I lost my job with IBM in September 2013. It was not personal. IBM needed to “realign their resources (people) to be more effective.”
That’s corporate-speak for pushing people out the door because the company doesn’t want them or can’t afford them any more.
How did I feel when I heard that I was losing my job?
Shocked. I didn’t see that one coming.
Several years of layoffs had taught me that IBM might layoff anyone, regardless of their abilities, if they were the wrong place at the wrong time. But even knowing that I really didn’t forsee it happening to ME.
And, I didn’t forsee how the layoff would make me feel. How I couldn’t escape the message that:
We needed to lose someone and we chose to lose YOU.
Every year in corporate America thousands of us are getting voted off the island. And no matter what the selection process, it does not feel good.
Now a logical voice in my head said, “hey, you can take the severance pay and consider starting a new business. Be happy.”
And some of the time I was happy. I was going to be free, starting anew. But I found sadness creeping in. And then I realized I was feeling bad about feeling bad.
Why wasn’t I happier, what was wrong with me?
I planned to create websites and Facebook fan pages for entrepreneurs and small business owners. I also am an author and publisher and I hoped to do more to promote what I’d already written. But somehow this new life wasn’t happening for me either. I bid on website jobs on Elance and Freelancer.com only to discover that of the 10 jobs I bid on, only 3 of them were awarded at all and none to me.
I also canvassed for work in person. Most local businesses had websites already. Those who didn’t had often decided a website would not help their business much. Of the few customers I found, many were brand-new businesses, still busy getting daily operations going. They cancelled meetings with me for higher priority tasks.
A conversation with a friend helped me realize that in just a few short months I had lost three roles. The first was that my youngest son had graduated from college and moved far from home within a month of my layoff. A child we had hoped to adopt from Russia would not be joining our family because of Russia’s new ban on adoptions by Americans. So the parenting part of my life disappeared.
The second role I’d lost was that of a breadwinner. And I’d lost the role of contributing at work. While I don’t consider myself especially career-oriented, I liked having co-workers want me to work on their projects. And with these roles gone, a profound sadness crept in. My friend suggested I think about reinventing myself. It sounded great but I didn’t have much to fill the voids in my life. I was adrift and beginning to panic about my lack of income.
So I posted my resume and profile on LinkedIn, Monster and Dice.com. The phone rang. A lot. Many of the jobs were NOT a good fit, either impossibly long commutes, not a good match for my skills, or lower pay than what I was making. But the level of interest was flattering and some of these jobs had potential. I had a couple interviews with no offer. Then a few weeks of zero interest. Then three requests for interviews within one week.
On a Monday in December, the recruiter for the position with Goldfinger (not the actual company name) called me and said they were offering me a job. I explained that in fairness I wanted to contact the company I had interviewed with on Friday and one other who I had been talking to about a job. The recruiter was eager for an answer, very pushy about it. Annoyingly pushy about it. But that was the recruiter, not the people I’d be working with.
I called the recruiting people for the other positions. It became clear that they weren’t going to have an answer for me for several days more. One company had another candidate they wanted to meet with. The other was even earlier in the process. I thought about it overnight and felt that a bird in the hand was something to seize upon.
So Tuesday December something I accepted the job. I signed a job offer that said I would start “on or about January 6th”. The next day the recruiter called me and said Goldfinger wanted me to start on January 10th. We both thought that was odd, since the 10th was a Friday, but… who knows, maybe they had paperwork they wanted to get done?
Then a call the next day in which the recruiter said that January 10th was the day I would be GIVEN a start date. Say what? I wasn’t thrilled with this date for a date, but who cared, really. I HAD A JOB!!! In fact I had a great job. HAPPY DANCE TIME!!! Time to buy some Christmas presents without worrying about how to pay them.
Fast forward to January 10th. The recruiter said that they had not been given a start date and they hoped to know something more on Monday. What?
“Any idea what the problem is? Are you sure the job is still happening?”
They assure me the job is still happening, but they don’t know what is causing the delay.
I try to not freak out. Try to assume I’ll get an answer on Monday. Only on Monday I am told they won’t provide the start date until January 17th. I leave town to visit family hoping to partially distract myself. I return home on January 16th.
January 17th. I get the call. Goldfinger has postponed the project indefinitely. They are very sorry. The recruiter says that they are extremely disappointed, that they have never had Goldfinger do this before. They will try to find me a position at another company. They tell me that the people at Goldfinger wanted to pass on that they were sorry.
“Yeah?” I say, “sorry doesn’t pay my mortgage.”
I hang up. Crap. When I can funcion at al,l I check and discover the other positions that I took myself out of consideration for, have been filled.
I have no job and no active prospects since I have told anyone who contacted me for the last 3 weeks that I had a job. I sit and cry and look at the credit card bill that includes those Christmas gifts that I wouldn’t have bought if I had known.
I think about how this sucks and wonder, why me?
And then the advice comes, from people who love me.
Don’t feel bad.
Really? This is like telling someone to not feel pain.
Everything happens for a reason.
So me suffering is part of God’s plan, huh? Why don’t I feel better.
Well you wouldn’t want to work for a company that would do something like this to you.
Really? Cause it feels like I did want to work for them.
Maybe you’ll get something even better.
Maybe, maybe not.
Don’t feel bad.
I update my online resume status back to “Available and Actively Looking” and try to not compare how slowly my phone is ringing now versus two months earlier.
Eventually I get a call from a new recruiter who has a position with company FF (not their real name).
I ask the recruiter to describe what they are looking for. He runs through a list of skills that match mine. I ask if there is any indication of pay and he says a number that I’m very happy with. My voice is threatening to rise two octaves with excitement, but I calmly tell him that I’ll email my resume.
The hiring manager likes my resume and I get a phone interview the following week. The hiring manager is enthusiastic, but says they just began the interviewing process and a decision won’t be made for another 1 – 2 weeks.
Over two weeks drag by and I am losing hope. All hope. And then the offer comes from FF. Woo hoo… I accept. The recruiter says that paperwork and background clearance checks take a while, so they want to set March 10th as the start date. He said if the paperwork processes quickly, maybe we’ll be able to move my start date to March 3rd. Again, I do the happy dance. I have a start date this time!
Again there is a pile of paperwork. Medical insurance options. 401K plan enrollment. Authorization of background checks. List of addresses where I’ve lived. Proof of college graduation. Complete work history with addresses. Another drug test. Proof of citizenship. In order to be sure it’s all complete before my first day, I opt to drive up to present my passport in person. I thank the recruiter for having contacted me. He’s happy too because his weekly pay will rise slightly once I start.
On Thursday March 6th, two business days before I’m supposed to start, I call the recruiter to say that I haven’t heard any specific instructions, such as show up at this time at this building on Monday and ask for this person. They said they will check and call me back.
They call back on Friday and say they are still waiting for final notification and that they guess that FF is choosing to delay the start by one week. But they will know better on Monday. They said it is very common for start dates to get pushed off by a week.
Monday comes and we know nothing more, Tuesday, Wednesday. The recuiter says that his contact at FF said the final paperwork is still being processed, but they expect it soon. On Thursday I call and email the hiring manager to politely inquire about the start date for the job. No reply.
On Friday I email the HR person at the recruiters’ office and ask her if there is anyway some of my paperwork wasn’t received. I explain about having had the job offer cancelled in January and how I’m concerned about the same thing happening. She replies that she has never seen FF make a job offer and then not have the person start.
I latch onto this encouraging fact and ride it into a pleasant weekend. The following week, the silence continues. I call the recruiter on Tuesday. Should I start looking again?
On Wednesday the recruiter calls me and says, FF has told him that the funding for this position has not received final approval and that I “should not continue to hold for this job.”
“So, they offered me a job that wasn’t approved?” I ask.
“I know,” he says, “it’s incredibly unprofessional. I’ve worked here and dealt with them for four years and I’ve never seen this. I wish I had some other news.”
When I get off the phone, I call the hiring manager. I leave a voicemail message about being told I should resume looking for another job, but I didn’t want to do so without having spoken with her.
She calls me back. “Yes,” she says. “We are still waiting for funding for the position. I hope that we will get it. But I don’t know when that might be.”
I am stunned and trying to weigh how much to be diplomatic because, after all, maybe this job will happen versus being blunt and saying what is really on my mind. I take the middle ground.
“So, the funding was never in place for this job? Is that right? So I’m not quite sure why I ever received a job offer.”
“We were…. we are.. we are still hoping that it will be funded. But we don’t know when. So it’s probably best if you continue to look.”
She appears clueless of how much damage her casual job offer and mishandling of this has cost me, financially or emotionally. I get off the phone and it hits me. She didn’t even say she was sorry.
And thus begins my spiral into darkness.
Again, those who love me, try encouraging words.
It wasn’t your fault.
I know it wasn’t my fault. That is what upsets me. It’s like the biggest, “Hey, Anne, you have no control over your life” of all time. Having no control over my life is a really, really sucky feeling.
At least you know people want to hire you. A lot of people can’t even get an interview.
And this thought should make me feel better, how?
I try, myself, to talk my way through it. It’s not cancer, right? Yes, it was really, amazingly, freakishly, crappy luck. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But… is it like being in the World Trade Tower on September 11, 2001 – wrong place? Is it like being at the wrong spot of the Boston Marathon in April 2013 when the bomb went off? No… I need to keep it in perspective.
But I’ve got several problems with getting a grip on myself.
First, I know of no one who has been through this. I can’t go to the bookstore and pick up a book titled, “Surviving a Cancelled Job Offer”. I don’t know of any support group. I feel utterly alone.
Secondly, because it isn’t cancer, isn’t the death of a loved one, I and most other people are expecting me to continue on. I’m not going to get a Sympathy Card in the mail that says, “My condolences on the loss of your job offer.”
Finally, I still need a job. But every activity related to looking for a job just brings back all of the memories and bad feelings.
I am in a dark, dark place.
On an average day I would lie in bed at least once, wishing for it ALL to go away.
I was not seriously suicidal. I never contemplated method. But I did feel the desire both to escape the pain and maybe a small part of me, a part of the voice of darkness wanted to make a statement.
I wanted people to realize how personally devastating corporate carelessness can
be. If I ended it all, my family would clearly see the precise events that had brought me to this emotional state, right? But there was a small chance they would miss me. Some
chance they would blame themselves. A chance I could not take. Besides there was
a chance that things would get better a small chance that things might even be great in my life in the future. I shouldn’t close the door on that. And so when I just wanted to checkout of life, I simply took a nap.
I survived this time by reaching out to many friends and family members to tell them how low I felt. They reached back. Not all of them knew what to say. Many didn’t understand why I was where I was. Some simply offered to listen as much as I needed to talk. While I often heard,
“I wish I knew what to say.”
“I wish there was something I could do.”
Collectively, they did know what to say. They did do enough. They got me through.
I had to have some sense that this wasn’t all just going to happen all over again. One friend observed that for both job offers that I received, I had only interviewed on the phone. “I wonder,” he said, “if seeing someone face-to-face wouldn’t have caused a greater feeling of responsibility.”
I began to dabble in looking for a job. I could only handle investigating one job or maybe two at a time and not every day.
Eventually the interviews began again. I shifted my focus away from shorter-term projects and contract programming to permanent positions. I figured it would decrease the chance of the hiring process being treated so casually. Besides, I was in no mood to HAVE to find a job again anytime soon.
Eventually I managed to land my third and actually my fourth job offer (two offers within 24 hours) of the past six months. I accepted the job and this time, I actually got a job. I actually received a paycheck and I currently am employed.
I found unemployment overwhelmingly awful. Devastating.
Unemployment smacks you over the head with the message that you are at the mercy of things outside your control. And then there you are reeling from that message, reeling from a loss of self-esteem, under financial stress and…. meanwhile you don’t have the built-in community which every workplace brings.
No matter how dsyfunctional or hostile a workplace is, it provides a sense of belonging. People notice if you arrive on time, if you got your haircut, if you got the job done or not. There is a sense of a shared purpose and connection. Work in an office for a year and odds are there will be times of shared grief, celebration and lots of idea swapping. You are not alone, even if occasionally you wish you were.
When you “lose” a job and you are “looking for” another (notice how the terms imply responsibility) you don’t have any collaboration and sharing built into your day. So my advice for surviving and overcoming the adversity of job loss, is to increase the other connections in your life. Increase your involvement in community or church groups. Reach out to people whose shoulders you can cry on and people who know how to make you smile. People whose face perhaps you can bring a smile to, also.
But, above all, if you are unemployed, give yourself permission to feel bad. Unemployment is no joke.
A version of this story appears in:
Getting Through the Muck, Personal Stories of Overcoming Hard Times