Anyone who has been through one knows it, but it’s often uncomfortable to talk about the emotional aftermath that comes from being let go from a job, especially when it’s ostensibly about reduction in workforce and not about your contributions or value to the company.
I went through two, a year apart. The first company went through a huge leadership upheaval that resulted in big regime change that didn’t include me, the other some huge business shifts that required some pretty deep cost-cutting measures and my team was a casualty of that.
It was hard to not feel like the elimination of my roles was secretly a reflection of my work caliber; I asked myself over and over again if I could have or should have done more, if being more valuable would have saved me, if playing politics better would have preserved my job….in short, all of my questions centered on what I could have done differently.
And it surfaced a huge wave of self-doubt that had me questioning…well…everything.
The Self-Flagellation Cycle
The phrase “It’s not personal, it’s business” has always rubbed me the wrong way.
Because our careers ARE personal. They may not be personal to the executives in charge of balance sheets or the boards in charge of “shareholder” value, but they’re intensely personal to us.
So when we’re told we’re no longer needed, it’s easy to enter into a loop in our heads that repeats stuff like:
Am I really cut out for this? Maybe they’re finally figuring out that I don’t have any idea what I’m actually doing…
It was inevitable that I’d run up against my own limitations eventually, this is just the universe showing me all of my weaknesses
Now what? Everyone is going to think I’m damaged and rejected goods and they’re not going to see any value in me anymore…
It’s brutal. Rejection cuts straight into our own self-image, which is nothing but personal. In the weeks and months that followed my layoffs, I said many versions of this stuff to myself. And as new potential roles surfaced, I found myself rejecting my own candidacy before anyone else did it for me.
I have 20 years of experience under my belt, so I initially (and rightfully) started looking at CMO and VP roles for mid-market and enterprise tech companies. I absolutely have the qualifications and experience for roles like that.
But the self-doubt gradually eroded my confidence about my own interpretation of my qualifications. If one company said no or a lead didn’t pan out, I’d downgrade my expectations and start looking roles that required less experience, or with more junior titles…anything that I perceived would be better suited to my now-reduced ideas of my own capabilities and help me avoid more rejection. Rejection to me felt like proof of what I suspected all along: I just didn’t have what it took.
And I watched across my social media channels as friends got promoted, got new jobs, enjoyed wild career success…while I felt like a total failure. A fraud. A hack.
I went on like this for months, until a friend kicked me squarely in the gut.
The Big Reframe
“What in the hell are you doing? Are you going to throw yourself this pity party forever?”, she asked, sitting across from me at lunch after I’d regaled her with my tales of woe (and fear) about a month into my unemployment.
I stopped mid-bite of my ramen and looked at her, a little shocked, asking what on earth she meant.
What followed was a bit of a reckoning, really. It was a very benevolent dress-down, laced with love, but a dress-down nonetheless that I’m going to share with you in the form of a mini-manifesto because it was all things I needed to remember, so it’ll probably help you too if you’re stuck in a rut like this. Here goes.
- Quit renting space in your head to those not paying rent. The people that dismissed me from their companies don’t get a say anymore in how I should feel about myself. They chose to opt out, so they don’t get any further input into my future, and that includes any version of assessment and judgment of my qualifications, experience, or capabilities. I have agency over my self-image, and a responsibility to forge it for myself instead of outsourcing it to people whose votes no longer count.
- When your self-assessment abilities are broken, you need reinforcements. My friend and my therapist made me sit down and inventory my truths with the help of my committee of champions. Sometimes recalibrating our self-image requires outside help. I also asked a few friends and colleagues I trusted to keep their eyes out for roles that were suitable for my qualifications and experience, and they sent me contacts and opportunities that fit their much more accurate view of my capabilities than the warped and watered-down version I’d constructed for myself.
- Expand your idea of “right”. My insecurity had me much, much too hung up on trappings like titles. I felt like the only way I could prove that I was still valuable was by seeking out and landing a job with a powerful, executive title because it would show on paper (read: to others) that I still had what it took to be working at that level. My friend encouraged me to remember how little stock I used to put in titles, and why I coached and mentored younger professionals to keep an open mind about the roles they considered because there were so many factors outside of title that matter more. Doing this changed the game for me (more on that below).
- Put it out there. Like many people, I was afraid to expose that I’d been laid off because it felt like openly admitting failure, falling short, or something else that reflected poorly on me. But I’ve always been a fierce advocate for authenticity and vulnerability, so I decided to walk the walk and put it out there. I shared here on LinkedIn and across my other social channels that I was newly on the market. I shared about my qualifications, my excitement about putting them to work in a new and exciting role, and pushed myself to see this as an opportunity to do something new and interesting in a fresh start. I wrote about my experiences and learnings (and yes, sometimes my fear and trepidation), and to my surprise, my community showed up in droves. They made introductions, offered encouragement, cheered me on, surfaced opportunities, and were there to remind me of a lot of things about myself I’d forgotten. It was transformational to see that in action. Humbling. And healing.
After six months, the hard work and discomfort paid off as did the open-mindedness my friend encouraged me to keep through the process.
I got a note from the global lead for the team I’m now part of at LinkedIn…and the role she eventually offered me looked nothing like I would have originally expected. But it’s an amazingly good fit for this particular moment in my career.
I’m an individual contributor here at LinkedIn, not an executive. I don’t have a fancy executive title (and I actually catch a fair bit of flack for being an ‘evangelist’, a title that many in my OG digital marketer fishbowl find to be fluffy and vague). I don’t manage teams or budgets. And I work for a really large public company that was out of my experience and, frankly, comfort zone after many years of working for private and VC-funded companies. In short, if I’d held fast to the insecurity that was driving my arbitrary, superficial criteria for my next role, I’d have looked right past this one.
But in this role, I’m doing something I really love: I’m rolling my sleeves up and working directly with the companies who are trying to make the leap to build strong, meaningful content-driven marketing programs that drive results for their organizations. It’s putting my money where my mouth is in a lot of ways; it’s easy to talk about marketing theoretically, it’s not so easy to put it in practice. Being an IC and customer-facing means I get to use all of that experience I’ve got under my belt to help my clients do that every week. I’m part consultant, part therapist, part educator, part motivational speaker…and it’s all super fun, interesting, different and challenges a lot of my knowledge in marketing while giving me the chance to keep learning from the teams and leaders at companies across a ton of different industries.
If that isn’t the textbook definition of the role I would have designed for myself when I let go of all the BS, I dunno what is.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have lingering insecurities sometimes, especially working within such a huge organization with so many smart people. It can be daunting to navigate. I think we all have those moments; it’s hard to overcome hard wiring that was forged in patterns of uncertainty and rejection. I’m still a work in progress, too. But now I have a toolkit to turn to, evidence of what happens when I face it down boldly and deliberately, and I am so up for this challenge that kicked me right out of my comfort zone when I probably needed it most.
A full year later, I’m much more adept at hearing the whispered “who do you think you are?” refrain in my head and answering back:
I’m Amber, and I’m here to show you just how this stuff gets done when I’m at the helm. Are you buckled in? Because it’s about to be a hell of a ride.
Are you ready to come with me? Keep your hands inside the car at all times…and let’s do this. Together.