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“We had a meeting about your department and have some bad news. For you anyway. Today’s going to be your last day.”
And with that sentence, my worst fears were realized as I was laid off after nearly five years of building a department from the ground up (and to rub salt on the wound, I’d left one of the best companies I’d ever worked for for this job). I wish I had known then that getting laid off from my high level, high paying job was the best thing that ever could have happened to my career, my family, and my peace of mind.
When I was laid off, I had just turned 42 and had been back from maternity leave to my job as Director of Organizational Development for a mere two months. Up until that day, I had had to let go of many people, and had sat in on more terminations throughout my career than I could count, but had never been let go myself. As a very high-achieving, career-focused woman, being jobless was the stuff of nightmares. It was a very short walk, in my mind, from top of my game to living out of a shopping cart (in my nightmares, it was always a shopping cart).
In my particular situation, things were made worse by the fact that I had just had twins, contracted a live-in nanny in preparation for my return to work, and my husband had started up a gym that year that was making no money, because I was making more than enough for both of us. With that single call, we went from excited and comfortable to qualifying for food stamps. I didn’t have a lot of coping skills at that time for handling stress and pressure, either. I’m still grateful every day for being laid off, though, for several reasons.
The truth is, my dream and passion for years was to work for myself as a coach, consultant, and writer. In fact, the reason we were starting a gym was because we had strategized that that was the best way to replace my income so I could step out of my corporate role, spend more time with my kids while they were little, and enter a new profession. Would I ever have done it? I’d like to think so, but who knows? As I mentioned, we were comfortable enough to make change distasteful. Getting laid off with no notice was the shove out of the nest I probably needed to take a risk on myself.
Because I’d always been terrified of being jobless, I had accepted some unacceptable situations out of fear. Losing my job when we needed it so much was the worst thing I could imagine, professionally, and I survived. Not only that, my husband and I got to walk through that together and emerge stronger on the other side. Now, I know I can do it and I will never tolerate being mistreated by an employer again.
I don’t want to say I was unsympathetic to people before, but getting laid off certainly gave me a new perspective to all the emotions involved in being let go. I never took it lightly, but now, having been there, I can tell people with certainty that a door closing can be scary, but there is now a new beginning on the horizon. It absolutely makes me a better coach.
Until I was laid off, I truly believed that I didn’t define myself by my role or my paycheck, but once they were gone, it was tough to reconcile my self-image as ‘successful’. Add to that the craziness of newborn twins and a two-year-old, and it was an emotional rollercoaster. I also had to decide whether to pursue legal action against my former employer, which was tempting because I was hurt, angry, and afraid. But ultimately, I decided to use whatever energy I had to move forward not backward.
Today, I have a thriving coaching and leadership consultancy that allows me to set my own pace, hours, and rate. I can work with people I enjoy, and I can spend the time with my kids that I always wanted to. Getting laid off was the impetus to setting off on my own, and it was the best thing that could have happened. Today I have more wisdom, knowledge, professional connections, and opportunities than I’ve ever had in my life and I wouldn’t trade where I am now for the world. I wish I would have had more resources to turn to, but in spite of that, everything worked out just the way it was supposed to!
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