In early March, my husband and I took a trip to visit my family in Florida. This was before the wave of coronavirus infections that would crash across the United States truly hit, back when many still thought it was “just a flu.”
Looking back, I feel like we dodged a bullet. Little did we know just how much would change in a week. When we boarded our flight to Tampa, we were the weird ones on the plane, wiping our seats down with disinfectant wipes. But upon our return, we found ourselves nervously cloistered with other travelers in a crowded security line, many donning face masks that were absent a mere seven days earlier. It was a shock — but not as much of a shock as what would happen 48 hours later.
Arriving back home, we both went right back to work. We worked for the same company: my husband was a chef and creative director, and I was the social media manager and visual display coordinator. But on our second day back, he received a call bringing the news that he’d been laid off indefinitely. Then my phone rang 30 seconds later. We weren’t the only ones to lose our jobs, but in that moment, even together we felt very much alone. Just a few minutes prior, I’d been drafting “the email” (you know the one that came from every company you’d ever been a subscriber to? That began “In these uncertain times…”), now I was shutting down my company computer, completely blindsided by the news.
Like for more than 30 million other Americans, coronavirus claimed our main source of income.
As “elder millennials” — we are in our mid-30s — we’re no strangers to job loss. My partner and I were just beginning our professional careers during the 2008 recession, when finding a job and keeping that job proved nearly impossible for most of our generation. Over the years, we’ve faced layoffs, a difficult job market, and have moved several times for our careers — but this is the first time we’ve faced job loss together, and at such an uncertain time.
The night after receiving the news, I tossed and turned, feeling as though I were standing at a precipice, facing an unknown greater than I ever have before. And in the days that followed, it would become glaringly clear that we wouldn’t be alone. I now know more unemployed — or employment-compromised — people than people with jobs. Friends, family, neighbors, whether they had their salaries cut or were laid off entirely, we’re all going through it.
Job loss in any form can be incredibly traumatic. The only thing I can compare it to is a bad breakup — one that leaves you feeling confused, abandoned, and unsure of what lies ahead. And the added stress and trauma of Covid-19 only magnifies those feelings.
When I began my professional career back in 2007, the thought of losing my job for any reason was unimaginable — I saw it as a failure of myself. But having faced job uncertainty since then and having had to file for unemployment, I know now that layoffs and job-loss are just a part of modern life. If there’s anything these past few months have taught us, it’s that there’s no way to know what the future holds. Had you asked me at the end of February what I envisioned for the years to come, I would have been happy to say that I hoped I’d still be at the same job. I liked where I worked, I enjoyed my coworkers, I worked in a beautiful place, and I aligned with the company. What more could I ask for? But the reality was how long I stayed wasn’t my choice to make. There’s only so much we can control. As painful as this time is, I think it’s important to share what I’ve learned. If you’re going through this, please know you’re not alone, and we’ll get through it together.
#1 — Unfollow or Mute
Continuing to follow a former workplace — and sometimes, former co-workers, too — on social media after a layoff or firing can be akin to following an ex after they’ve left you. It can be unhealthy for your mental well-being. Their posts popup in your feed, you see them looking happy and moving on without you (maybe even hiring, to add insult to injury). It hurts, it’s stressful, and it doesn’t help you move on. Continuing to follow them on social media can add unnecessary hurt to an already extremely painful and at times confusing experience. So I’ll say it again: Unfollow or mute them on social media, at least for a time, and allow yourself the distance you need to heal.
#2 — Allow Yourself Time to Grieve
Yes, you read that right: you need to grieve. Job loss is a loss, it’s traumatic, and not recognizing it as such and attempting to move on before you’re ready can make things worse. I know this firsthand: I was laid off from a job I loved back in 2017 and didn’t allow myself ample time to process the experience and grieve. That job meant the world to me — it felt like the job, the one that signaled the true beginning of my professional ascent. But less than a year in, a company shake-up meant I had the rug pulled out from under me.
Rather than giving myself time, I jumped right back into frantically looking for work with a hastily (and, if I’m being honest, poorly) pulled-together resume, setting myself up for a rocky experience during my job search and, eventually, at the job I took afterward – where I didn’t last very long. So I say from experience and admittedly from a place of privilege: If you’re able to, allow yourself a little grace, space, and time to truly process what happened, so that when you do jump into your job search, you can do so with clarity and confidence. If you’re financially able, it may be helpful to talk it out with a therapist — many therapists offer video sessions now.
#3 — Find the Silver Lining
Something I also find helpful? Finding the silver linings. As much as I loved that dream job, losing it ultimately led to the decision to move back to Maine — an even bigger dream I believed was out of reach. It meant I no longer needed to hop a 5:45 am train to Brooklyn. Losing my most recent job means more time with my spouse and no longer driving 120 miles round-trip to get to my worksite. It means I could potentially take steps toward a career change — or just take some classes. Yes, as much as I’d rather be employed at the moment, searching for the silver linings helps to put things into perspective.
#4 — Get Your “House” in Order
While allowing yourself the space you need to process, it’s also incredibly important to take care of some pressing housekeeping needs: file for unemployment benefits and sort out your health insurance options. If you were laid off from a larger employer, you most likely qualify for benefits, and now that we’re in the middle of a global health crisis, many options are now available for a number of unemployment situations. Don’t wait to file. In fact, do it before anything else. I think for a lot of younger people, the thought of filing for unemployment could seem like a failure, but listen to me when I say this: It’s your right, it’s meant as a way to keep the economy somewhat afloat, and it can help get you through so that hopefully you won’t have to touch your savings or 401k. Then make sure you’ve signed any separation agreements and forms from your former employer, and if you need help deciphering them, consider checking in with an attorney or a friend or family member who knows their stuff.
#5 — Call Upon Your Network
We need each other now more than ever. In the past, I felt so ashamed about getting laid off — worried what people would think, what they would assume (“What if they think I was let go because of performance?!”) — that I didn’t ask for help when I needed it. Not so this time around. And because I put it out there, I’ve received a few opportunities from friends for small jobs and leads on opportunities. When I’m eventually ready to begin applying, I’ll also be reaching out and letting my network know I’m looking and available for work — freelance and otherwise. I’m not suggesting you ask your friends and network for free services — but this is a time when you could potentially lift each other up and support each other’s needs. Do you have something to offer that you could help them with? Do they have a project you could assist on remotely? Now is the time to ask.
Losing a job isn’t easy, especially right now. There’s no playbook to tell you what to do when you lose your job during a global pandemic. But I hope this is helpful in some small way — to know that you’re not alone. This is a moment in history that is calling upon us to practice empathy, to help our neighbors and, above all, to be kind — both to ourselves and to others.
While your job loss is truly a loss and likely brings with it a storm of emotions, remember that those who are still working — especially those who are working on the frontlines — are facing their own battles and their own uncertainty. In some way, we are all experiencing a form of loss — for the world we used to know. But with that comes the opportunity for kindness and connection. This is temporary. We’ll get through it together.
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