Coffee heat rising

Layoff: The emotional journey

Over at A Gai Shan Life, Revanche (one of our favorite readers & writers) reports that the predicted layoffs have struck her company and she also is about to join the ranks of the unemployed. We should have quite the campsite, all of us laid-off bloggers dwelling together under the Seventh Avenue Overpass. I propose we call it W-ville. Oh! Sorry. Politics again! 😉

At her site and in a comment to a post below, Revanche describes experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions in response to the anticipation and finally the confirmation of the layoff. Several other bloggers have described wild swings from elation (free at last!) to panic (uh-oh!) to depression (OMG!). Fortunately, she’s managed her money well and has enough to tide her over until 2010, by which time she undoubtedly will have found another job. The panic and depression phases have got to be a lot worse for those of us who haven’t had enough time to shovel out of debt and accrue an emergency fund. But prepared or not, apparently that series of reactions is normal for everyone.

As I remarked some time back, we wouldn’t call it “work” if working were expected to be fun. The vast majority of employees work hard and don’t extract a great deal of personal satisfaction or joy from having to earn a living. But what might be a more or less neutral attitude—i.e., that’s just life—has for many of us turned pretty negative as morale at stressed workplaces heads for the city sewer. Low morale, pinched budgets, and fear make for a toxic environment that anyone in her right mind would be happy to escape. So it makes sense that your first reaction to a pink slip is hallelujah, brother!

The next thought that enters your mind is what on earth am I gonna do? The realization that you’re still going to have to pay your bills and eat, paycheck or no paycheck, is one scary critter. If you’d like to spook yourself a little more, take a look at this interactive feature at Slate.com, an item that will take your breath away. There’s a reason we’re all blogging away at three in the morning: we can’t sleep for worrying. And it’s a good reason.

Then sooner than later, depression sets in. It doesn’t take long to realize that the few employers who have job openings are so swamped with applicants they don’t even bother to respond to your carefully crafted résumé and cover letter. If you’re the kind of person who defines your self-worth according to your job, you feel as though you’re suddenly not worth much. Even if you recognize the important difference between you and what you do, you can’t help but feel that you’ve lost control over your circumstances.

I think there are only three ways to deal with this: plan, plan, and plan.

Plan for your mental health. Lay out some easy-to-follow strategies to keep yourself from going nuts. Most of these are obvious and most are inexpensive: get regular exercise, cultivate friendships, join groups or get more active in the groups you already belong to. Eat well. Stay off the sauce and refrain from using recreational drugs. And especially get yourself out of the house, so you don’t sit around and mope. If you can afford a trip or even just two weeks of informal vacation time at home, give yourself a break during the first days after the layoff.

Plan for the short term. If you have some advance warning—or even if you suspect the ax will fall but don’t know it for sure—build that emergency fund, stock up on food and other necessities. Think through ahead of time how to apply for unemployment, where you will look for work, and what you’ll do until you land a new job. Consider how you might build any current side income streams into bigger or more reliable sources of money. Update your résumé and draft a basic cover letter that you can customize for each job application. And build a list of sites where you can start applying. Don’t forget government agencies, BTW—check out USA Jobs, whose search engine kindly suggests new terms after you’ve entered the keywords that come to mind. If anyone’s hiring, it’ll be the feds.

Plan for the long term. Contact your creditors and try to negotiate short- or long-term ways to ease your loan obligations. Think through whether you can afford to take work at lower pay than the job you just left, and if so, how much lower. Consider whether any alternative kinds of employment would suffice; can you do something altogether different to make a living? Find out whether you can borrow against your 401(k), and if so, how much. Decide how long you can stay in your current circumstances before you have to make a major change, such as renting out a room or subletting your apartment, moving back in with your parents, selling a vehicle, or even defaulting on loan obligations. Think about whether you can relocate, and if so, where. And consider the possibility of going back to school: even though you’ll be racking up student loan debt or borrowing from relatives, at least student loans will keep a roof over your head, you can get health insurance through a college or university, and you’ll be doing something constructive by building new job qualifications.

Some of these are scary prospects. None of us wants to have to think about them. But facing them down and preparing for them does help to rebuild a sense of having some control over your life. I think that feeling of being out of control is the worst contributor to fear and depression. Making some plans, even if they have to be finessed or if they never need to be put into action, goes a long way toward smoothing out the emotional peaks and valleys of the layoff roller-coaster.

Shaking off the blues

Of late, I’ve been sliding into the Slough of Despond.

It’s all freaking depressing, what with the dog ailing, hundreds of dollars in vet bills piling up, plagiarizing students (and more recently, a plagiarizing client), barely literate university seniors, the economy, the mess in Iraq, the horror in Burma, the meanness of the Democratic presidential campaign when we so desperately need leaders of good will, the neighbors having fits about a few enterprising burglars, and the general loneliness of onliness.

Time to shake that off!

Here’s the plan: come up with several things I would like and do them. These things have to

  • be within reason;
  • be possible to do in a fairly short time; and
  • create a change, no matter how small, in the routine or the scenery.

So. Here are some things that would brighten my days:

I would like to keep my house cleaner!

  • Start with a real spring housecleaning:
  • Oil the kitchen & bathroom cabinets.
  • Clean & condition the leather furniture.
  • Scrub the dog nests off the walls.
  • Wash the windows.
  • Clean the dust off everything.

I would like my nails to quit splitting.

  • Go to a salon and get a silk wrap or have product applied.

I would like the front yard to look less cluttered.

  • Put Gerardo up to digging out some of the extraneous plants.
  • While he’s at it, persuade him to clip off the frost-killed bougainvillea branches I can’t reach.

I would like to keep my car cleaner—gratis.

  • Use early Sunday a.m. to wash car.
  • Use shop-vac to wet-vacuum areas where coffee has spilled.

I would like to establish a second income stream that will bring in $12,000 to $18,000 a year by the time I retire.

  • Go in with T.M.; frame the proposed business plan.
  • Attend ABPA meetings; schmooze.
  • Figure out how to increase blog traffic; monetize Funny about Money.

Really, there’s nothing we can do about the larger issues around us. We can’t change the damage an incompetent and craven leadership has done to the economy and to our country’s place in the world; we can’t talk sense into any of the candidates who hope to take over that leadership; we can do little or nothing to help the Burmese or make up for the failures of our educational system or get us out of Iraq; we can’t even stop burglars from burgling. Whatever changes make life more tolerable happen on the individual level. Voltaire was right:

Il faut cultiver notre jardin.