happy for the freedom Future You is about to experience when the dust settles.

    But I am sorry that the choice was taken from you. That’s horrible.

  2. Sorry about your layoff Leigh. I hope you are able to enjoy this time you have and are able to transition to something you really get enjoyment from (I don’t necessarily mean a job). I’ve been trying my best to separate my self-worth from my career as I have seen how devastating a layoff can be to the older generation. Easier said than done.

    • I appreciate how supportive the PF blogosphere is that the next thing doesn’t need to be a “job” or “career”. I don’t know what I will do next (yet). I’m not FI, so I do need to find a new source of income at some point. I do have enough savings that I’m willing to spend some time figuring that out.

  3. Sorry to hear about the layoff. It must have been hard to keep that to yourself. No kidding about liquid cash being more valuable than equity in a home. I hope your next endeavor has you feeling more fulfilled.

    • Thanks TJ! It helped that getting married was also a good explanation for why I stopped giving any financial updates ;) I’ve definitely told some portion of my community – I wasn’t keeping this to myself all this time. Key people knew pretty quickly.

        • Nope, I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention it anywhere. I do remember a post where someone talked about what they would do if they got laid off and I talked about what I would do, but it was described very hypothetically.

        • Is it possible that mentioned taking a sabbatical somewhere? I’m kinda curious but really have no way of backtracking. Not that’s important. Glad you are moving forward!

  4. Thanks for sharing this! I went through the same thing 7 years ago and am still traumatized by that. I understand every emotion you described here. The pain will become less and less as time goes by. Financially I was ok when it happened but I didn’t plan for this, so it was a shock and I panicked. If I had a plan like you did, I would have handled it much better. My conclusion is the same as yours, at that time I felt the whole world had betrayed me, except the money in my bank account. When I felt the most desperate and vulnerable, my money never betrayed me and was always there to provide comfort for me.

    • Oh gosh I’m sorry you are still traumatized by it seven years later! People I know who were adjacent to layoffs even if they weren’t the ones laid off were a bit triggered by me being laid off. Thank you so much for your response – I don’t know anyone in my offline community who has been laid off and my husband and I didn’t really know how to handle this emotionally.

  5. You are so brave to put this out into the universe. Even though the layoff isn’t a failure on your behalf, it must be difficult to talk about something that negatively affects your finances. You’re a great example of being financially ready for anything because of tough things happen to even smart, prepared people. Looking forward to hearing about the rest of your journey!

    • Thanks LX! There is definitely part of me that believes it was a failure on my behalf (would they have laid me off if I was doing an exceptional job?) and I have no idea how this will impact my finances long-term. I’ll talk about how things unfold as I know…

  6. Ugh. I definitely remember when this happened to me ten years ago. You just have to roll with the punches. Look at it as some unpaid time off to get some other things done. I got a whole lot of walks and thinking done during my time off.

    • Thanks Norm! I (am trying to) look at it as them paying me to leave a job I didn’t find sufficiently fulfilling before I would have left on my own and having time to properly figure out what I want to do next. Still sucks though! I’ve definitely been prioritizing exercise.

  7. Good luck with whatever is next!

    How frustrating to have people assume you are living off your husband’s income. Not that it would really be a problem if you were and that was the plan for your family – it is just an annoying assumption. (Like when people used to assume I was putting my husband through grad school).

    Was it totally unexpected?

    I know my self-worth is somewhat tied up in my career, which isn’t ideal as someone mentioned above. We have a threat of layoffs and can see them coming, but I don’t think that would really change much if the reality of the situation hit. And I didn’t do too well with my other career shifts that were beyond my control.

    • Thanks! I thought of you when someone asked if my husband was going to support me through my Master’s degree…

      It was unexpected in that we didn’t think the layoffs coming were going to affect our group until they did – my coworkers were just as shocked by it as I was. It was not unexpected in that I was assuming I would end up on a Plan at some point, but at least that would have been less instantaneous and I still could have chosen to quit when that happened. On the other hand, the layoff means that I got some severance out of it, which would have been especially helpful to deal with the emotional ramifications had I not had the financial backing that I do.

  8. I’m so sorry that this happened to you, Leigh. Hopefully there is some silver lining that you are able to find a new, more fulfilling place to spend your time.

    It does occur to me that it’s only because you were more than adequately cushioned for this possibility financial that you were able to pay attention and deal with the emotional aspects of a surprise layoff. Those that need to immediately find a new paying gig or risk financial destruction don’t have the luxury of being able to take time and make sure they’ve dealt with the emotional ramifications before charging full steam ahead into their new gig.

    • Thanks! I really liked your second paragraph – it gave me some food for thought today on my bus ride. You’re absolutely right that this time is a luxury and I’m trying to appreciate it with all the energy that I can give it. I’m thankful that I’ve lost any handcuffs that make that not possible because it sure is stressful *needing* to find a new gig. I do not miss that experience one bit.

  9. I’m really sorry :( Hugs. It must be an amazing feeling to have such a strong financial safety net – go you. I hope the perfect opportunity comes along at the right time and that the last few months have helped you gain clarity.

    • Thanks, E. Hugs back! The strong financial safety net sure helped, but the shock of the layoff still made me feel like I didn’t have enough in cash buffer, which I thought I had finally started to get past. Thankfully that seems to be subsiding a bit as time has gone on and I’ve developed a bit more of a plan.

  10. I’m sad to hear about the layoff Leigh :-/ I’ve been on the business ends of many layoffs (I’m an HR Manager) and can affirm it’s a very paradigm shifting event. My experiences have taught me “security” at work can be a dangerous thing because it creates a false sense of comfort. I’ve seen so many 40+ yr EE’s who felt the company owed them something when in reality, the company will always do what it must to survive, even if it means laying off dedicated, hard-working and loyal employees.

    You did the best thing by HAVING A PLAN and BEING PREPARED! Like having a will/estate plan, it doesn’t take away the grief but makes the transition all the easier. There is no testimony without the test, and I can’t wait to read more about the road ahead!

    You’re an incredible role model, onward :-)

    • Thanks Chi for the supportive words – they are SO helpful! It must be hard to be on the business end of layoffs, though you probably at least don’t work with the people every day who are the ones getting laid off. I really truly believe (as you can see in my blog) that the only person who can create security for you is yourself.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear this. You definitely just motivated me to make a “worst-case scenario” money plan in 2017, for what it’s worth.

    • Thanks for your support! Don’t take a page out of my book in being super risk averse, but it is always good to have a “worst-case” scenario money plan. Good luck!

  12. Onward and upward. I was RIFed *the day* after my principals renewed my contract my first year of teaching. In an all-district email. In the middle of first hour. I was RIFed the second year as well. It was hard to walk away from that district, but I’m in a more financially stable one now.

    Hugs and good thoughts. You’re definitely so inspiring with how you’re rolling with this and taking it all in stride. Major props to you for setting yourself up for so much success…before you needed the safety net!

    • I’m glad you’re in a more financially stable district now! My poor project manager – we had just done some planning and then I disappeared. Looking back though, it seems that your principals must have liked you at the very least and that it was simply a budgetary decision. They were mostly RIF’ing junior teachers, if I remember it correctly?

      In some ways things like this are Impostor Syndrome come true, you know? That “worst case” scenario you were preparing for actually happened and you were correct to prepare for it…

  13. Layoffs always suck, I still remember mine deep in the recession and when I was still not financially secure yet. Like some commenters mentioned, that meant I had zero time to think through the emotional fallout, I just had to deal with finding a new job and fast. (Fast did not happen.)

    But all the issues you mention existed, they just had to be ignored until I got a new job and then they transmuted into Imposter Syndrome. Thankfully much of that ick does pass. You find better footing having learned how to move when the ground shifts under you, or maybe the analogy is you find your sea legs, and you can come out better or wiser for the experience. If only in deeply understanding that it can happen to you. But in your case, you’d already done an amazing job of setting up a financially secure life so really, you just have to figure out what you want to do next and also how you want to generate income next and maybe they’re the same but they don’t have to be.

    • Thanks for the supportive words, Revanche! I’m so sorry you had the opposite layoff experience – that sounds incredibly stressful. I hope you are in a better situation now.

  14. I’m so sorry to hear this, Leigh. I was laid off for the first time in 2001 in my early 20s, just weeks after I had received a 3K bonus for my “stellar work”(not to mention the fact that i had MOVED to a new city for that job!) (It was a mass layoff.) Then it happened again last year (another mass layoff–company restructuring). Unfortunately, I was not as financially prepared as you and had to take a “pay the bills” job for a few months. After three months of that I was back in my field, but I’m now making less money, which is frustrating. So I will likely begin another job hunt in early 2017. I am still somewhat bitter about both layoffs, but I know that in both cases, it had absolutely nothing to do with my work. I was a top performer at both jobs–it was purely a money/company restructuring thing both times. I am 100 percent certain that this had nothing to do with you and everything to do with some person who didn’t know you crunching the numbers. The good news is–your attitude is better than mine, and you are so prepared financially. That is a gift–that you wisely gave yourself. I would caution you to not wait too long to start looking. It’s fine to give yourself some time to figure out where you want to go next, but do some serious networking, reach out to folks who work at places that you’ve always wanted to work, contact some recruiters, etc. Take care!

    • Thank you so much Bonnie for the supportive words! I’m sorry about all your job hunting and layoffs! I’ve done a lot of that in the last few years too and it’s exhausting to do on top of your normal job. I’m glad you know that it was purely a budgeting decision on your former companies’ end and not an indicator of how you were performing. I’m still working on that one myself. That must have been super frustrating though to relocate for a job and then get laid off. I would have been quite pissed about that! I do have a plan forward at this point, though I’m not quite ready to share it on the blog.

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