How are you supposed to feel when you get laid off?

Note: I wrote this back in summer of 2022, a few days after I found out I was being laid off from my job of 11 years. I thought it was finally time to put some of my more personal work back out into the world. I’m hoping to write an update on how things played out after this, but I’m not sure when that will be.

Laid off.

How are you supposed to feel when you get laid off?

Shouldn’t I be more stressed out right now? As a journalist I spent the most of the last two decades petrified about the possibility of losing my job. I always imagined I’d panic.

But I’m not panicking. My breath is steady.

Well, steady with a touch of guilt because I feel like I *should* be upset. In 16 days I’ll no longer have a job. Shouldn’t that terrify me?

It doesn’t.

Is this denial? Or have I just endured so much personal trauma over the last year that my trauma response has shut down? Like someone hit mute on that part of my brain.

My friend died. My mom was hospitalized. My dad died. My grandma was hospitalized. My aunt died.

And then, after all that, I lost my job too.

It’s the first time in my life I’ve been let go. Yes, technically it’s a “lay-off” but HR kept calling it a “termination” when they went over the logistics of it all. And to be honest termination does seem to be a better fit.

My time in that jobs has been terminated. It is complete. Over. Done.

I could feel myself wanting to *want* to cry while I was the phone with the HR woman I’ve never met in real life thanks to remote work. But I didn’t. I just listened patiently as she explained how I should mail back my equipment. I took some quick notes about my 401k and the date my health insurance ends. I made a mental note to ask about some of my ongoing projects.

Then, I went to the vet.

I had already had an afternoon veterinarian appointment set up for my grandma’s cat. So as soon as I hung up with HR I switched mindsets completely and started to work on the one truly challenging task I had to do that day — getting a cat into a carrier. Which I did, successfully. With a little help from my fiancé.

I didn’t think about work (or my looming lack thereof) for the next 3 hours. When I got home though, I finally noticed how exhausted I was from all of it.

It’s a little weird to realize that for the first time in my professional life I don’t know what’s next. I started working as Walmart cashier in 1999 — two and half weeks after I turned 16 — and I never stopped. Not once in those 23 years have I ever been let go. Always the breaker-upper, never the breaker-up-ee.

I grew up poor enough that I am constantly worried the professional world will figure it out. That they’d finally realize something I’ve always assumed — I don’t belong among them.

Sure, I got myself a nice little bachelor’s degree as part of the ruse and then I followed that up with a quick master’s for some extra cover.

I learned fluent Corporate. Faked my way through work travel. Figured out which fork to use when at formal dinners. And it worked. I made it all the way up to my dream job.

Only to be defeated by the economy.

Now that I’ve lost (my job), will they finally see me for who I really am?

Will they notice all the childhood trauma? The years I spent in dirty clothes as a teen. The schizophrenic father. The way I struggle to smile when they tell me they are, “Mitt Romney Republicans.”

Am I destined to beg for a minimum wage job somewhere? Is that what happens when they see you for who you really are? They make you go back to being poor?

So many times over the last year I’ve heard the cliché.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

My friend died.

“I’m sorry for your loss.

My dad died.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

My aunt died.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Well, now I’ve lost my job too I guess. Which seems to officially make me a loser.

But can I tell you a secret? After all those real, deep losses? The job one feels numb.

I keep thinking about my garden. How much time I spend pruning my basil. How important it is to cut things back to force new growth. How you can’t get more cucumbers unless you cut off the cucumbers that are already on the vine.

While I’m pruning it often feels like I’m causing pain— cutting off pieces it worked so hard to grow. But I have learned through experience that, in the long run, it’s what’s best. In fact, it’s the only way to help it grow.

So, take heart — there’s no need for anyone to be sorry for this particular loss. Actually, don’t think of it as a loss at all. It’s just a pruning and eventually, some new growth.

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