The Lesson in Being Laid Off
Illustration: Michael Kennedy

The Lesson in Being Laid Off

Losing your job sucks, but with it comes a rare opportunity for recalibration

Every time Marcus the Intern enters the office, he offers me the same enthusiastic greeting: “Morning, OG!” I don’t mind it. It’s a reflection of our mentor-mentee relationship, and, plus, who am I to break the storied tradition of Black men bestowing each other with nicknames? Still, I can’t front like it doesn’t make me feel like a bit of an old head. I’m still in my prime, people! Undergrad was not that long ago!

There are two unimpeachable rules about nicknames. The first is, Thou shall not create thine own—unless you want to look like Michael Scott buying himself a World’s Best Boss mug from Spencer Gifts. The second rule: Once you’ve been donned a nickname, you’ve gotta just rock with it. No backsies. Yet while I may not think of myself as an OG—it’s been barely a year since I was promoted to upper marketing management, for chrissakes—my career thus far has been colorful enough to glean some wisdom and drop some gems from time to time.

Not to sound self-important, but my professional learnings could program a B-school curriculum. Some sample coursework: “Cracking the Code-Switch,” “When Microaggressions Go Macro,” and, a topic I’m especially passionate about, “Life After Layoffs.” The latter subject is timely, as tech companies like Amazon, Meta, and Twitter have slashed more than 24,000 jobs this month alone, according to layoffs.fyi. Being relieved of your services can be a demoralizing and disorienting experience, but with the right mindset, it’s rarely the end of the road.

I still vividly remember my first time being laid off. It was a Thursday at the start of summer, so my commute was eerily less crowded and schoolkid-ridden than usual when an email indicating an all-hands meeting—the corporate kiss of death—hit my Blackberry inbox (OK, maybe I am an old head). I’d soon discover the company at which I was employed was completely shuttering; all employees had until 5 p.m. to collect our belongings and say our goodbyes. It was devastating, even as a junior member of the team with far less at stake than some of my colleagues who were experiencing the same shell shock.

The next day, I went on a bender that continued through the weekend. But reality set in on that first idle Monday, when I had nowhere to go, no new emails to read, and no to-do list to complete. I realized nobody was expecting anything of me. My internalized capitalism had nothing to churn.

It was a very lonely feeling.

Some people who have been impacted by the still-unfolding tech winter may use this moment as a sign to do their own thing. When I was laid off for the first time, I was not motivated to start anything new. I wanted to pick up where I left off and find a new job, pronto.

Finding work may feel critical, but it’s just as important to use time between jobs for self-discovery.

Whoever created the term “funemployment” was at best delusional and at worst a damn lie. Or maybe they were well-off, scored an unusually sweet severance, or unemployed for a very brief period. Whatever the case, none of those scenarios have applied to me. I’ve never enjoyed being jobless—but I’ve learned to embrace it. Sure, I’ve learned some incredible lessons about life and career at each of my jobs, but I’ve never learned more about myself—who I am and what I’m capable of—than when I was spending hours on LinkedIn and cashing meager checks from Uncle Sam.

After that first layoff, I did my best to keep to a routine. I arose early in the morning, got myself showered and dressed, threw some coffee in the French press, and got on the job hunt. I had to stay ready to get ready, I figured. The momentum lasted for about a month before I started to get burned out by the soft rejection of unanswered job applications and referrals that went nowhere.

I eventually got back on my feet a few months later, landing an elevated new role and a modest bump in salary. The point of this too-long anecdote isn’t to give Past Me a pat on the back; it’s a reminder to any job seekers who may be reading this that, in the words of Kendrick, you gon’ be alright. For anyone in that predicament, you do not need a list of ways to get through this time because this time will not last long. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll recover everything you’ve lost—and more.

Finding work may feel critical, but it’s just as important to use time between jobs for self-discovery. As hard as I searched for a job after my first time being laid off, I remember the night before the start date of my new gig feeling bittersweet. I realized those three months I had for myself were a gift, not a punishment. I thought my ambition was fueling my job search, but it was my anxiety and fear around… really, I don’t know.

If I really envision a worst-case scenario related to losing my job, all I see is the possibility of moving back in with my folks or waiting tables as I did in college. Neither of those outcomes are too tragic. (Of course, a strong support system is a luxury, and not having a family of my own for which to provide makes my burden lighter than that of some others.) This is why the two other times I was unemployed, I didn’t stress too much about finding my next job. I was being given a benefit that no job has ever offered: time for myself, time to do me, and time to live free from anyone’s expectations but my own.

Consider that a lesson from an OG.

A Toast to HBCU Homecoming, the Epicenter of Black Success
Being reunited with fellow alumni feels so good—especially now that my career has finally caught up to my ambition