Out of the blue, I received a meeting invitation from my company’s human resources business partner. In this brief 15-minute call, I heard a bunch of legal corporate verbiage. It concluded with being laid off from where I had worked for the past 10 months. The uncertainty going on in the world with Covid-19 caused me to be on edge for weeks losing sleep leading up to this call. Nevertheless, I would have never been ready to hear this news.
The routine of my day was pulled out from under me like a rug on a slippery floor– along with project plans I created and teams I collaborated with. I never felt comfortable in my employment because I feared complacency. I was always seeking out more opportunities for teams to collaborate with or skills to gain. I wanted to be indispensable. I was questioning my self worth on the work I had accomplished. I didn’t know if my termination was a consequence of my performance or why I was chosen the chose one.
I never knew I could cry as much as I did. I realized that I was sad because I cared. There’s nothing wrong with that. We should care about the work we do. This emotion is normal with loss of any kind.
Over the following days, I got flooded with supportive messages from colleagues. I appreciated the text messages, phone calls, and emails: it affirmed my beliefs that I did create value for the company. Questions arose as I started thinking about the uncertainty of my future. What helped me with the close of this chapter is looking at the highs and lows of my experience and how they can carry me forward.
Reflecting on my time on the job
I am grateful for prioritizing people. I found meaning and guidance through them.
My journey started last July as an advisory analyst with 44 other recent college graduates in Addison, Texas. For the StartUp program, we took a van to the office every morning together for six weeks and lived out of a Hyatt House. Through learning about the history of the firm, meeting different business leaders, and presenting on-the-job training projects together, we formed a community of support. After the onboarding, we all were placed in different offices. I was relocated to Chicago, Illinois. Weeks before my layoff, I had flown to Atlanta, Georgia for a reunion with my closest trainees. I missed them dearly, and appreciate them in my corner for support.
There were different offices across the world that I took advantage of by flying out to Washington DC, San Francisco, and New York City. I got to intersect my love of travel with meeting colleagues in person. I intentionally built stronger bonds to know who they were instead of just what they did. When I went to San Francisco, it was because I wanted to meet my team leader and her team. I had never been to California for longer than a layover. I made this mistake before at internships with mentors or bosses that I never clicked with. This time around, through learning about different diversity and inclusion tools, I learned how to connect more deeply with my colleagues. I didn’t want to just tolerate my teammates. By understanding the differences of my cross-functional teams, I could accept and appreciate their individual characteristics and preferred working style. This could be as simple as knowing their preferred way of being contacted by phone, Skype, or email. Through striving to connect with the members, our partnerships were successful.
With recurring video calls and endlessly seeking out mentorship and asking questions of peers and superiors, I figured out how to make rewarding virtual relationships. Through these relationships, it carved out my development. I had feedback loops from asking for feedback. They helped to challenge my thinking. I found potential within myself that I never knew existed before these relationships. I started to understand what it took to corral teams to drive projects forward. Because of that, I got a greater return on investment in my time feeling engaged while at work. Investing in people helped me to gain a sense of appreciation for my work and its impact. People cared that I was no longer with the firm.
Due to how much I cared about my job, I was filled with naivete about my security. I thought I was safe in a large 8,000+ firm, but I was wrong. Job security is a myth even for the 20 percent of tenured college professors. It will never be a mutual feeling between you and a corporation. Helen Keller explains this:
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
In hindsight, I wish I had looked at my job more as a daring adventure. I feel like I didn’t accomplish enough. I still had feelings of regret. Before Covid-19, I was planning to fly to the office in Amsterdam. I was going to connect with colleagues, learn their different lines of business, and share case studies of past US client projects. I was also going to internally present a workshop as a lunch and learn event. A mentor of mine had suggested this as an opportunity to start to become enabled in facilitating workshops for clients. I waited until this trip but I could have sought out an alternate opportunity. Nobody was going to advocate a path for me to get experience in where I wanted to unless I spoke up.
Prior to joining this firm, I had been part of a toastmaster’s club that met twice a month to public speak. During this period, I realized I had miles to go in becoming an effective public speaker. While on the job, I had watched several consultants facilitate workshops, and I wanted to see if this was something I could do. Being junior in the firm, it was hard to muster up the courage to start a public speaking charter myself. There is sincere buy-in necessary that I never found.
As this chapter closes, it has given me clarity on my motivations and what I value. I love being surrounded by people I can learn from, who are relentlessly seeking growth. They help me to ask better questions. They collaborate on challenges while bringing out the best in the team. As Simon Sinek says, “Always plan for the fact that no plan goes according to plan.” Being laid off was not my choice. Due to this experience, I am much closer to understanding what makes me tick and what I enjoy doing.