The hidden scars of a job loss affect people years after the event

By Scot Herrick | Cube Rules Commentary

Aug 14

Sometimes, the best thing is to get laid off. It, of course, is tumultuous, chaos, stressful, and oftentimes, maddening. In the long run, however, a layoff can help you define yourself, what you want to do and who you want to work for. But, as John Maynard Keynes noted: “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

In the long run, even in the best outcomes, we all know that the impact of job loss lasts for a long time. And as Jason notes in the link, a lot of going through the process really sucks.

If you check out my About page, you’ll see the journey that happened to me in my career:

  • Leaving an 18-year career with what is now the “new” AT&T and going with a tech company at the peak of the tech boom leaving me vulnerable to a layoff
  • Then the layoff…and then 9/11 causing the whole layoff to go on even longer
  • Then a decent run with Washington Mutual until it collapsed — the biggest bank failure in American history
  • Then moving back to my home state and consulting because the Great Recession was still going strong
  • Finally landing a full-time gig and six months later, having the company being bought out
  • Then leaving there because the writing was on the wall and landing my current gig

There are times when I think about what would have happened if I hadn’t jumped ship from the “new” AT&T. I would have needed to have landed somewhere else in the company as my position there was all at risk. And all the other “what if’s” are interesting…but worthless thinking. What might have happened is all counter factual. You could make up anything and never prove it right or wrong.

To a degree, I’m still going through that sucking process to get healed. Fully healed. Like getting ALL of my self-confidence back. Like not sometimes feeling fraudy because I haven’t been in a company long enough. Like wondering if I’ll ever be able to not concern myself with watching what is going on in any company I work for so as to not get caught in the wrong place in the wrong time and lose my job through no fault of my own.

Yeah. Those things. The ones where the impact of job loss lasts for a long time.

All those events taught me a whole lot, though. Outside of the job skills themselves — no small thing — what I learned the most was how much of corporate life is not about the most important “people” asset, but how companies use our job skills to meet their business goals. Which, by the way, I don’t disagree with. But companies are typically not about YOU and your job skills; just your job skills that can help meet business goals.

What I learned was how to build my job skills so I could have employment security, not job security. I learned how to figure out how long a job will last. I learned how performance reviews are sometimes about performance, but mostly about fitting your review into a budget (yeah, I’m really cynical in case you can’t tell). And through all of those times, I learned how to be resilient in the face of ambiguity, hardship, and, sometimes, chaos.

So when I look back, would I trade anything? I don’t think so.

But I still wonder if I should have traded something. And if it would have been worth it.

What have you learned from your career ups and downs?