Transforming Adversity into Opportunity After Layoff
Moving Forward After a Layoff: What’s Next?
On Friday, May 22nd, while the world was in lockdown, I got a call that changed my life in ways I never could have imagined.
My director booked an early morning Zoom call with me and minutes after we logged on, he gave me the news. He read a standard and legally vetted script officially notifying me that I had been laid off effective in 30 days. That meant I had 4 weeks to get my professional affairs in order before I would be officially unemployed. He also explained the details of the severance package and the terms for accepting that package. It was all straight forward and there was nothing I could really say to undo what had just happened.
In hindsight, after hearing of people getting laid off by email, I was lucky to get a real human on a video call. He had to look me in the eye on camera and I looked right at his when he delivered the news. He had to see my reaction and vice versa. This person was visibly uncomfortable and upset at having to deliver the bad news.
Despite getting laid off, I was one of the lucky ones because he wanted me to use most of the remaining 30 days to figure out my next move. He even offered to make introductions to other teams and divisions that might be able to rescue me from layoff. Although getting saved from layoff is quite hard given you are somewhat blacklisted, I appreciated his effort and intention. In the end, I took him up on that offer to use most of those 30 days for my own purposes. I wrapped up my work quickly and handed it off to my manager after which I was no longer required to attend team calls.
When we got off the phone, it felt a bit surreal. Then again, it was my first global pandemic and life had already felt quite surreal for a couple of months at that point. Of course, I was angry. Why me? Given how much I contributed to the company and in so many ways. At the time, I was a key player in spreading the coaching movement worldwide throughout the company. During my four years I had: taught and graduated over 150 IBM managers from our internal coach certification program; coached over 25 executives worldwide; delivered talks at CES, IBM THINK, and other major conferences and events.
Yet somehow, that wasn’t enough to have been spared from the list. I felt pretty bad that day, like I had failed to distinguish myself enough. I wondered if I was being punished for not having been a more obedient employee or for not having played the game of politics a bit more. I really had no idea because in a layoff, they don’t explain the reason to you. It’s like getting dumped from a long-term relationship without any explanation or reason. One day, your significant other of four years calls you and says it’s over. You’re left wondering what you could have done differently or better. The problem is you don’t even know where you went wrong. It’s a pretty shitty feeling.
Then you start to think about what this means for other areas of your life. I was on the path to paying off my student loans and still about two years away from making it to the finish line of an almost two-decade race.
Was this going to set me back? Was the layoff going to stain my reputation and mark me as damaged goods to other companies? How would I even begin to network my way to a new job when the world was locked down? Virtual events had not yet really taken off so that wasn’t much of an option. And again, why me? What was wrong with me that made me expendable?
The list goes on and on of the thoughts that ran through my mind but then I received a call that changed everything.
The Power of Purpose
After I got the news, I contacted one of my dearest mentors at the company. An incredible woman who had been at IBM for over two decades. I didn’t tell her what happened over email, so it would have to wait for a proper phone call. She called back that evening and I gave her the news. After she expressed her disappointment at what happened to me, she said that she was confident I was going to be fine. “Roger, I know you’ll be ok, because your journey has prepared you to figure out and write an exciting new chapter anytime you want.” Then she added, “I’m more concerned about the IBMers who have been with the company for a couple or more decades, for many, IBM has been their only job. This will be a major shock and they are going to need help writing the next chapter of their lives.”
Then she gave me a gift. “I want you to use your final 30 days to find a way to help them prepare to reinvent themselves after the layoff.”
And with that sentence, Jennifer had gifted me a purpose beyond myself for the next 30 days.
Tony Robbins often says, “where focus goes, energy flows.”
For the next 30 days, Jennifer shifted my focus to helping the rest of the laid off IBMers prepare for career reinvention. With that, I got to work on figuring out how I could help.
Making the Best of a Layoff by Starting a New Project
I spent the rest of the 30 days hosting a series of Reinvention Mastermind calls where I shared stories of reinvention, taught lessons, and facilitated activities to prepare my fellow IBMers for life after IBM. Those final four weeks at IBM were the most important and impactful of my four years at the company.
Even with all I had done to empower IBMers around the world through my workshops, talks, and trainings, those final four weeks were more important and purposeful than anything else I had done.
Instead of feeling anger, sadness, regret, pain, disappointment, and embarrassment, I felt fulfillment and purpose.
And as my final day at the company approached, I realized I had started writing the next chapter of my own life. By giving of myself in service of others, I got out of my own head, out of my own self-pity and pain. And with that new perspective, I saw a vision for what the next chapter of my life could look like. Without intending to, I discovered what I wanted to dedicate the next chapter of my life to doing. I realized I wanted to support people on walking their own journey to reinvention. I wanted to help people develop the skills I developed that have helped me navigate, appreciate, and embrace the ups and downs of life. Those skills saved me during my layoff and I wanted to empower others with the same.
The Seeds of Reinvention
That 30 day project was the seed for everything that has blossomed in my life since then. It didn’t happen right away, nothing worthwhile ever does. However, two and a half years later, I am now bringing The School of Reinvention to life. That seed and several others I planted after my layoff are just starting to blossom.
A few days after our final thirty days at IBM, I received a message from one of the people I served through the Reinvention Mastermind project. She sent me a note thanking me for what I had done for the group. She said, “in a difficult moment, you helped us look forward instead of backwards for even just a few hours a week and that made all the difference. You gave us hope and helped us see that things would be ok if we just kept looking ahead rather than looking back and asking why me.”
And then she ended with this line: “I think you have a book inside of you and I hope you write it.”
Almost one year later, I started a writing project. I committed to writing 100 blog posts in 100 weekdays. I didn’t quite make it to 100, in fact, I stopped at about 75. However, that project laid the groundwork and helped me build the confidence for starting my first book.
Today, I host a podcast, offer reinvention project coaching, and create content to help people develop the courage to reinvent and build a life on their terms.
I’m also writing my second book which will focus on the art and science of life on your terms and how to launch a project that paves the way for your journey to reinvention.
Life Happens For Us, Not To Us
When I got the layoff call on May 22nd, I was devastated and wondered why this was happening to me. Then later that evening, God blessed me with another call from a dear mentor that helped me consider that maybe life was actually happening for me.
I believe it was my faith in God that helped me trust that Jennifer’s call was going to pave the way to something better, even if I didn’t know what it was. Almost three years later, it is as clear as day that life happened for me on May 22nd of 2020 and over the last 3 years, I did my part to meet this blessing halfway.
If you are currently working but feel disconnected or disengaged from your work or if you have been laid off and have been given the gift of a few months of financial runway (i.e. severance package), then consider launching one or a few projects. Projects will help you:
- Activate your mentors and recruit new ones
- Draw new opportunities to you
- Give you purpose and meaning
- Develop new skills and experience
- Collect results and testimonials
- Get to know yourself better
- And finally, pave the way to life on your terms
If you need some help building courage and belief in yourself in this moment, consider picking up a copy of my book (link here). This book answers the following questions:
- Am I ready to reinvent myself?
- Can I do this? Am I worthy?
- Do I have what it takes to start building a life on my terms?
- How do I develop the strength and courage to follow my own path?
- Where do I even start with reinventing myself?
Also subscribe and listen to my podcast, The School of Reinvention, wherever you listen to podcasts. I feature stories, lessons, and insights from other people’s journey to reinvention and my own.
Want to receive weekly inspiration on your journey to reinvention? You can also sign up to receive a weekly email from me (link here).
I’m still on this journey and will continue to develop ways to help you and others build a life aligned with your values, passion, and purpose.
It’s nice to meet you.