How It Feels To Be Laid Off At 23
Almost 9 months later, I’m finally ready to write about my experience.
The world is an unpredictable place. Try as we might, we cannot control the environments around us — the weather, world politics, the subway — they’ll keep doing their thing no matter what we do. But there are other environments in which we like to be in control — our relationships, our daily lives, and most importantly, our careers. We’re surrounded by the message that we should be empowered to build our career around us — to seek the jobs we want, ask for the pay we deserve, and spend every day doing something we love. But what happens when that control is taken away from us? Human nature tell us to panic.
I accepted my ‘dream job’ right out of college. Armed with only a suitcase and my ambition, I boarded a flight from Chicago to NYC with visions of a brilliant first job experience that lay ahead of me. I was right — my role at a startup was everything I could’ve asked for and more. I was challenged, learning more and more every day, and surrounded by coworkers whom I loved and admired. I saw a future there. Unfortunately, life took control and most of our NYC office was laid off for funding purposes (it happens in the startup world—no hard feelings involved).
All at once, I was shocked, worried, and angry, but most of of all, I was devastated. How can something we don’t plan for happen so suddenly? Our careers are supposed to be something we have control over, so losing that all in a day wasn’t something I could wrap my mind around. Scariest for me was the realization that what I felt had been such a solid, impressive experience was just a blip in the greater working world. It was my very first job, an entry-level role that I had been in for just 7 months. Looking for a new job would feel like starting over, but this time competing with new grads who didn’t have their expectations as high as I did.
Being laid off feels bad. It feels scary and uncertain, sudden and unfair. But the predominant feeling that emerged over the following days wasn’t worry about my next role (that existed, to be sure) or anger over my situation (I loved and still love the organization with my whole heart). It was embarrassment. Sure, being laid off was out of my control. But it felt horrifying to be the first in my world to go through such an experience. Everyone I knew was brand new in their roles, fresh out of school and still excited about their days. The conversations at every gathering still revolved around our new jobs, what we liked or disliked about them, and mostly how exciting it was to be a genuine part of the real world.
I shut it all out. I told very few people about what had happened, and jumped into a secret job search with everything in me. In interviews, I was honest about what had happened, but I couldn’t stop the rush of blood that came to my cheeks as I detailed my short post-grad career experience. I hid the unemployment paperwork stubs from my roommate, concerned that he’d worry about my rent payments coming in on time. I avoided emailing my family members, hoping to have a solution before I even had to admit to the problem.
Looking back, I realize that was the problem. 6 million Americans were involuntary part-time workers due to economic reasons. That doesn’t even include complete layoffs, which numbered 75,114 in January 2016 alone. It didn’t matter that this was my first role out of school. Being laid off hurts — but if you look at it like an opportunity, it starts to feel a lot less scary. As much as any of us hate to admit it, the chance to find something new and different is exciting, even if we’re not ready for it. As I began to look for new roles, I found myself energized by the wealth of opportunities out there. And when they asked why I was looking for a new role during interviews, I told the truth. Every single person I met was empathetic — the world we live and work in isn’t as stable as we all pretend it is.
Being 23 and getting laid off from my first role wasn’t something I’d ever have imagined. But the experience has been uniquely important as I learn, grow, and define who I am as a working woman. If it happens to you, take a deep breath and let your mind run through all the possibilities that are now ahead of you. Remember — the world is an unpredictable place.