Shutting down your computer and walking out of your cubicle for the last time has an odd sense of finality to it.
For me, it felt like someone died.
Or at least like getting dumped after 8 years together.
On September 29, 2016, I walked out of the Starbucks corporate office in Seattle. Two weeks shy of my 8-year anniversary with the company.
At that time, I’d held 6 different roles on as many teams, worked in a variety of departments, and finished my MBA (ASU Sun Devils!!).
The job was good.
The coffee was great.
The people were the best part.
Then it was all gone.
As part of the annual budgeting and restructuring process, my role was eliminated. The new fiscal year started on October 1 and I was a line item that got crossed out. No hard feelings.
I fought hard to find another position with no luck. Unfortunately, “budget season” is the worst possible time to look for a new gig at the same company. There was no place for me.
But wait! There’s more.
Getting let go sucks on the best of terms, but due to a policy loophole, I wasn’t eligible for a severance package.
I wish I could say that I kicked the dust off my shoes and never looked back. I wish I could say that it’s been nothing but sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows ever since.
We both know life is a little messier than that.
I learned a lot from Starbucks; probably more than two or three MBAs worth.
It’s taken me 4 years to get around to writing this down, but getting laid off taught me a few things as well.
1. Don’t take it personally
Getting laid off isn’t a reflection of your performance. Getting fired is a reflection of your performance.
You can’t control whether or not you get laid off. It definitely feels bad, but it’s not your fault.
- Maybe the company got acquired.
- Maybe a new product launch flopped.
- Maybe competition cut into their market share.
- Maybe a pandemic shut down the country.
Whatever it was, it was out of your hands.
The only thing you can control is your performance.
2. Keep doing your job well
Regardless of whether or not you know a layoff is coming, do a good job. Take pride in your work.
We all know people who were let go for budget reasons, and will never get hired back. Their application won’t be considered even if the economy turns around or a new product launch requires a hiring frenzy.
The best option is to do your best and head out the door with your own head held high.
A layoff might be temporary and you want that door to be open.
It doesn’t matter if no one else knows. You know. No sense in burning a bridge with a job poorly done.
3. Maintain an open dialogue
Keep your professional network fresh. Don’t just reach out when you need something.
- Fire up LinkedIn and check in regularly with your contacts.
- Follow up with old colleagues to see what they’re up to.
- Ask old bosses to coffee to catch up and ask what’s exciting about their company.
- Invite someone from another department to lunch and find out about the challenges of their latest project.
- Do coffee over Zoom with a virtual friend you haven’t seen in a while.
Also, checkout Do Over by Jon Acuff and the free 6 Minute Networking course by Jordan Harbinger for the best practical advice on navigating a career bump and building a robust professional network.
4. It’s just business
A business is an impersonal entity and has to prioritize the bottom line.
How that actually manifests is up for discussion, but a business is ultimately in business to make money.
If a business doesn’t make enough money, it doesn’t get to be in business anymore. No matter how socially responsible and charitable it might be.
A company that isn’t profitable isn’t a business.
Starbucks made the right financial decision to lay me off. Letting me go was one of the thousands of contributing factors to Starbucks continued operations.
The kicker here that left a bad taste in my mouth is when companies champion the idea of being a “work family” or overstate just how much they care about an employee.
When push comes to shove, the bottom line wins out over employees. And it should.
Likewise, you have to look out for your own career because that is not the company’s primary concern. Nor should it be.
A job is a transaction between two parties. One is paying for the outcomes delivered by the service of the other.
It’s not personal. It’s just business.
5. Diversify your eggs
It’s risky to depend 100% on your day job for your security and satisfaction. You could get let go at any moment for any reason without recourse.
After working at Starbucks during the day doing corporate-y stuff, I managed the blog and social media content on the side for a couple of clients at night.
Fast forward to two weeks after Starbucks laid me off, and freelance work had completely replaced my day job income.
Even if it’s just one client, having a paid side gig can help you stay afloat.
How do you do that?
While you can moonlight doing the same thing as your day job, I don’t recommend it.
If you spend 8+ hours a day as an accountant then you go home and work for 2+ more hours each night doing accounting for freelance clients, you’ll probably burn out and lose both gigs.
Try to develop complementary or completely different skills from your day job and do what you can to get paid (even a little bit) on the side putting them to work.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
6. Never stop learning
No one likes to feel stuck in their job. Whether you want a promotion at your current company or a better job somewhere else, you’re gonna have to learn something new.
Fortunately for you, there’s this little thing called the internet.
Carve out a little time each day or week to research a new skill. Read a book with a challenging idea, watch a how-to guide on YouTube, or attend an online workshop.
There are countless blogs, books, and podcasts on every topic imaginable. Just fire up Google or ask Alexa and get started. Who knows what you’ll discover.
Whether or not you decide to dip your toe into the freelancing world, expanding your knowledge and skills will take you to the next level at your day job or somewhere else.
7. Be relentlessly helpful
This is one of the best pieces of career advice I’ve heard (Thanks, Jeff Goins).
You cannot help too many people.
Instead of solely trying to accumulate a professional network and meet more people, just help more people.
- Are you the go-to guy/gal for anything at work?
- If someone needs help with XYZ, do they immediately think to ask you first?
- When your boss asks for volunteers for a project, do you raise your hand?
- That task everyone else hates to do and tries to dodge, do you get it done with style?
Don’t become a doormat, but help out whoever, whenever you can. Even if you don’t feel like it.
When you need to call in a favor (ask for a job, referral, recommendation, etc) you’ll have plenty of fans to reach out too.
8. Take time to grieve (but not too long)
Getting laid off sucks. Even if you hated your job, it doesn’t feel good.
Eat a bunch of junk food for a day or so, but then get off the couch. Don’t sulk for more than a day or you’ll get stuck in a rut and feel sorry for yourself rather than build momentum in new directions.
Get back on your regular diet and stay active/fit. You’ll need the energy and physical movement produces endorphins which help you be positive and fuel your creativity
DO NOT write an open letter on Medium.
That’s childish and will burn bridges you may want to try and cross again someday. Go ahead and write the letter in Word and delete it, or in a notebook and burn it. Then let it go.
Don’t email the whole office, either.
9. Ask for help
Get professional counseling.
I didn’t and I wish I had.
Losing a job that’s become part of your identity triggers a grieving process that you have to work through.
Back to the future
It’d be easy to hate Starbucks. It’d be simpler to blame them for what happened and boycott their coffee.
The truth is, I’m grateful.
Starbucks taught me a lot about business, leadership, and teamwork. I learned how to manage expectations, resolve conflict, work to a deadline, and use a french press to brew the best cup of joe.
I appreciate all the lessons (and free coffee) from 8 years as a Starbucks partner. And I’m so glad they laid me off.
Just this morning I had a caramel macchiato and it didn’t leave a bitter taste in my mouth.