Laid Off – A Reader’s Story

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with – and ultimately becoming friends with – Amber Lancour. We worked together at a company in Los Angeles and have kept in touch through email and through this blog and – a now defunct website I started with my brother (Amber’s had the craziest roomies).

Last week, Amber sent me an email with some kind words of encouragement about this blog along with her personal story about getting laid off and the forced transition to being self-employed. I was moved. So much of what she shared in that story applies to everyone who has made, is making, or has yet to make the transition to entrepreneur.

I wrote back to Amber and asked if she would let me post it here. I hope it brings you hope and encouragement in whatever stage of transition you’re in. The story has not been edited by me. It’s in the original and honest form she wrote.

December 10, 2008

If you worked/work for a company I will refer to as Y, you probably recall that date.  It was the day that the company decided to lay off a couple thousand employees.

Weeks prior to 12/10, the company announced that cuts had to be made.  The company was going to become “leaner and meaner” to survive.  I, and thousands of others, heard the announcement and cringed.  We all knew what this really meant.  There would be cuts, but the people losing their jobs would be the very people who actually did the work, who added value to the organization and who really took pride in what they produced.  The people that avoided being “cut” would be the “fat” that stuck to the very methods that were causing the company to sink in the first place.

Lo and behold, D-Day comes and our prediction comes true.  The fatty layer of the organization is letting the others go.

I will never forget it.

I walked back to my cubicle and 10 minutes later, the Director of our group says, “Amber, do you have a few minutes.”  I looked at the folder in his hands, smirked and simply said, “For you so-and-so, I have 15.”  What I really wanted to say was 1) take the damn folder and shove it up your a** 2) this is the first time you have EVER spoken to me for more than a minute and I am surprised you even know who I am and 3) do this quick so I can get out of here.

He goes into the usual wind and grind, loosely using phrases like “thank you for your contributions”, “this is not personal” and “you are well-known for your hard work”.  I just sit and I want to hit myself because I keep smiling.  It is a habit I have when I get nervous – smiling like an idiot.  To be honest, I was surprised that he even knew what I did as my manager had been taking credit for my accomplishments for some time.

So, the layoff is official.  He leads me down to HR and there I am – still smirking like a jackass.  He looks at me and says, “What’s new?”

I guess I was caught off guard because tears come to my eyes and I say, “My grandmother is dying.”

I try to hide my tears, I look up at the ceiling as it suddenly comes to my attention that instead of going back home to say “goodbye” to my grandma, I chose to stay in L.A. and work at a job I no longer have.

I muster the strength and the tears disappear.  It is only when I am with the HR person, a complete stranger that I allow myself to cry.  I can’t help it.  I feel rejected, I feel like a failure and I just want to go home.

Weeks later, my grandmother died.  I never did go home to say goodbye because I become fixated on myself – my being a failure, my being a loser and my letting everyone down.  Who was “I” if “I” was not working?  What value did I add if I was not working 60 plus hour work weeks?  What contribution did I make if I was not earning a consistent paycheck?

Unable to cope with these thoughts, I threw myself into freelancing.  I worked and I worked and I worked.  I make a paycheck. I produce some work for a few companies and I try to hold onto a definition of myself that I am really outgrowing.

I see my friends collecting their unemployment checks, some even say they are “fun-employed”, but I never take that route.  When you grow up with parents who have to work themselves to the bone to earn a meager paycheck, you learn to appreciate any work that is given to you.  You don’t complain, you do it – and you do it with a damn smile on your face.  And, I have to say – my pride is huge.  In my mind, being unemployed is associated with negative connotations.

Months roll by in 2009.  It seems like the more I try to be happy, try to make money and try to be “myself”, the more opposition I face.  Bad things happen – things that I am positive that a younger version of me could not deal with.

I lose my grandmother (someone I cherished and looked up to immensely), I give up my dream wedding, I lose an aunt, I lose an uncle, my sister in-law gets into a near fatal accident, my older brother almost dies… the list goes on and on.  Every time bad news comes, I think, “What did I do to deserve this?”

I feel sorry for myself and become depressed.  It becomes harder and harder to smile and I feel scared.  When life continually throws you hardballs, you start to think the next bad thing that happens will break me…

Yet, in between the moments of crisis, there are these positive moments.  Transitioning into 2010, I see I took those moments for granted.

My freelancing efforts resulted in my building a network of clients and that led to me realizing that I could be in business for myself.  Imagine that, me working for me.  Isn’t that something I had longed for almost all my life?  And, wasn’t I up to the challenge?

I started running.  Years ago, running a mile was unfathomable.  Just a few days ago, I ran over 8 miles and committed to running a half marathon in May.

Things no longer scare me.  Losses don’t make me anxious.  I start to know, innately, that every loss leads to a new beginning and I don’t panic, I don’t get scared – I confront nerve wrecking situations with ease and calm.

My marriage grows.  We celebrate one year of happiness and I know that if we are able to get through this past year, the rest is smooth sailing.  I thank God everyday for my husband’s existence, for his love and his belief in me.

I am surrounded by amazing people – family and friends.

And then it hits me… when my mind doesn’t dwell on the negative, I clearly see the positive.  I learn that perspective is everything and that we attract what we believe.  I write this today with the mindset that when the universe wipes things from your life, it is only making room for things that are bigger and better.

Many of us have been there. Frustrated. Defeated. Anxious. Fearful. Please share your story in the comments below. You’re not alone and you may find hope in the story of others.