Finding the Opportunity In A Layoff

As many of you know, I am not a full-time writer. In fact, I am struggling with a bit of imposter syndrome in terms of whether I consider myself a writer at all. I am an advisor, coach, and technical expert. I’ve continued to consult with local, state, federal, and global organizations on performance and change, equity and population health over the last ten years. In that time, however, I have come to understand the instability of working for others (as a consultant, in particular). Working for a major consulting firm means that there is a consistent flow of clientele, and there’s some security in that. As a consultant—whether a leader or entry-level associate—your job was to do great-enough work that you keep the clients you’ve been given to manage. There’s infrastructure in place to keep that flow of opportunity coming. When I transitioned to a leadership role in a smaller organization, however, I became the infrastructure, so the nature of my relationships and the need for new relationships changed.

I joined the company when it was just four-bodies large. When we purchased a second company and merged, the change resulted in mass layoffs, closed offices, and restructuring. Almost two years and another round of mass-layoffs later, as the company struggled to come to grips with its operational reality, the third round of mass layoffs ensued and I was caught in the tailwinds. As with any job loss, there is a shock period (read: freak-out), then a mourning period, which is followed by diligent action. It’s clear that I hadn’t quite planned on leaving the workforce yet. I’ll miss the full-time cash flow, but as a married person with no children, and as the CFO of a couple who’d reached FI, my assessment of the situation was a little different. I had peace in the layoff and found opportunity in reclaiming my time.

There was a peace that came with having a handle on my finances. I knew how much money I needed to comfortably get by each month and that immediately and directly translated to an idea of what I needed for take-home pay (and salary).

I had a healthy emergency fund. I made sure to set aside at least 9 months of living costs in a liquid, accessible fund, and further saved/invested aggressively in semi-liquid modalities. This means I didn’t need to depend on my mattress money and had a solid runway before needing to touch that cash.

I diversified my household income. Having a spouse helps, but what happens when your spouse is an independent contractor? With both of us in the same industry, this meant that both contributors to the household were subject to the same professional instability. To adjust for this, we saved more in the emergency fund and ensured that we had other skillsets and sources of income. I set up a passion project that had the potential to generate money. So because I had the runway to address my financial goals, the layoff then gave me back my time and the freedom to focus on that soul-filling project. This might result in trickles of dollars when I don’t need them, or it might turn full show when I do.

I set financial goals and set out to meet them. I knew our target FI number– the number that would make me feel great about refocusing my professional journey, and how long it would take us to get there. While I’d previously calculated where we technically hit FI (including my home in my net worth), I didn’t hold on to that number, and instead added the cushion to only count liquid assets, and set out for that figure instead. What this did was set greater importance on (and higher aggression for) saving in the meantime. Now that I’m at the point to figure it all out, setting that higher goal means that if I fell, I’d still be okay, and all of my logically unsupported fears are put to rest. 

It gave me time to address academic goals (ie, finish my Ph.D.). I’ve talked a little bit about the opportunity cost of doctoral education. This layoff allowed me space to solidify and get intentional about my choice. I get to prioritize my writing in a way I was unable to do with consistent, full-time engagement. This means that I was also able to focus on my academic timeline and sure up my commitment to not only meeting my goals but to concluding my journey in advance of them.

It gave me time to be creative. I was able to dig into my passion project and to take my chance at my dream gig—the ability to serve organizations that also align with my personal mission, my community, and my causes, on my own terms.  

It gave me time to take control of my career. I was able to take the time to re-address my professional and personal strategic plans. I took a beat to redefine what success meant, what my target endpoint was (what position I wanted, what financial milestones would look like, how I valued my own time). I was able to figure out a way to stop depending on others for the food on my table. That is, I was no longer subject to the whims, moods, and swings of others’ decisions. Instead, I could plan for myself. That shift is both freeing and beautiful.

It provided a reason to reconnect with my village. I was able to take the time to soak in the blessings from all the people who’ve poured into me. I took the time to reconnect with and bounce ideas off of mentors I’ve garnered throughout my journey, and to build connections with new people. That leads me to my next thought.

It forced me to take a hard look (and a serious minute) for self-care. I’m one of those people that will work myself to death (literally), mostly because of an internal need to create security. Life experience, though, has shown me that hustling on someone else’s payroll is

The layoff provided me the push I needed to lean into my growth edges. I’m a die-hard introvert. I do best in a quiet room with mountains of books, a blanket and a cup of tea, where I don’t have to interact with others. I also do well when I’m immersed in travel, where I can explore without the feeling of obligation to speak extensively with others or explain myself. The layoff forced me out of my house, and to exercise my talking bone. It forces me to get out of the house and build relationships with new people, to tell people what I’m working on and interested in, and to otherwise connect the dots in order to meet my own goals.

So, in short, while this destabilizing event was offputting, taking the time to evaluate the opportunity at its core completely shifted my understanding of it, and my response. In reality, my greater goal has always been to be an entrepreneur. Taking this leap now allows me to refocus on balls I’ve already set to the air: I get to complete my Ph.D.; I get to work on starting my business through part-time, soul-filling work I’d already lined up; and I get to refocus my energy into a direction that’s both meaningful and fulfilling for me.  While my vision was always to be FI (without my home) while initiating that leap, I am responsive to the thrusts of life and recognize the blessings in being pushed to do something I might not have otherwise taken the risk of doing. Why not find the bits of light—the tree pushing through the concrete– in the center of your revolving world?  

It’s time.

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