I wish I had known that it could happen to me: the life-changing, income-stifling, ego-bruising, future-altering event called getting laid off. Several years ago after the first round of layoffs at my company, when close friends and valuable co-workers were let go, I actually thought I was indispensable. It couldn’t happen to me! How could a department of numbers people (CPAs and accountants and such) live without its words person (yours truly: writer, editor, speller, and self-proclaimed grammar cop)?
They think they’re going to be able to write letters, policies, instructions, and newsletters on their own? They can’t let me go—there’ll be so many mistakes! Typos and “your”s instead of “you’re”s, misplaced commas, incorrect use of “their,” “there” and “they’re.” Turns out I was wrong (not about the typos and grammar mistakes!)—but about being 100% needed.
In an instant, I learned that I wasn’t as vital to the company as I thought I was. When I was shown the door after nearly 29 years of service and loyalty, I was not so much shocked as I was disappointed and perhaps a bit vindicated. I discovered that the company didn’t see me as a member of the family, but as a position that could simply be eliminated.
When I started working there at age 24, I was made to feel like I was part of a family. With in-store discounts on diapers, free samples from vendors, and boxes of Fourth of July fireworks from the company president, the organization helped me raise my kid as a single mom. It even loaned me money when I needed to move. I developed friendships and became social with many of my co-workers outside of office hours.
If only I’d known what was in store five years ago, when the Best-Boss-Ever left the company, and I was assigned to Not-The-Best-Boss-Ever. But I had so many years of service, and I was so close to receiving my full retirement benefits that I decided to stick it out, work it out, make allowances to accommodate working with less-than-stellar leadership.
Every day under my new boss, I would go to the office, I enjoyed the job even if I didn’t care for the people—and I would pretend that it was all OK and that I was doing fine. But really, I was bothered, irritated, and grumpy. I was so unhappy that I was counting the months and days until my retirement date (at least the one I’d set in my mind).
I Wish I Had Known…
I wish I had known that I was dispensable, because then I would’ve realized that I had choices on that first day, five or so years ago, when I realized I was no longer happy. I didn’t have to stay at a job that was making me miserable simply because I was hoping for a comfortable retirement. It wouldn’t have been a walk in the park—job searching in my late forties, looking for work decades after I’d begun my first corporate position—but now I know I would’ve survived it.
I Wish I Had Known…
I wish I had known that it’s OK to admit that it’s really not OK. Staying in a job where you’re unhappy because you think retirement is on the horizon is not wise. I put all my eggs in one basket, and when that basket was ripped away from me, I was left without a job, without an income, and without the future I had pictured in my mind for so many years.
I Wish I Had Known…
I wish I had known how much I would like doing something new. I quickly learned it wasn’t too late for me to pick up the pieces and move on with grace and an idea for what I wanted in my next role—to be myself, feel appreciated, and be proud of the work I’m doing.
It turns out that starting over with a new boss and new co-workers in a new location can be fun and exciting; it was for me, much to my surprise! I challenge myself daily to learn another new name, read something informative about the industry, promote our products, and really make a difference. If I had known it was going to be this invigorating, I would’ve done it a long time ago.
So even though I’m earning less now, I’m feeling so much better. Emotional stability, personal satisfaction, and physical health are as important as a paycheck, if not more so. And I now know that if, down the line, I find myself unhappy where I am, I have choices. I’m not stuck.
I wish I had known a lot of things, but above all, I wish I’d known that few things are forever. The option to find something better and brighter was always there. It just took getting laid off for me to realize it. But I can’t worry about how long it took me or what might’ve been if I’d quit and not been let go. What matters is that I’m here now, doing work I like, surrounded by people who inspire me, and grateful to be in a better place.