GETTING LAID OFF

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 Gabrielle Bill 0 Comments



“Gabby, the purpose of this call is to let you know that your role has been eliminated.”

My vice president continued to speak, but that was really the last bit I heard. The sound of my heart pounding inside my chest was deafening. My palms would not stop sweating, despite me repeatedly wiping them against my jeans.   

I had just been laid off.

My brain wasn’t sure what to think or what to feel, so instead I thought and felt everything at once. Thrilled. Horrified. Tears. Laughter. Why me? Who else? What now?

“Do you have any questions?”

The voice on the phone broke me from my emotion-filled reverie. I said no. We hung up. A woman from HR waited outside the door.

She handed me an envelope, the word CONFIDENTIAL stamped across it in a never-ending pattern of bold red letters, like those things you see in detective movies when they’re delivering the results of a murder investigation.

It looked so official, so scary. This was really happening to me.

I quickly ripped a bland, white folder from the murder envelope and half-listened to the woman as she explained its contents, telling me I could go home and take off the rest of the week as I processed what had just happened.  

That’s when my mental state collapsed. As I walked down the stairs to my desk, a smile reminiscent of The Joker from Batman broke out across my face, and before I could help it, I erupted into a giant, uncontrollable belly laugh.

What the fuck?

I had just lost my job and I literally could not stop laughing. There I was, standing in a cement staircase, clutching a folder outlining my severance package and laughing like a hyena, the sounds reverberating against the walls. Defense mechanism, much?

When I finally composed myself I plastered a solemn, neutral look on my face, walked over to my desk and mimed to my buddy, Olivia, sliding a single finger across my jugular. That was crass, probably, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak the words. It would continue to make this ridiculous moment real.

Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by concerned co-workers. Most of them didn’t know how to react, so I got a lot of hugs, a lot of sad stares. One woman came up to me and cried, and somehow I found myself consoling HER – reassuring her that I was fine, that this was a good thing and that I was happy.

Of course, that was true, at least to an extent. I had been miserable in my job for months. In fact, the job had been wrong from the very start, and I had known it quite quickly. Yet something within me had told me to hold on, to hope and believe that things would get better, that my role would become more challenging and fulfilling, that the organization would get its act together.

In spite of the fact that I routinely prayed to get sick, just so I wouldn’t have to go to work (a truly bad sign!), I was blinded by an amazing paycheck, four weeks of vacation, unlimited sick days and perks upon perks. And perhaps worst of all, something in me had believed that there wasn’t anything better out there; that at 31 years old, this was the best it was going to get.

The day that I was laid off, I was one of 30 Associates that got the boot as a result of a massive reorganization of the marketing department. And the decision rocked everyone involved, even those that remained. The silent tension that filled our "cool" open floor plan was so thick that even my annoying ping-pong playing colleagues took a break from their daily festivities to mourn.

If you had asked me a few years ago if I ever thought I'd be laid off, I would probably have shrugged in an attempt to appear modest, but in my brain, I was pretty firm in my conviction that it wouldn't happen to me. After all, I was a Harvard educated marketer with work experience at one of the world's most loved brands. I was a diligent employee with excellent presentation skills, the ability to manage others and a sharp, strategic brain. In my past jobs, I was consistently one of the strongest and most liked performers on the floor. These are not the types of people that get laid off...right?

Maybe.

So many of the people that were laid off were brilliant. Nearly all had fantastic education. Few were your typical slackers or people that intentionally ruffled feathers. But what did distinguish us from the group that remained was our individuality. We weren't the cookie cutter workers that fit nicely into a mold. We spoke up when we didn't agree. We took an approach to solving problems that was a bit different. Our personalities didn't align completely with the person the company wanted us to be. It was a sad, yet not entirely shocking realization that even among a company that preached innovation, homogeneity was actually a value they prized.

Coming to this conclusion was comforting to my ego, particularly as I started to pack my possessions into my purse, getting ready to leave for the day. This was the first of many days to come during my "transition" period where I'd awkwardly try to carry arms full of belongings while simultaneously opening doors, as others on the floor diverted their eyes. The fact that I had lost my job made them feel awkward and ignoring me was often the way they dealt.

I never cried. That's just not my way. But I did spend a few days primarily laying in bed, greasy hair tossed into a bun, re-runs of Grey's Anatomy flipping by on Netflix.

And then I got up.

I showered, put on makeup and at 1pm on a Tuesday stepped outside into the sunshine and warmth of an early fall day in Philadelphia. I breathed in the air, felt the sun on my skin, and the emotion that overcame me was one of the most powerful I've felt in my life.

I felt free.

It was the start of something wonderful, and although I didn't know what it would be at the time, I put one foot in front of the other, walked out into the bliss of the empty city streets and never looked back.

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Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting www.gabriellebill.com

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