True Story: I got laid off 3 times in 5 years

Have you ever been laid off? I have. My bosses broke it to me in a cafe so I couldn’t “make a scene” and then locked me out of my computer. Three months later, they tried to hire me back as a freelancer. A HEARTY NO THANK YOU, BECKY.

Anyway, this interview isn’t about me and my former career as an event planner. This is about Jacqueline, how she was laid off three times in five years, what she learned, and how she coped. A great read for anyone with a job 😉

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Jacqueline Fisch and I’m a 35-year-old communications consultant, author, writer, and editor living just outside of Chicago. Toronto is my home and native land, but you won’t hear me say, “EH”. My New Yorker husband (we met in a Florida bar!) brought me to the US 12+ years ago.

Two kids, two countries, three states, and most of my sanity later, I’m a lover of simplicity and an aspiring minimalist. I mostly like to drink wine and eat chocolate but you’ll also find me getting lost in bookstores, antique shops, and painting – I might hold the record for the most paint+wine nights! You’ll also catch me hosting write nights – power to the written word!

What’s your area of professional expertise?

Communications strategy and change management consulting. I also write and edit eBooks websites, blog posts, and thought leadership for smart people.

How did you come to be laid off three times in five years?

Layoff 1 – 2009
I’d been with a Chicago management consulting firm that worked with the US Government for five years and had returned from maternity leave after having my son just a few months earlier. Right after president Obama took office in 2009, government budgets for contractors were cut. Most of my team was let go.

Layoff 2 – 2012
After the first lay off, we (hubby, baby, and I) moved to Canada to be closer to my family. I was working in Communications at BlackBerry for three years and had returned from another maternity leave after having my daughter. BlackBerry is a high-profile company so there’d be news trucks outside when layoffs were happening. One day, my time was up.

Layoff 3 – 2014
My husband had an opportunity at a start-up in Chicago and I had an opportunity back at the management consulting company that laid me off in 2009. They had won some big contracts so they hired my team back and we moved back to Chicago – I was thrilled! Until we lost a few big contracts and they let the team go—again.

Was it ‘easier’ to deal with after the first layoff?

Definitely. The first time it was a shock. I mean, we lost some big projects and we weren’t busy – which is bad news for a consulting firm. I had no idea what to expect when my Managing Director called me into his office and there was some dude from HR in there.

The first time, I returned to my desk stunned. I appreciated that they let me gather my things quietly and leave the building with dignity. I held my shit together until I got home and fell apart in crying, snotty mess. I felt like such a loser. I was angry that it happened “to me”— I wished I’d quit first.

When I was laid off from BlackBerry – it was in the press first, so we all knew we were on the chopping block. My gut told me that morning my number was up, so I was prepared with a backup phone and laptop in my car. I told my team, “If we get shit-canned today, meet me at Starbucks.” Sadly, a bunch of them met me there.

When a Director came to our desks, and called two of us to follow him, I knew it was happening. It was confirmed when we landed in a conference room with a bunch of envelopes on the table. My coworker with was crying, I was stone-faced while I asked how much severance pay I’d receive. As my manager was apologizing to me on the way out of the door, I apologized to him – I told him I couldn’t imagine being in his position today.

The third time, since I was back at the original consulting firm, and we found ourselves with less and less work, we all knew it was likely. I had been looking for another job, because who likes being bored at work? Nothing came through in time, though.

When I received a 2:10pm meeting invitation on a Tuesday (layoffs are always on a Monday or Tuesday) from a Managing Director I hardly interacted with and arrived in the conference room to see the somber faces, I actually laughed out loud. I told them to stop explaining, I know the drill, and asked, “how much is severance?”

On the way home I stopped at the grocery store, I bought an expensive bottle of wine, some good chocolate, and flowers. I actually skipped home – I felt free.

How did the people in your life react to this? 

My husband was supportive, and like many men – he went right into problem solver, “let’s fix this” mode. Emailing all his contacts, and finding immediate ways to save money. By the second and third time we kept two budgets – a “regular one”, and a “layoff one”.

At times, his way of “helping” was asking me how many jobs I applied to that day, and asking me the status of any job leads several times a day. It was like having another boss and was stressful for both of us. There were many fights that started with me telling him to back off. He listened, and stayed focused on his job (at least one of us needs to make money, right?) Since we had a son, then later a daughter – I always had a kid with me during the transition times. Being a mom is a full-time job; so is looking for another job.

Being laid off is really challenging both psychologically and financially. How did you cope?

Mostly, I cried a lot and fought with my husband. When I realized this was unproductive, I went into Get Shit Done Mode and contacted everyone I knew. I also tried to enjoy the unexpected extra time with my kids. I’ve always provided for myself, so the hardest part was relying on my husband financially. I missed adult interaction that didn’t revolve around mommy groups. I missed being a contributing member of society.

Financially, I’m not sure I could say we’ve ever totally recovered. Combined with the recession, and having to execute a short sale on a bad property purchase, we’re still paying for it today. I learned not to be embarrassed about applying for unemployment insurance – we pay into it after all, and you need to apply right away because it takes a while to kick in.

Have these layoffs affected your feelings about your professional field and career choice? 

Yes. I used to try to be good at everything. I’m more focused now on just a few things –writing and editing. I’m back in consulting – when things are going well in this industry, the money is good. I’m also doing freelance writing and editing – totally unrelated to my day job to make money. So if I find myself jobless again, I have enough momentum going on the side that I can quickly sweep in and shift my focus while keeping my bank account healthy.

Do you think it’s possible to make yourself ‘layoff-proof’?

No one is layoff-proof. You can be extremely valuable and well-liked, but it all comes down to a percentage on a spreadsheet. The old school thinking of getting a job and working there until you die is dead.

When people say their job provides them “stability”, I completely disagree. It provides you a routine and a paycheck – until it doesn’t. Companies like to say that you’re not just a number, but when it’s layoff time, you are just a number. Which is comforting, because it means it’s not personal.

You should always be ready for a layoff. Have a plan – including a budget that is pre and post-layoff. Outline what subscriptions and services you’ll cancel the moment the “trigger” is pulled. Keeping your resume and LinkedIn profile current is also essential.

What books/websites/tools/resources helped you navigate this situation?

Even though my self-help book selection is exploding, I didn’t use any specific tools. I was too busy finding another job, looking after the kids, or orchestrating a move – oddly enough all three of my layoffs were at a time when we moving or about to move. Maybe this was the universe helping me out in some weird way. I basically lived on LinkedIn (and Facebook.)

What have you learned from this that any of us could use in our daily lives?

When we use a job to define us, the blow hurts when you lose that job. If you’re not identifying yourself and basing your self-worth on your job, you won’t feel like a piece of you was lost when you lose your job.

Layoffs happen for a reason. It’s the universe’s way of offering you a better opportunity –and giving you a severance package while you figure it out is also pretty sweet.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Jacqueline! Have you guys ever been laid off? Any questions for Jacqueline?

P.S. 8 steps to (finally) get serious about your professional life

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

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  1. Anna

    I’ve been laid off 3 times in 8 years, it’s been awful. I always just assume I’m going to lose a job as soon as I get it.

  2. Rose

    Anna: I’ve had the same experience – 3 times in 8 years but I’ve been laid off a lot more than that because I’ve had a pretty long career. 9/11 was the first one, the housing crisis the second, the economic downturn at the end of Bush’s presidency, the next one…and on and on…


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