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Mourning over job loss (Washington Post 25 Apr)

Apr 25, 2010

Mourning over job loss

By Elaine Gray

 On Election Day in 2008 in the United States, my husband, Tom, lost his job as a residential mortgage lender in Woodbridge, Virginia, a city hit hard by foreclosures.

I gave him contact information for a career counsellor and advised him to look for jobs in his previous profession, retail management.

In March last year, my daughter, Michelle, called to say she’d lost her executive assistant job at an insurance firm in Orange County, California. I sent her a US$2,000 ‘emergency fund’ cheque and told her to find whatever work she could until the economy turned around or return home.

Last summer, a month after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, my son, Mike, told us he had been laid off from his job as a graphic artist for a defence contractor. I advised him to look professional for future job interviews, to dress up and get his clothes pressed.

Little did I know I would be next: On March 30, I was laid off at SmithGroup, an architectural firm where I had been a partner for three years. I had an inkling that I might receive bad news. I was well aware that opportunities to design office buildings had declined substantially.

In a conference room, the head of SmithGroup’s Washington, DC office told me that I had done a great job and that my layoff was part of a reduction in force. I signed a few papers and we shook hands. I packed my three Rolodexes and said goodbye to several close friends there.

During the 23 years I’ve been in the commercial real estate industry, I had never been laid off. This was new territory.

Previously, I had reached out to several colleagues who’d been laid off from my company, offering them advice on updating resumes and how to interview. Now for the first time, I was the one getting support from friends and family.

Later that week, I attended a women’s business forum. I entered the ballroom with butterflies in my stomach. How does one gracefully and publicly announce being laid off? How will people react? These questions were foremost in my mind as I filled out a name tag and wrote ‘Free Agent’ under my name.

I saw several people there whom I knew. They all expressed surprise and support. ‘You’ll go through periods where you feel fine and then you’ll feel down,’ said a woman who’d been laid off in November and was now employed. ‘Just know these cycles will happen.’

Though I’m a naturally positive person, losing one’s job is like being thrown from a horse – one moment you’re moving along and the next you’re down on the ground. I found that being upfront about what happened has lifted me.

I received so many supportive e-mail that I had to open a separate home e-mail account because I was driving my husband crazy. One friend offered her support and suggested companies that may need my skills. Another critiqued my resume.

One thing that surprised me was how my body went into ‘grief mode’ the week I lost my job. I had trouble sleeping, misplaced my keys several times and my stomach was upset. These are the same symptoms that I experienced after my father died before Christmas in 1997, followed by my brother six months later, and then my mother two years ago.

It can be scary, too. I learnt that my insurance bill would cost US$940 each month to continue medical, vision and dental coverage.

My family has been there for me, too.

Tom, who found a job in February last year with a mortgage broker, has been taking my mind off stuff, being romantic.

Michelle, who the same week I was laid off was hired as an executive assistant at a cleaning company in Southern California, has been comforting me. I said, ‘Can you believe we all have been laid off in our family?’ She said, ‘Losing a job changed every aspect of my life. It feels like a rug pulled out from under you.’

Mike, who is doing freelance graphic arts work while looking for a full-time job, has redesigned my resume and business cards, giving them a fresh look.

Later this month, I was scheduled to teach a class in business development and executive skills for the University of Maryland’s real estate programme. But I learnt the class may not go forward because demand for real estate courses is down. This is a shame – I was looking forward to meeting my students and sharing what I’ve learnt from this experience.

In the meantime, I’m hoping that I won’t end up having to take the survivor job – the one you take only because you have to pay bills.

I’m hoping that the job-hunting gods will guide me to a company where I can make a difference and feel fulfilled. Until then, I’ll keep networking and going to industry events. These activities have already led me to a couple of interviews.

The Washington Post

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One Response to “Mourning over job loss (Washington Post 25 Apr)”

  1. Kathy Hutchins says:

    Thanks, Elaine, for sharing the feelings you get after being laid off. I thought I was overreacting and losing it, but after reading your article, I know now that the feelings I’m going through are normal reactions. I was laid off with 480 other people right before Christmas from Burger King Corporation. I loved my job and the people I worked with so my body, like yours, went into grief mode immediately. I had gone through a divorce, the sudden death of my brother, and all were the same feelings I was experiencing all over again. Although it’s been 6 weeks now and no luck in the job search, I still have those up and down moments. I know there will be light at the end of the tunnel, I just need to stay positive. Thank you though for your insight. It was very helpful.

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