If I Had To Write A LinkedIn Article About Getting Laid Off During Covid
Written during the peak New York shutdown, April 2020. Because I had the time.
I’ve always had the fortune of working at places that I’ve really loved. And not just because they’ve been places where it’s been easy to be proud of the work from the creative minds that work there, but because of the people themselves.
People that have become lasting fixtures in my life long after leaving — establishing permanent residence at birthday parties, weddings, and vacations.
I realize what a privilege this all has been as I write this, and am under no assumption that there are not people that have to work with colleagues they really hate or jobs that make them miserable in order to put food on the table. And my career hasn’t been just a series of scenes from Glinda’s realm of Oz.
There have been the occasional assholes, egos, unwanted sexual advances.
The general questioning of my purpose, and if I’m really in the career path that at the end of all this I’ll look back on and be proud of the imprint, however big or small, that I’ve left on this earth.
But aside from all those ups and downs, the thing that’s been clear through all of it are those few golden nuggets of it all — the people from each place that have become best friends.
Working at places like this — that hire not just for the skill but for the cultural fit, that creates an environment more like a family than a company — makes it easy to quickly feel at home.
If jobs were like relationships, jobs like these would be the ones that just feel easy and right, right off the bat. You fall quickly, trust deeply.
When other jobs come around asking you to leave, you say that you’re happily taken. You make plans with the expectation that you’ll be in it for the long haul. You feel loved, valued, respected.
You believe they’d never leave you — especially because you wouldn’t do something to hurt them.
There’s the hypocritical fact of course that there is a vague, potential reality that someday, something could come along that you couldn’t say no to — but as long as the relationship keeps growing you can’t really imagine leaving. It’s the relationship that hurts the most to end.
Covid-19 created the unique situation where these relationships become breakups without the mistake being made to deserve them. You’re great, we don’t want this to end — I don’t want it to end? — we both don’t want it to end. But here we stand. It’s not you, it’s not me, it’s Covid.
And suddenly that home — that family — isn’t yours. You don’t belong to it anymore.
It might never have happened if not for unprecedented this and uncertain that, but it nevertheless showers a light across the cracks in the relationship that you once loved so much.
Because at the end of the day, they’re not a family, no matter how much they mean to be, and you’re not a member of it, but a number on a sheet on a day when business decisions need to be made.
And it’s an okay reality to confront. If it’s just business, then I’ve just worked at businesses where I’ve been lucky enough to make great friends. And it becomes a lesson I can take to carry forward: it’s just business. It feels cold, but it feels real. And if it weren’t any other time, it might be more of a fleeting thought than a heavy reality to be left sitting with.
Because during a time of isolation, when at times your team and work feel like the only connection to reality left — when video meetings,
Zoom happy hours, budgets and timelines are the only remaining pieces tethering you to normalcy — telling yourself “it’s just business” as you stare out your window, alone in your apartment for the 31st — 32nd? — day, it just feels like a cold and lonely statement.
You tell yourself it’s an important lesson, one you can take with you as you look for jobs — those few jobs to be divvied out amongst the 22 million unemployed.
But somehow pulling the rose-colored glasses off and seeing business for what it is — business — colors those new prospects grey.
You just want to go back to what you had. But just like a relationship when it breaks, you know you couldn’t go back if you tried. How humiliating it is to go back to an ex that hurt you.
But if you erase that one moment, close one eye and cover up that corner with your hand — the picture is beautiful again. But then you see that corner and feel the pain all over again.
You hear the voices of friends explaining all the hoops their jobs jumped through in order to keep them from feeling the same hurt, to keep them from being dumped into that 22 million deep pool. Part of such a big number but still so alone for what feels like the hundredth (33rd?) day in a row.
And just like when a relationship ends, you have the choice to cut them out completely and establish yourself in this life of isolation, or to stay friends, which comes with the special pain of watching them move on without you. Which they always will.
Maybe this will become an even bigger opportunity, your friends say. But you just see the cracks. It’s just business, the cracks say.
And I realize that I don’t want to live a life that’s just business. That’s what attracted me to these jobs in the first place. And if I don’t want to live a life that’s just business, where does that leave me?
Because when I zoom out from those cracks in the picture of a job that I loved and look at the rest of the millions around me, I wonder if such a thing exists.
How do you avoid living a life that’s just business in a world run by business? Is there a way to make an impact you’re proud of at the end of it all? Or was it all just business, that at the end of the day left you with a few people that you get to cherish always.
Maybe it’s okay for it to be the latter, like an after school special telling me that maybe it’s about the friendships we made along the way.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if it could be more than that?