I hate running. But the day I lost my job, I went to the Civil War battlefield near my house and ran. And cried. I ran down a trail I had never been on, deep into the woods, where the deer ran and the mosquitos buzzed, where men once dug trenches and bled and groaned and died.
I ran as far as I could, until a stream cut the land in two, and signs warned me to keep out. I don’t know that I felt much better. I didn’t. The fact is I didn’t.
I had never lost a job, ever — unless you count selling knock-off designer handbags at a flea market for $4 an hour at age 14. I finished college a year early, landed a coveted fellowship at The Poynter Institute, a journalism think-tank, and had my first full-time job before that summer ended.
I survived at least a dozen layoffs at newspapers, and if you worked in a newsroom after 2008, you know that was no small feat. Once, a managing editor of Virginia’s largest daily told me if we ended up with five reporters in a newsroom that at the time numbered more than 50, I would still be standing.
I’d left newspapers after 15 years for a writing job with a nonprofit I believed in. Newspapering was all I had ever wanted to do and all I’d ever known. But I soon learned – with joy and relief – there was life after news.
When a pandemic capsized the economy, I believed I would be among those left standing. I believed I was so good at what I did that I was impervious to layoffs. Others may go, but I would always stay.
Because I always did.
Until I didn’t.
The news came on a Thursday morning in June. Indefinite furlough.
It felt like a death. According to some experts, job loss is not unlike the loss of someone close, ushering in all the stages of grief.
My identity is wrapped up in what I do. To lose my job is to lose a part of me. It is to feel less than. Death brings with it intense sadness and intense gratitude, and there is that, too. Grief for my loss and gratitude that I experienced something special enough to grieve. Wrapped up in all of that is the certainty that everything will work out because it has to, and uncertainty because sometimes it doesn’t. Because maybe it won’t.
I ran and cried as loud as I wanted because there was no one to hear me. And even if there was, I had the right to cry.
You have the right to cry.
My friends, those wonderful people I met over the years who stayed for all of it, for marriages and meltdowns and births and deaths, were here for this, too. This death.
“We give ourselves – devote ourselves – to institutions that feel no devotion back. That’s not your identity. You write for a reason, and that’s your identity – not even the writing piece, but the why piece. Go grieve. But on some level, understand the true loss that demands grief is theirs,” said one friend.
“I didn’t want you to somehow think I had the answer to your pain. I just remembered how it felt when I did my best in a position I held, only to, years later, sense that my supervisor no longer appreciated my work. After leaving, an employee, not knowing the inner turmoil I was struggling with, told me, ‘What you did mattered.’ And I so I want to share with you that your value is not in a position you lost or in any future position you acquire. You were a gift to that organization for a time. And you will be gift to another employer or other readers of your work. An institution can deny you a paycheck, but they cannot rescind your giftedness or silence your voice,” said another.
“While this is an end, it’s not the end. And even though it’s almost impossible not to take it personally, because it is personal, it didn’t happen because of a failing on your part. We are in dire times the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Depression. Many, many good and talented people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own. I’m confident you’ll find something else, but also know that you are SO much more than your job. (And I’m not talking about your role as mother or wife or anything in relation to others, though obviously those are things, too.) … there is more to YOU,” said a friend who has known me for more than a decade.
At home, I drank wine. I lost sleep. I ate too much cheesecake. I wrapped myself in the love and words of my friends.
I felt loss. I felt lost.
Then I got up and set out to find myself again.
TAKE ACTION: Six Steps After Job Loss
So, you’ve lost your job. As of this writing, there are more than 40 million of us. Welcome to the club.
Now, let’s get busy.
Step 1: File for unemployment insurance.
Each state has its own unemployment insurance benefits eligibility requirements, but there are two basic ones, according to the U.S. Department of Labor:
· You must be unemployed through no fault of your own.
· You must meet work and wage requirements during a set time period. In most states, this is usually the first four out of the last five completed calendar quarters before the time that you file your claim.
You can find your state unemployment office by clicking here.
Step 2: Get health insurance.
If you lose your job-based health insurance, you have two primary options, according to Healthcare.gov:
· Buy a plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you lose your job for any reason and also lose your insurance, you can buy a marketplace plan for a special enrollment period. This means you can buy insurance outside the yearly open enrollment period. You’ll also learn if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage for your children through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. You can preview plan options and prices here.
· Sign up for COBRA coverage. If you’ve been laid off, you can usually keep your job-based health plan through COBRA continuation coverage. This federal law lets you stay on your plan temporarily, but you must cover the cost yourself. There’s also a small administrative fee. You’ll need to contact your employer to find out more.
Step 3: Re-budget.
Chances are your bank account looks a lot different when you’ve got money going out and less income coming in – or none at all as you wait for your unemployment benefits to kick in. (My first claim was denied.) When I lost my job, my (former) employer offered access to SmartDollar Financial Program provided by Ramsey Solutions. Free budgeting tools and apps are abundant, and one friend swears by Mint.com. Nerdwallet.com examines The 7 Best Budget Apps for 2020 that can help you monitor and save.
Step 4: Update your LinkedIn profile – or make an account ASAP.
LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with more than 690 million users in more than 200 countries and territories. It offers a basic subscription for free and a premium subscription plan that you can try free for one month. I hadn’t updated my profile in three years when I lost my job, so it was very outdated. For tips on how to make the most of your LinkedIn profile, read 20 steps to a better LinkedIn profile in 2020.
Step 5: Update your resume.
Indeed.com offers these “10 Resume Writing Tips to Help You Land a Job.” There are also a host of free resources out there offering guidance, templates and more. The Ddepartment of Llabor website in your state also likely offers free resume- writing services. You can also get help at your local American Job Center, although many of these offices remained closed due to the pandemic. A friend of mine also had a good experience with TopResume, which allows you to upload your resume and get a free, professional critique.
Step 6: Be good to yourself.
You may not feel like it now, but you’re going to be all right. You have my permission to feel lousy. Or sad. Or angry. Or any of those other emotions we experience during loss. Take care of yourself. Eat well. Exercise. Get enough rest.
One of my favorite sayings goes like this: “Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
I choose to believe this.