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Seven Lessons from a Long-Ago Layoff

Recover from LayoffSix years ago this month, I was laid off from a job — a great one with a great company — that I had held for six years.

Why remember something bad? Because of the good that came out of it in the months that followed. In these trying times of rising joblessness — and rising costs — you may well be wondering about the security of your own job and how you can survive without it. Maybe my experience can help you if you have been laid off or may be facing a layoff.

The summer of 2002 was certainly a time of higher than normal anxiety. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were fresh in our minds and the economy, already bruised before 9/11, became battered in the months afterward. My employer, a technical publication with a staff of about 200, had already conducted two rounds of layoffs. As the company continued to struggle and cut back on expenses, I suspected my number might come up in the next round.

So, I held off on major purchases, shortened the family vacation from a week to a long weekend, drafted a resume, and thought about things I could do if I found myself facing unemployment.

One idea I liked: Become a substitute teacher. I had always been intrigued by the thought of influencing young minds (I had already been doing a bit of that as a youth soccer coach). I figured that, along with freelance writing and editing, would help tide us over until I landed the next full-time opportunity.

The ax fell in late July. I was one of 10 let go in my department.

I spent the next six weeks fine-tuning my resume, establishing a job search strategy, networking, and spending more time with my two kids before they went back to school.

I applied as a substitute teacher in two school systems. I enjoyed the assignments, had fun with the kids, and reveled in helping them with their schoolwork. It was even a little fun to diss the kids who believe it's their duty to give the "sub" a hard time just so they can raise their social stature with their classmates.

That experience inspired me to connect with a college test-prep company, and I began teaching teenagers how to beat the SAT, which I continue to do today, with great joy. It has given me a second career, helped me hone my organizational and public speaking skills, and allowed me the privilege of teaching some great kids.

Being laid off is a bummer for most people, but my layoff taught me at least seven important lessons:

  1. Always have your resume updated and ready, even if you're happy in your work. You never know how quickly things could turn;
  2. Watch for signs that you might lose your job (previous rounds of layoffs, hiring or wage freezes, etc.), and if you see the writing on the wall, start planning NOW;
  3. Heed the advice you always hear about saving the equivalent of three to six months of expenses in the bank in case you need it for some unforeseen event. (Yes, a layoff qualifies as an unforeseen event);
  4. Examine your personal budget and target where you can start cutting expenses;
  5. Don't be afraid to try something outside your career "comfort zone" as you identify some secondary income-producing or skill-enhancing opportunities;
  6. If you do get laid off, don't forget to file for unemployment compensation; and
  7. Most importantly, never lose confidence in yourself.

Finding a new job could take awhile. For me, it took seven months. But it wasn't the disaster it could have been. By honestly assessing the situation beforehand and taking steps to prepare ahead of time, you can cushion the blow effectively when and if your time comes.

What lessons have you learned from being laid off? How did it change you? Please share your comments below.

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