What I Learned by Being Laid Off

There’s nothing quite so unnerving as being laid off. I know, because I’ve been let go in a “limited restructuring” twice in my life. Through the process, I learned some “life lessons,” that apply to just about every engineering in the world. While I’m safely ensconced in a great place at Ericsson, I thought it might be useful to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned — especially as it seems to be layoff season in other places (or maybe it’s layoff season all the time?).

First, it doesn’t matter if it’s about you, the politics, or just a random event. I still harbor a suspicion that both times I was laid off there was more going on in the background than just “we don’t need your services any longer.” There were probably politics. On the other hand, the politics in these situations are always bigger than you, no matter how personal it might seem. There’s always some back story, there’s always some power play in progress, there’s always some internal struggle.

But the truth is — it doesn’t matter. You can either stew on the past, or move on with your life. Stewing in the past isn’t going to get you a new job, nor is it going to improve your skill set, nor is it going to change anything in any material way. The first lesson to learn is: move on.

Second, you need to learn to balance between investing in someone else’s brand, and investing in your own. We read a lot now-a-days about how you need to build your own brand, take care of yourself first. This entire concept violates my first rule of business — business is about asking what you can give, not what you can take. I know, I know, folks who put themselves first always seem to come out on top. They always seem to take advantage, to get the better deal, to grab the brass ring (do you know where this phrase comes from?)… But the truth will out, in the end. It doesn’t matter whether you’re eventually recognized, what matters is if you can look back on your life and see the things you’ve done for others. He who dies with the most toys does not win.

What this all means is this: It’s great to work for a company with a brand. It’s important to support that brand. It’s important, at the same time, to build your own brand, separate from the logo on your shirt. If you invest so much in your own brand that you forget who you work for, they’ll forget you work for them. But if you invest so much in their brand that you’re completely without any platform when you next end up on the street, well…

Third, your real network is your friends. And I don’t mean “facebook friends,” or “linkedin connections.” I mean real, honest to God friends. A lot of people are amazed at the number and scope of people I know in the networking industry. While working with a customer recently, they got to the point of asking me, “I assume you know someone there, too.” Actually, I do.

But I “grew up” with a lot of these people. I put time and trouble into cultivating and keeping relationships with other people, even though I’m not a “partier,” and I’m generally an introvert. I’ve learned that you can’t think of someone as “that person I know at x,” but rather as another person. It’s not about where they work, or “who they are,” what matters is they’re just there.

Finally, I learned to keep my resume up to date. I’ve found it a necessary discipline to keep my resume up to date no matter whether or not I’m looking for another place to land. By really looking at my resume on a regular basis, rather than just “pursuing the product in hand,” I try and keep it in the realm of being a “jack of all trades, master of one.” My pursuit of knowledge must be intentional if I’m to have something to give (see the first lesson above).

Whether you’re in the position of being laid off, or not; whether you think you should be in the job market, or not; whether you’re ready to move, or not — whatever your situation, be intentional about giving rather than taking, balancing the investment you make in your brand verses someone else’s, what you’re learning, and, finally, about making and keeping real friends.

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6 Comments

  1. mk 8 September 2014 at 11:43 am

    superbly written!

  2. Ammar 9 September 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Russ I enjoy reading your articles, this is a great one as well. BTW I too once got laid off and I consider it my badge of honor – Ammar

  3. Christopher Christian 10 September 2014 at 10:03 pm

    nice one Russ

  4. denisefishburne 16 September 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Russ, thank you for writing this and sharing this with us.

  5. Fifo 9 October 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Your blog entry is very honest and perceptive. As the saying goes, “You can’t fight City Hall”. Great advice.

  6. Shehjad Sayyed 17 October 2014 at 2:01 am

    I cannot believe that you got laid-off twice (nasty office politics).
    Thank you for sharing your experience & the lessons 🙂
    It motivated me to keep learnin’ & movin’ 🙂

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