The working world can be precarious. Things are constantly changing and evolving — which can mean budget cuts and lay-offs are inevitable. I’ve been laid off from two full-time positions over the course of my 17-year career as a writer and editor, and more times than I can count on both hands from freelance gigs. It’s become such a normal part of my career that I’ve started to think it’s weird when I meet someone from any field who hasn’t been laid off.
So why have I stayed with it, knowing that there’s always a chance for disaster? It’s the same way people live in Oklahoma even though there are tornadoes. It’s their home, it’s what they love and where they thrive despite possible risks. That’s how I feel about journalism. It’s what I know and what I was destined to do, so it’s worth the hardships.
And while I hope you never have to experience the hardship of losing your job, here are four things I’ve learned that will help you, should disaster strike:
1. It’s not your fault.
It’s easy to beat yourself up and wonder if things would have been different if you had bonded with your boss more at happy hour or came up with a big idea that blew the higher-ups away. But mass layoffs at a company are usually a result of bigger-picture problems the company has with turning a profit. It’s not personal. So don’t go there. It’s better to use your energy to look forward and figure out your next career moves rather than look back on things you can’t change.
P.S. Don’t take your frustration out on the person — whether it’s your boss or HR manager — who has to lay you off. They likely are just as upset and shocked as you about the news and are not at all happy to see you go. That person is typically just the messenger.
2. Have savings that you can lean on.
I get it, it’s hard to save, especially when you’re not making a lot of money or when you live in a major city where your rent eats up most of your paycheck. But having something saved up — I recommend at least one month’s of rent, three months if you can manage! — will help make the blow of losing your job so much less stressful. Having a savings cushion will give you a bit more flexibility about what kind of job you take next, rather than going for something just to pay the bills. There’s no worse feeling than being resentful after a layoff because you took a job out of necessity that isn’t right for you.
So start saving today and you can start small. Give up your morning Starbucks run, take the bus instead of a cab or make dinner at home a few nights a week. Then take that money and deposit it into your savings account, so the only thing you have to worry about in the event of a layoff is getting your lucky interview blazer dry cleaned.
3. Don’t bash your boss, or your company (or any former colleagues, for that matter)
The last time I was laid off, I was blindsided. My boss was actually a friend of mine — he was even a guest at my wedding years before I ended up working for him — and I took the situation very personally. I was hurt and remember sitting in a cab on my way home just minutes after losing my job and opening up Twitter with every intention of firing off a succession of angry tweets. I was going to go off on the company’s disorganization, the poor way the lay-offs were handled and expose my friend and boss for being a terrible manager.
But Twitter is a very public forum, and a very permanent way to scorch your reputation. All I would need is for a potential employer to see those tweets and decide I was a loose cannon with no loyalty and zero composure. Thankfully I had a moment of clarity and put my phone away — but so many others think it’s their right to speak their mind. Yes, technically you could do it because after all, it is a free country, but it’s just not worth the repercussions.
Social media isn’t the only no-no post-layoff. Here are the only people you should ever vent to about your company, boss or HR: your mom, your siblings, your best friend who lives in another city and knows no one in your industry and your significant other. That’s it. Who you should never vent to: colleagues who work in your industry but at different companies, your friends who still work at your old company and anyone connected to your former boss. And stay off of any public forum like social media and message boards. Even if you think you’re doing something anonymously, you’re probably not! You’ll discover quickly that no secret ever stays a secret, and your networking circles are way smaller than you ever imagined.
4. Remain proud of your accomplishments
That award you won? That goal you nailed? That major problem you solved for your department? Repeat after me: Getting laid off does not take those accomplishments away from you! You retain your bragging rights the way you would after leaving any other job under any other circumstances. Don’t downplay your successes or suddenly get humble about your achievements. You don’t have to bring up in future job interviews that you were laid off, but you do have to bring up the experience you know you have that makes you the perfect candidate. Own it and use what you learned as a building block for the next phase of your career. Trust that you earned those experiences for a reason and that you’re on to bigger and better things.