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Tuesday is layoff day for most companies. I’ve read this in several human-resources articles: Tuesday is the best day to let someone go. There have been studies.
So, every Tuesday for over a year, I walked into my office expecting the news. My projects were winding down, and I knew that others were not coming. My organization was re-evaluating and rebudgeting, and that meant bad news for me. I had two projects to manage, but they were coming to a close. As the projects completed, there was nothing to move on to. The clouds started rolling in.
Emotionally, I was a wreck. I was pro-active and seeking other opportunities, but the jobs weren’t there. I pinged my network regularly to see if anyone was hiring. At 40, with almost 20 years of experience in my field, I was overqualified for most postings. And for other roles that I’d like to grow into, I didn’t have enough qualifications. I was stuck. My mood was bad and got worse. I was stressed, I was anxious. I started coming apart.
I have always battled depression and anxiety, and had built up decent coping strategies. The stress of seeing my job slowly disappearing was bad enough, but I held on. Then, in early 2015, my dad got cancer and the stress got worse. Then our youngest child stopped sleeping through the night, and I was exhausted all the time. My mental reserves were depleting quickly.
A therapist helped talk my way through it. I learned that I had no control over the organization and its plans. I could only control my own reactions. He suggested I get more exercise. I began running several times a week, several kilometres at a time. It helped for a while.
Not that I was positive about the inevitable, but I was creating more mental reserves to deal with what was coming. My mental state improved a little, and I felt stronger. However, no amount of preparation can make you ready for your Tuesday.
Then came Tuesday, Sept. 15. As I walked into the office, I had my usual Tuesday sense of dread. I passed my boss’s office, his door was closed. I passed the HR manager’s office, her door was open. I glanced in and saw a stack of corporate letterhead on her desk. That’s the paper they use for layoff letters.
I sat at my desk, in full view of their office doors, and watched the two of them go back and forth a few times. I picked up my cellphone and texted my wife: “I’m about to be laid off, I’ll be home in an hour.” Without a doubt, this was my Tuesday.
I opened my Gmail account and started writing an e-mail I would later send to friends and former colleagues. It started with: “Hi everyone, I have some bad news to share. I’ve been laid off from my job today and am starting my job search …”
As I typed, there was a knock on my door. “Kevin, have you got a minute?”
Of course I did. The hammer fell. My boss looked like he was going to cry. The HR manager was supportive, but sad. I called my wife and broke down on the phone: “I was right, it’s over. I got laid off.” The next 24 hours are a blur.
I was sad, angry, bitter, yet relieved. My Tuesday had come, it had passed, I could move on. But like any loss, it was an emotional blender. Those five stages of grief came fast and furious. I skipped over denial, got pretty stuck in anger. Bargaining wasn’t really an option (my lawyer agreed). Depression? Well, I had that already, so nothing to worry about. Acceptance took months.
I had to do a lot, and quickly. I had to update my LinkedIn profile, send a hundred e-mails. I had to ask several now-former colleagues for a reference. There’s nothing quite as humbling as asking a favour of people who just learned you are “no longer working here.” Their positive response was heartening.
And then I thought about money, and things got darker again. I had to pay my mortgage, I had to pay for daycare. My son had a field trip coming up. Christmas was a few months away. Suddenly, my mind was spinning, and my worldview quickly went from overcast to funnel clouds. I could see nothing but tornadoes, dollar signs zipping violently across the horizon.
That evening, I had to lead 25 young boys at our weekly Beavers meeting. My son played with his friends with no cares. I kept a stiff upper lip and accepted a gift of craft beer from a good friend. “Sorry, man, this might help.” It did.
In a case of particularly bad timing, my Project Management Professional exam was scheduled for the next day. That designation would really help with the job search.
The next morning, I woke up after two or three hours of sleep, went to the exam centre in a haze, and failed.
I figured things could only get better from there. And they did. The following weeks saw great improvement. Soon, I had a new full-time position I really enjoy, and I passed my PMP exam on the next attempt.
But for a while, negativity reigned. If you’ve been laid off, you know what this feels like. It’s a mix of panic, stress and paperwork. Life shatters, but continues anew.
If you’re going through a job loss such as this, I feel your pain. I’ve been there and really am better and stronger for the experience. My advice is to breathe deeply, and know there will be better Tuesdays ahead.
Kevin McGowan lives Ottawa.