Originally published on LinkedIn on July 21, 2020.
Congratulations, you’ve been laid off! If it’s any consolation, please know that your previous employer will better be able to fiscally withstand the current economic climate without you. Remember, it wasn’t personal—it’s just business.
About 13 months ago, I walked into my office after my first and only trip to an Orange Theory. As I got situated at my desk, finally feeling like I wasn’t about to die, my creative director, who was based in another city, unexpectedly walked through the front door.
“Am I getting fired?” I quipped. It was my go-to joke whenever a boss wants to talk. “Uh, let’s go talk,” he responded.
Well… there’s that.
What took place next was more or less what you read in the opening of this diatribe.
We lost a client, the agency is being reorganized. Your position is being eliminated.
It was the second time since 2017 that I was laid off because an agency lost a client.
Obviously, there was some anger and frustration. I had just moved back to L.A. for this job and mostly financed the move myself since it was a smaller agency. I also knew that the job market wasn’t great, as it had taken me about 14 months to find this job.
Then I thought about having to explain two short-term, full-time jobs in such a short period on my resume. Even though neither was my fault (as far as I was told), it’s hard to convey that on a piece of paper without getting to explain the context.
Of all the feelings and thoughts that went through my head as I walked out the front door, the one thing I didn’t do was panic.
That’s the first lesson I hope anyone else in a similar situation takes away from my experience.
When you panic, you’re guaranteed to make the worst decision possible.
Remain calm. Allow yourself to think and react logically instead of emotionally.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, but the following helped me work through the process and not go crazy along the way.
If you have a pet, hug them. Pets are magical—accept this as fact and move to step two when you are ready. If you don’t have a pet, I recommend watching this and then continuing with step two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB-qEYVdvXA
Figure out your expenses.
Your apartment, your car, your cell-phone bill, etc. Figure out what amount you need to keep living and what you can start doing without while you look for work.
I wanted a meat smoker for football season, but I didn’t need a smoker for football season.
File for unemployment.
Do it as quickly as you can. Unemployment benefits take a few weeks to process, so the quicker you get in the system, the quicker you will have money coming in.
Also, don’t feel ashamed about filing. You paid taxes, and this is just the government giving you your money back.
Keep in mind that unemployment benefits more than likely won’t fully replace your lost income. It definitely helps and is better than nothing, but don’t fall for talk radio talking points about being able to live high on the hog off of government money.
For example, in California, I was able to get the max benefit of $450/week with a maximum payout of about $6,500.
If you qualify for the maximum benefit and don’t find any short or long-term employment, you’re looking at about 14.5 weeks or about 3.5 months. (Due to COVID and the CARES ACT, these numbers have been extended. Check with your state to find out those specific numbers).
Get on your state’s health insurance exchange (or the national one, if your state never created its own). It’s way cheaper than COBRA, which your former employer will offer you.
The plans aren’t great and they’re expensive, but think of it as an emergency plan. Hopefully, you won’t have any serious health problems (knock on wood), but you‘ll be glad you have it if something does happen unexpectedly.
For example, having your lung partially collapse because a Jersey Mike’s sandwich made you cough too hard. The ER trip is a lot less expensive when you have insurance than when you don’t. True story.
Realize that you aren’t unemployed. You’re just freelance.
As such, your new job is finding your next job.
Start making a spreadsheet of all the agencies you can find, then figure out who the recruiter is and who your contacts are at each. Being organized now makes things way easier later.
Also, odds are they aren’t looking for anyone right now, but it never hurts to reach out to get on their radar for later.
Let people know you’re open for business.
Don’t be ashamed and try to hide that you lost your job. People can’t hire you if you are hiding that you’re available.
Post on Facebook, update your LinkedIn, and WorkingNotWorking. You never know where your next job will come from. But the one thing they all have in common is that people need to see that you’re available for work, otherwise it definitely won’t come.
It’s advertising, everyone gets laid off at some point. Everyone understands, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.
Maintain your normal sleep schedule.
Just because you don’t have a normal job anymore doesn’t mean the rest of the world has stopped as well. Being available during business hours is essential not only to finding work, but for maintaining a sense of normalcy for your mental health.
I’m an early riser and I’m usually up by 6 a.m. (I can thank my cat for this), not that I expect everyone else to be. But I have found that this helps with finding freelance in New York from California. The fact that I can maintain their business hours and take calls when the business day starts around 10 a.m. in NY has been very helpful.
Balance your time.
Don’t go overboard with trolling job boards. I used to constantly refresh them to see what was added, but it interrupted the flow of my day, preventing me from pursuing other interests.
Now, I look in the morning after I’ve gone through my morning routine, and again at the end of the day. I may still scroll through my LinkedIn feed throughout the day to see if there are any posts from recruiters, but I want to keep myself in a productive zone.
So, what’s next?
Take advantage of the extra time by making something you want to make (or do). Side projects are a good way to keep you busy and from the existential dread of unemployment that can come from sitting on your couch all day.
My personal goal has been to have one or two big-book piece projects a year. Two or three medium-sized projects, and a stream of smaller one-off things that can be done in a day or two to keep things fresh.
Your mileage may vary, but it’s nice to wake up most days knowing what I’m going to be doing.
Know that every day won’t be easy.
Since being laid off for the first time at the end of 2017, I’ve definitely had days where things felt hopeless. And I’m not going to lie, you’ll have some too.
Just keep some perspective. A lot of people are in the same position as you. You definitely aren’t in this alone and it’s OK to talk to people about it when you’re having one of those bad days (and again, you will have them).
In the meantime, be open to meeting new people. Be open to new projects that you might not get paid for (if they are something you think is worth doing). And be open to the fact that there isn’t a ton you can do about what’s going on.
So, what can you do? Take control of what you can and know that until the world is fully burning, it isn’t fully burning.
You got this.
– Josh D. Weiss is a Co-Founder of The Side Show and Freelance Associate Creative Director