Alicia Ostarello

Being laid off stinks. Most likely, you didn’t do anything wrong and yet, you’re out of a job. As a layoff survivor, here are a few thoughts about how to approach unexpected unemployment. 

Don’t delay filing for unemployment. 

Even if you think you’ll have a job in a few weeks, file ASAP. Nothing is certain until you’re in the office on day one. 

Flip the narrative you’re telling yourself. 

It was easy to say, “I’m worthless” after being laid off—it sure felt like I was. But going back to that break up analogy...when someone doesn’t want to date me anymore, I remind myself of something Robbie Hart said in The Wedding Singer: “Why should you want to dance with somebody who doesn’t want to dance with you?” The same goes with a job. Do you really want to work somewhere that doesn’t want you? Being laid off, like being dumped, has nothing to do with the value you bring to the table. 

Make a realistic budget.

These budget worksheets will help. Without income but with a lump-sum severance, it’s easy to get confused about what is or isn’t in your price range. Take an hour to assess your bank account, track bills and expenses, and figure out what lifestyle options need to go (so long, monthly sports massage!) and what can stay.  

Prepare positive coping skills for your emotional rollercoaster. 

Getting laid off is strikingly akin to getting dumped, right down to the feelings portion of it all. One second you’re fine, the next you’re angry, then in’s a messy, fluctuating time for your emotions. Look for outlets that can distract and redirect your attention. Some of my favorites:

Alumni support: my company let go of 450 people on the same day. We had a Facebook group and Slack channel open within hours where commiserated, asked questions about severance, and shared dog photos. It was a lot like our work Slack team, and that touchstone felt good. 

Volunteering: I researched hospice centers, animal shelters, and meals-on-wheels organizations to give myself a weekly purpose. I settled on pro-bono dog-walking and blog writing, and was thankful for a place to turn my attention. 

Therapy: Talking through your feelings and experiences with a counselor, whether online or in person, is invaluable. The unemployed doldrums are real, and my therapist helped me continue to find light at the end of the tunnel.  

Fun-employment isn’t for everyone — and that is a-okay. 

So many people asked “how’s fun-employment?” with hope of tales in their voice that I actually felt guilty not beach hopping in Bali or trekking Mongolia like many of my former co-workers. I wanted to focus on what was next, and jetting off wouldn’t get me, personally, there. (Once I had an offer in hand though, I did take a quick trip to Cuba.) 

Look for ways to enrich your life.

For me, one of the only enjoyable parts of unemployment was getting a dog. I’d never had the time to devote to looking for and starting to train a rescue, and suddenly, I had it. Do the thing you’ve been wanting to do, whether it’s move to Denver, watch all of This is Us, or learn to bake vegan brownies. 

If you find yourself being bitter at job-hunting, take a break.

After months of getting thisclose to landing a job, of writing assignments that took 10-hours, and scheduling phone screens, I got burnt out, and frankly, a little grumpy at the process. Taking a break from rigorous job hunting is just as important as taking a break from a rigorous job. A staycation helped clear my mind and bring back some good cheer. 

Everyone’s unemployment looks different—don’t be afraid to do what feels right for you as you navigate your feelings and job-opportunities post employment.


When Alicia was 17, she wrote an essay titled "I Am a Snail Watcher." The themes of that essay—noticing tiny details, celebrating small victories, and rooting for the under-appreciated—still apply to her daily life and affect her writing.


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