I’ve been talking to a lot of people since the layoffs last Wednesday, helping them (and myself) come to terms with the colleagues that are no longer here, all of the survivor’s guilt, uncertainty and fear that comes along with it. I’ve talked about some of those things in the previous two posts (this one and this one), but I want to talk about the fear and uncertainty today.
A lot of my friends are now really afraid there will be another layoff, to the point that it’s all they can think about. Because who loses their job in a layoff seems random and no one will ever give you a satisfactory answer of why anyone was let go, it feels impossible to make sense out of it.
I was talking through this earlier this week with someone and I think part of the answer is about losing our sense of control over our place in the world.
One of the causes of suffering in Buddhism is impermanence. I can’t remember where I read it, but my favorite way I’ve heard it stated is that suffering is caused by a misalignment in our perception of the world versus how the world really is.
Layoffs destroy the illusion that we have control over our work.
We think that once we have a job, that if we do that job well, it’s ours as long as we want it. In a layoff, there’s no way that illusion can survive, because who gets let go also doesn’t make sense.
For me, the solution to that is to stop pretending that I have control over things I can’t control.
I don’t get to choose the external conditions, the decisions of leadership or mistakes that lead to a layoff. I could lose my job at any moment. I have no control over any of that, and in order to be happy, I have to accept that I have no control over it.
What I can choose is:
- How I relate to work: work is just one part of my life, not all of my life. I need to do things that make me happy outside of work like maintaining my health, my relationships and my perspective.
- How I prepare for the possibility of being laid off: I call this the “blanket fort”. If I was laid off, how long could I go before I had to have another job? Do I have enough savings to alleviate most of that fear? If not, that’s where I would start.
- How I work day to day to get the most enjoyment out of my current situation: I mentioned this before, but I had to accept a long time ago that who I work with, what I work on, and how long I get to do both isn’t up to me; so, I choose to enjoy those things for as long as I can.
None of those things are easy, and they took me a long time to come to terms with and work towards. But, they make handling the inevitable disappointments of my work life easier to handle, and the feelings around them manageable.
Layoffs are a sudden and one-sided renegotiation of your working conditions. You don’t have to accept those new conditions. You can also renegotiate how you work, how much work you do, and your relationship with your work – up to and including deciding that you’d like to work somewhere else.
Nothing that happens during a layoff and the resulting chaos of reorgs and uncertainty about our position in an organization is easy. It’s all extremely stressful. The best we can do is try to ride that part out and get back to some sense of equilibrium. Lean on your friends and family for support. Talk to people. Don’t keep all of it inside, because other people have been there and can help. Being afraid, uncertain or angry… all of that is natural and you’re not the only one feeling it.