Laid off in America

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

It turns out my roller coaster emotions are normal. Even though I thoroughly disliked my job, it was still a big loss. I have never been unemployed in my life--always being in school, work, or both. And I had never "failed" at anything either. So, like everyone else, I need to process through the stages of loss.

According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the stages of loss (or as they are more popularly known as the stages of grieving or dying, but they do pertain to any loss) are 1.) denial and isolation, 2.) Anger, 3.) Bargaining, 4.) Depression, 5.) Acceptance. I called a friend shortly after I was laid off. He told me he had been laid off before too. And he had gone through all 5 stages of grief, in order. It took about 5 minutes, then he spent the next 6 months laying out on the beach and working out before taking another job. The kind of friend I really love to hate.

I am going through these stages in a wholly different way. I knew from a few bad relationship break-ups what my style has a tendency to be. I go through the stages and then start over again. I've been journaling every day and here are some samples from my journal.

Day -1, the Tuesday after Memorial Day, 2002. "My first day back at work. I was so bored. I worked on turning my CV into a resume and other job related stuff. GAWD this is awful. I'm talking to (my boss) today. I wish he would just lay me off. I'm starting to come up with things to do if I'm laid off and they are sounding great. I would probably be bored in a month but anything is better than this.

Day +1, Thurs. (I got laid off on Wed, May 29). "I slept last night almost as well as I slept on vacation. But I dreamed I had so many huge pimples, almost growths, on my face that they were disfiguring. I'm a bit excited and a bit apprehensive, and a bit embarrassed. I'm numb too. And my dream suggests that I am, to some extent, blaming myself--that I am flawed and disfigured and everyone can see it and be repelled by it. But acne is curable, so I'm glad that that is my flaw."

Day +2, Fri. "I've decided I'm numb rather than feeling pretty good because I seem to be getting canker sores on my gums (usually asign of acute stress) and my allergy/cold/whatever it is has worsened considerably..." (It is clear here that I am in denial).

Week +1. "I hear myself saying angry things about my ex-employees. And I AM angry. I tried so hard and I feel like I could not have succeeded no matter what. The co-owner wanted me to fail and she ensured that I did." (Hm, I have moved to the Anger stage).

Week +2. "Things I want to do in my time off: Visit friends, go bike riding, go walking/exploring--take my camera and get some fun photos, go to museums. I'll keep adding to my list. I might as well enjoy my time off, practice being a type B person and relax. Pretty soon, I won't know how I had time to work. (Acceptance? Did I skip bargaining and depression?)

The next day. "I was suddenly hit with the realization that I was never going to find a job I liked. I went from optimistic to neutral for about 5 seconds and straight into pessimistic.". Worse, I was reading Fast Food Nation and got completely down on large corporations and governments and I go on to say "This world is not a very nice place to live." (Depression).

Mid June. "How am I feeling? Neutral. I can't imagine the job I will be getting next. That's scary, I can't even see it. Maybe that's good--no preconceived notion of what I have to look for. Maybe that's bad, I won't know it when I see it. (Acceptance). A few days later I was grumpy. A few days later I was confused. A few days later I was anxious.

Late June. "I feel "cut loose. Shoved out on one end, no place to grab onto on the other. No idea if anything will present itself for me to grab onto." (Depressed or isolated?).

On July 17th, I spent the day in a dither because I spoke to a head hunter and "as usual I came across as not having enough experience. I spent the whole day feeling like I will never get a job. I was in a total funk." The next day I talked to another head hunter and was actually overqualified for the job, which made me feel good, "Hopefully there is something in between the ones I'm hearing about." Back and forth, back and forth.

Fast forward to September 9, "I spent the first part of the week finally okay with the fact that I didn't have a job, realizing that it isn't entirely under my control and that I could only do my part. If there are no jobs that fit, well I could only keep looking. By Friday, I felt like if I didn't get a job soon, I was going to go stark raving crazy. I'm having one of my off days..."

Mid october after finally hearing from the HR department of the only job I have been in the least bit interested in, "I really feel cut loose now--there is no job out there I"ve seen in this area that I'm the least bit interested in. I feel like an astronautwho has been cut loose from her tether on a space walk and turns around and sees that the space ship has gone as well. Floating and no where to go. Nothing in sight anywhere...My self confidence couldn't get any lower and my motivation is about as low as it can go." A few days later it gets worse. "I'm just so confused right now, I guess I wish someone would just tell me what to do. None of my options, if they can be called options, are appealing. It is even more confusing because I've always been so goal oriented and have always known what I want to do next. ...And now because of what happened at my company, I'm afraid that I'll fail at whatever I choose. I've never had such a fear before, I've always gone boldly in. Now my ears are down, my tail is between my legs, and I have no idea what to do next." But a few days later, I wrote, "Jobs are out there. At some point, the universe will align, circumstances will be right, and I will be in a job I love."

I have continued to yo-yo like this throughout my search. The one thing that helped "stabilize me and give me confidence was my two months at Lee Hecht Harrison, an outplacement firm.

posted by Valerie 9:10 AM

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The experience of the new rite of passage among today's professionals: Being Unemployed

Contact me
You can contact me by sending me email at

This blog's mention in the July 2003 issue of Fast Company
Web of Despair.

Other unemployment blogs I have found
Ask your ass.
All about Jen.
Homee's job search.
Get that job.

Some blogs I like but haven't been updated in a while
Where The Hell Did My Job Go.
Invisible Matrix.

Credit problems?

What's keeping me occupied while I'm unemployed?
My husband and my travel photography blog.


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