About seven years into my career, having just turned 29, I got canned. This was well over a decade ago, my millennial friends. I didn’t believe it at the time, but looking back, getting laid off was clearly a blessing in disguise.
There were a number of factors that made getting laid-off “easy” for me. For one, I was single with no kids. The only mouth I had to feed was my own. And man, did I have a typical bachelor diet back in the day. McDonalds was still on the menu, mates. Heck, I even owned a few shares of Mickey D’s stocks!
I had a roommate. This was an incredibly helpful situation, since just a year before getting laid off, I had purchased my first house. And oh yes, making house payments (along with the utilities and insurance) is muy pricier than the cost of sharing an apartment. A roommate who’s also a paying tenant should be a de facto arrangement for any single, young homeowner, in my humble opinion…
The Kind of Worker I Was Then
Leading up to being laid-off, I was a punk. Sure, I had my moments of charm and brilliance, but my EQ was dismal. I had a hard time taking feedback. I figured I was smarter than everyone else, including my bosses. And that, young readers, is a surefire recipe for getting shitcanned at some point.
I remember one instance where I got pissed at my boss and colleague for overruling me on something website-design related, in front of a client. I was so pissed I up and walked out of the meeting. That was keeping it real, eh?
On another occasion, I swooped in to save the day to get a key application server up and running. Except, my boss (same guy) wasn’t grateful. Instead, I was admonished for not alerting him of the problem while the shit was going down. So I proceeded to have a heated argument with him.
Granted, this guy was not a good manager of people. He was reassigned as an individual contributor a few months before my exit stage left. His EQ was probably about as poor as mine. Regardless of how crummy he was at his job, it gave me no excuse to punk out on him. Twice.
Funny. I kinda think my situation isn’t all that different from when you have a favorite babysitter as a kid that you mind well. Then you get the new sitter. Poor, poor new sitter. The little brat in you comes out, because deep down, you liked the first sitter. Acting out. Not a good way to demonstrate EQ!
Getting Das Boot
Along came September 11, 2001. Life got turned upside down for everyone. Tragedy, extreme tragedy struck and affected many lives, from that day and for several years afterwards. It didn’t take long for the markets to react. Recession and war were on the horizon.
The company was hit hard enough to let go of a significant number of technology types. November rolls around. I remember the day the layoffs were announced. Very much in denial, but still nervous, I went through the motions of another work day. In hindsight, I should’ve been a bit more perceptive about what was to come.
See, I had spent the previous two months effectively transitioning my job responsibilities to an outside vendor. DUHHH…. Well, it is what it is. Or, was what it was? At any rate, I ended up being the only one from our team of ten to get called into my new manager’s office.
He proceeded to lay out the terms: I could stick around for the next six weeks and would get a decent severance that amounted to about three months of pay. I remember sitting there in a state of semi-disbelief, but interestingly not really shaken all that much. My boss on the other hand? This guy starts tearing up! I’m like, “Oh no, just take it easy big fella…”
Unlike some of my peers in their late 20s, I would be going home to a paying roommate, not a family with kids to feed. I put two and two together back then to figure out that shit could’ve been a lot worse.
A Taste of Early Retirement
After my six weeks were up (and the de facto happy hour where work friends bought me lots of pity beer), I started my new routine. I’d get up out of bed when the bleep I felt like it. No alarm going off? That was an instant, nice change.
With more time on my hands, I actually started using my gym membership. That was fun too. Going to the gym in the middle of the day is a wonderful thing. No competing for the machines or weights you need. I also had time to get to the tanning salon. I must not have realized then how GTL* my life had become. But because I’d already booked a cruise with friends before getting my notice, I couldn’t rightly go to the Caribbean all pale and flabby, now could I?!?
Going on a cruise, right after getting laid off??? Did I mention how fortunate I was to have had a paying roommate? That cruise was fun, but could’ve been more fun if I didn’t have a looming jobless situation to come home to. At least we all went cheap – four dudes to a room. It was a short-sheeting fiesta. And half the time we down at least one person at lights-out…
*Apparently, GTL stands for Gym, Tanning, and Laundry. These are the three basic elements of the Jersey Shore daily itinerary. I didn’t realize you had to be unemployed to discover this, but now you know.
Within a few weeks of the cruise, and suddenly dumped soon afterwards, I took stock of things. Lessee… No job, no girlfriend, hovering around zero $0.00 net worth-about-to-get-whole-lot-worse. Still, I wasn’t too down about things. I figured I needed to make some changes. That was obvious.
Getting laid off is not a sustainable thing for one’s psyche, much less survival. I know this first-hand growing up in the remnants of GM’s empire back in Michigan. Nevertheless, I had a confidence that things would work out. And I chose to enjoy the next several months of non-working by improving myself.
Looking back now, I can appreciate the preview of an early retirement lifestyle: Freedom to be productive, be lazy, practice my guitar, or go to the gym. I even had time to practice my tennis serve.
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
What a great little platitude that header is. In this case, the layoff was my big fat Greek lemon. First thing I did? Well, after I applied for the Peace Corps, I got hot on securing a home equity line of credit. My severance (and unemployment checks) would eventually run out. And my roomie’s rent payments weren’t substantial enough to cover my mortgage. I’m not sure if the bank would have cared, but I made sure to get that HELOC done before my employment ended that November.
I already mentioned my newfound GTL habit (God bless Jersey Shore.) But the biggest pitcher of the pale yellow stuff was my decision to finish my MBA full time. Pretty nuts, right? I’m jobless and over my head budget-wise, and I’m about to take on full-time tuition for three full semesters of classes. Ha! HELOC to the rescue!
Even with three classes, which is a light class load, admittedly, I still had time to work with. So, I decided to learn how to cook. See, I wasn’t finding it very easy to date during this stretch. I remember one first date where soon after I mentioned not being employed, the air just about literally went out of the balloon. You could actually hear the squeaky, farty balloon sound, I swear.
Knowing how to actually cook from scratch, I figured, would be a nice feather in my cap for when I actually did get a job and my dating prospects improved. And without a doubt, that tennis serve would be a smokin’ talent chicks couldn’t resist…
A Much Improved EQ, and the World Becomes Your Oyster (or something)
Getting laid off ultimately was a blessing in disguise in my case. I needed that jolt. I needed something to help me recognize what was truly important. I learned that I couldn’t rely on employment-at-will arrangements to be, well, reliable. I learned that people (girlfriends included) can be fickle, and getting hurt is just a fact of life.
When I did find my new gig, just a month before graduating, I approached it with more humility. Granted, I now carried this pervasive fear around my neck, like I believe many folks whom have been laid off at some point do.
I still had my work cut out for me on the EQ front. Taking feedback was still for some odd reason a hard deal for me. But I got there. Eventually. Over time I grew more patient and able to tamp down my ego. Mainly, I learned how to listen effectively and mediate disputes. D.C. here I come? *vomit*
I suppose this whole ordeal is really the kernel of my current plan to retire early. Not having to rely on that paycheck will be a nice little burden removed. That weight around my neck is much less for me these days, but only since starting down a path to early retirement a few years back did it start to truly lighten up.
Please share in the comments if you’ve been through a lay-off. Was it ultimately a good thing for you as well, in retrospect?