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Benefit From Your Layoff

By Susan P. Joyce

Disasters can be good, in the long run (assuming you survive). I was reminded of this recently.

Because of a broken sprinkler head in the office next door, my office was flooded, and, after 12 weeks of everything-in-boxes, the new floor and carpeting were finally installed.

Compared with a layoff, being flooded out of your office is not a big deal.  But, if you are running a business, being unable to use your office for several weeks IS a very big deal!  But, recoverable.

From Disaster Recovery to a Better World

While we sat out in the hall, surrounded by boxes and office furniture - without the computers or Internet (EEK!) connected - we decided to reorganize the layout of the office.

By mid-afternoon, we were back (still in boxes), but with a wonderful new layout in the office! I’m now SO HAPPY that sprinkler head broke. If it hadn’t, we’d still have the old, inefficient layout (unchanged in 12 years).

From Layoff Recovery to a Better Career

In 1994, I was laid off by my employer, 12 years short of my mythical 25-years-with-the-company gold watch ceremony. It was a common occurrence around here as one of the area’s largest employers was in the process of disappearing.

What we didn't realize that it was going from number 2 in the computer industry and number 38 (or so) in the FORTUNE 500 at the time to out of business.  By 1999, that $13 billion dollar company was gone.  Eaten up by 2 smaller competitors.

A Tale of Three Recoveries

These are just three of the tens of thousands of stories from our layoff, and each of us went in a different direction.


One of the guys who was laid off at the same time I was (we’ll call him “Bud”) had really hated his job and despised his boss, for several years. I sympathized with him for a while, but after several months, I wondered why he stayed FOR YEARS in a job he hated. Complaining about his manager seemed to be his favorite thing to the point that I doubt he was doing his job very well.

Being laid off was the kick in the pants he needed. It booted him out of his uncomfortable “comfort zone” where he was so unhappy and barely successful. He changed career direction from high tech to non-profit, following his passion and making a bigger contribution to society. He’s also much more successful and happy than if he’d stayed in his old job. He had to find other things to talk about, but I bet he lives longer.


Betty was laid off after I was .  She was good at her job, but not excited by it.  It paid her bills, and wasn't terribly boring.  But she wasn't learning anything new, and she didn't see much future growth for her in the company.

After Betty was laid off, she struggled for a while, and then she connected with Ted (at the funeral of another co-worker!), who had been laid off when I was.  Ted was working for a young technology company that was growing and expanding, and he knew the high quality of Betty's work first hand.

So, Ted hired Betty, and she became a key contributor in this young company, eventually being promoted to a senior manager position and finally became an executive in the company.  She loved her job and had a great time working there until she retired recently.


I was no longer glad to work for a company that was down-sizing for a couple of years.  Fewer employees meant more work for those of us who "lucky" (?) to keep our jobs.  Not fun!

I was happy to leave, although I was definitely terrified when that first “pay day” came without a pay check to deposit.

Thousands of people lost their jobs during that summer of 1994 as the company attempted to “right size” back to competitiveness.

But the problem wasn’t the employees - I don’t think it usually is! The problem was management setting - and sticking to - the wrong course for the mid-90's business environment and/or not responding appropriately or quickly enough to competition in the marketplace.

Now, I have my own company, and I LOVE it! I’ve learned so much since that layoff – more than a PhD, I think!

Many people laid off with me, or at least from the same company, have thrived. The Internet was just launching into our culture in 1994, and many seized the opportunity it presented to move into great careers and greater success. Some, of course, did not.

Read my Don’t Be a Layoff Surviver article for my most important lesson from being laid off.

If you’re considering like starting your own business, as I did, or changing your career focus, read Nancy Collamer’s Lifestyle-Friendly Careers” column for good solid advice.

Bottom Line

It’s not you – you’re not “broken.” Your career just took an unexpected turn, and this will work out for you – perhaps, like Bud, Betty, and me, you’ll be much happier as a result. What is next for you could be a whole lot better that what you’ve left behind.

Don’t spend a lot of time having a personal pity party - get over it, and move on. If the anger comes out in interviews or your next job, get help dealing with it. Don’t let the anger or hurt feelings sabotage you. Often, joining a job search support group will be a big help: ideas, NETWORKING, even just the knowledge that you’re not alone and that very smart and capable people are also unemployed right now is strangely comforting.

Try to view the layoff as an opportunity to decide what job would really make you happy. Read the classic “What Color Is Your Parachute” book to help you understand yourself better.

Yes, being unemployed in a bad economy is scary. No question. On the other hand being employed isn’t a whole lot better right now, wondering if/when job loss will occur. Being employed does pay better. No question about that either.

So, live long and prosper, as Spock would say on Star Trek, in your NEXT job!

About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.

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