I’m a bit of a startup enthusiast, but as rewarding as the work can be, there are some downsides. For one, you won’t find the stability that you’d get at a Fortune 500. After working with four startups, I’ve born witness to about two rounds of layoffs, two rounds of “restructuring,” and plenty of internal changes.
It was only a matter of time before one of these internal changes would affect my employment. As I walked into the office on Tuesday, I saw others hugging or having serious conversations, and got a fair idea of what was happening. I met with the founders and they gave me the news. I’d be paid through the end of the month, but this was my last day.
My initial thoughts ranged from oh god, don’t cry in front of them, to yep, I guess that makes sense, and back and forth between those throughout the meeting. All said and done, I had a separation agreement, an unemployment pamphlet, and some kind words from the people I’d come to really love working with.
After I packed up my desk and rolled on out, I took quick stock of my situation. For the first time in my adult life, I was unemployed with nothing lined up. But I was ok.
Here are the things that put a stopper in my panic before it had a chance to start:
1. A zen moment (and realizing it wasn’t my fault)
When I got back to my apartment, I grabbed some tea and took a walk. I thought back through the conversation and experience of being laid off. As happens with startups, the founders let me know that circumstances had changed and that they weren’t able to continue growing in the same way anymore. As a recruiter, that meant my job was on the chopping block, as were many other growth-focused departments, unfortunately.
Although it felt like it for a moment, I was by no means singled out. It was a business decision, and the founders had very specific and positive things to say about my performance. They felt a loss by letting me go, and wouldn’t have if the situation was different. Etc. etc. etc. But it meant one important thing to me: I don’t suck at what I do. In fact, I’m damn good at it. I’ll get back on my feet.
2. Other secure aspects of life
I texted my mom to let her know I’d been laid off and called the boyfriend. Both were understandably concerned, but very supportive. They had my back, and me being unemployed didn’t change a thing in anyone’s mind about me.
When I got back inside my apartment, I had more tea, pet the cat, and took stock of the great things in my life (tea and cat included). My health, great weather, family, and friends – they all grounded me. Nothing was really up in smoke. No train was off its tracks. The Earth kept spinning, and this was just one part of my life.
As a coincidence, I had some friends coming over that very night to celebrate my birthday with some wine, pizza, and hot tub time. I let them know what had happened, and we had a great night of brainstorming, joking, drinking, and watching Mean Girls.
3. Emergency Fund
Of course, there are a few things that can’t be fixed with mindfulness, a supportive group, and a plucky attitude – aka bills. It’s great having friends, family, and love, but if you can’t afford rent, that’s a big problem. Luckily, I’d already stashed away a few months’ worth of expenses in a savings account with 1% interest. Instead of feeling the crunch of having to find a paying job negative now, I’d given myself about 4 months of runway before I’d have to really worry about rent and groceries.
Saving in case of emergency isn’t useful advice for someone who’s just been laid off, but it’s a preemptive step to take now while you’re gainfully employed. Without a doubt, something at some time will happen that guts your paycheck or leaves you stranded for a while. If you put away a bit of each paycheck, you’ll have one less thing to worry about once shit hits the fan.
4. Passive Income
This is like having a next-level Emergency Fund, which made sense for me after I’d built up that E-Fund in a separate savings account. I started investing any extra cash in the stock market, and while there’s an inherent risk in investing, there are less volatile options. For example, I looked for great, relatively stable ETFs with monthly dividends. Because I’d been investing a small portion of my paycheck into real estate and bond ETFs, not only did I have money that I could, in theory, pull out of the market, but that money was making money. I knew I could count on a little extra income, even if I was down and out.
4. Unemployment Insurance
My now-former CEO offered some good advice as I was leaving: there’s no shame in filing for Unemployment. It’s something we all contribute to with every paycheck, so unless I was voluntarily leaving the company, why on earth wouldn’t I cash some of that in? The actual process was quick, if a bit cumbersome, but at least I knew I had another extra cushion, thanks to Uncle Sam. Here in California, unemployment benefits range from $40-$450 per week, which can absolutely make a difference. For even more peace of mind, I used a quick benefit calculator to get a clearer picture of what these benefits might look like, and saw that in a worst-case scenario, my runway was that little bit longer because of Unemployment benefits.
5. A project that I could control
In this case, the most obvious project was getting a new job. First and foremost, I set to work on updating my LinkedIn and resume. Then I went for quality over quantity when searching for opportunities that aligned with my experience and goals.
I believe in making the most of each application, and I think one blessing in disguise from being laid off is the opportunity to tailor my job search with everything I’d learned from the last position. I love startups, but perhaps I value the stability of a slightly older, more established company. I loved the leadership team at my last position, despite the circumstances of our separation, and want to find the same level of trust and communication with my next company. These gave me a better compass while finding and reaching out to potential employers.
There are things we can control and things we can’t. I couldn’t control my last company’s situation, and therefore my continuation of employment. What I could control is how I prepared for the possibility of a small disaster, and how I react to it. I’m still getting check-in calls from my mom, and while I appreciate her concern, I’m really ok. This isn’t the end of the world. It’s just one singular piece of the puzzle, and I’ll come back from this.
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