We’ve reached that time of year when we all have a lot on our plates. It’s holiday season and now with all the time we’re going to take off, all of our looming business and personal deadlines are doubling up. This season is joyful but also hectic, and truth be told, the way you handle this holiday stress could make or break your future. One of the harsher realities during this time that is seldom spoken about is the cruel phenomenon of holiday layoffs. It’s often easier to assume that you’ll continue to be one of the lucky ones who don’t experience this terrible fate...but wishful thinking isn’t always enough. Take it from my friend, Carla (name has been changed to protect her privacy).
In early November of this year, I was catching up with my old neighbor and dear friend Carla, a single mom in her mid-40’s, who spoke with me about her long-time strategist role at a huge international consulting agency headquartered in San Francisco. She had climbed the corporate ladder over the course of the past 15 years, moving from basic research and data analytics to UI design before ultimately winning a coveted role as one of the few female strategists in her department, a position that she worked very hard to get.
“I’m one of the most senior people in my department nowadays,” she shared, “so I’m really fortunate that they take such good care of me. In the past, I was given lots of work to do but it seems to have slowed down as of late. Work is still fun, but not quite as exciting as it used to be. Still, I’m grateful to be at one of the top agencies in this location...I’ve done so much to help get this firm some top clients, build teams, and get them to where they are now.”
She went on to speak about her divorce, and her desire to earn more as a single mom to her young son, especially as she starts saving up for private school tuition. While she was happy with the compensation she was getting, Carla shared that the changes in her personal life had lead her to want to start thinking ahead and considering her options career-wise. However, her hectic schedule always seemed to get in the way and her desire to plan things out took a backseat, as these things so often do. Busy complacency took precedence over her better judgement. Besides, she had a well-paid job at a reputable company. She was very lucky. We ended the conversation on that note and I thought that was that.
But I was wrong.
Two weeks later, I got another call from Carla. I learned that she had been unceremoniously laid off the day before Thanksgiving, by the same company that had taken “such good care of her”. It was such a far cry from our previous conversation and I remember listening in stunned silence as Carla detailed her surreal last day and the events leading up to it.
She spoke about the initial shock upon the delivery of the news. Her boss had given her no warning signs that this was about to happen. In fact, the day it happened, she was under the impression that they were going into one of their regularly scheduled project meetings. A mere 15 minutes before the scheduled meeting, she received an email notifying her of a room change; she walked into the new conference room location to be greeted by her boss and an HR staff member. They informed her that she was being laid off and that she had the rest of the day to say her goodbyes and clear out.
Carla walked out of the conference room in a daze. She recalled our conversation just weeks earlier and how much she regretted putting off her job search. She recalled how the project meeting she had spearheaded literally the day before won the company that big client they were courting, and how promising their lineup of projects was shaping up to be. The rest of the day was a blur; she had no appetite for lunch and just sat at her desk, trying to figure out what to leave and what to take. There was an uneasy, somber tone in the office that spread quickly and quietly with the news of her termination. Her co-workers kept a polite distance; they knew she was a dead man walking.
She was too disoriented to carry a conversation with any of them; her team was kind enough to throw together a hasty happy hour farewell for her after work, but she told me she barely remembered any of it. It was as if she was having an out of body experience.
Her heartbreak in the office followed her home that day.
Over the next few weeks, I stayed in close contact with Carla as she processed this unfortunate event. Her initial shock quickly turned to anger. How dare they let her go right before Thanksgiving, without so much as a warning? She had dedicated years of her life to this thankless company, only to be so abruptly discharged. Soon, she took to reasoning and tried to convince herself that this was a sign that she needed to spend more time with her son, but she knew that returning to work was really her only option to provide for her family.
I saw how disheartened she was upon realizing that she had to start looking at where to go next in her career, and to reorganize, rebuild, and rebrand her entire career history through her resumé and portfolio, as well as relearn how to find opportunities and present herself for interviews – and she didn’t feel ready to do any of it. She was in her 40’s and somehow felt like she was back to square 1 of her career. She was fed up; she had different opportunities to meet and connect with people at conferences and local meet ups but simply ended up cancelling. At this point, Carla simply couldn’t talk about it with people she wasn’t comfortable with, so she signed up for one of our private executive coaching programs. This gave her the time to regroup and reflect, and slowly but surely, regain the confidence to start putting herself out there. In our intense month-long journey with Carla to get things together, she rediscovered some of her old passions, is currently exploring contract work, and is making steady progress as we continue working with her in the program.
Ultimately, Carla did turn out to be one of the lucky ones because she recognized how dire her situation was, and got immediate help instead of frantically trying to sort everything out on her own. A month is not a long time and I know many others like her who sadly weren’t fortunate enough to figure their situations out. The generally accepted belief is that layoffs happen because companies have to downsize before the New Year to cut back on costs. In actuality, many of these layoffs happen because companies are cleaning house. Just like any system that’s developing, a business can’t just continue to grow and expand; sometimes, downsizing is necessary to restructure and allow the company to successfully evolve.
There are ways to navigate situations like these but as with any dilemma or ailment, prevention is the best medicine. Don’t allow it to reach that point where you’re scrambling to pick up the pieces after the fact and guessing your way through your career. The worst thing you could do is only start working on this when you absolutely have to, instead of having the piece of mind to plan ahead and work on this with time on your side.
I so wish we could work with people like Carla earlier on so that they aren’t blindly assuming that they’re making the right decisions. Don’t practice refining your professional skills on a real job opportunity or make an ambiguous decision if you’re not 100% sure why you’re making it. Every time you make a decision based on a guess, you’re closing the door to a greater opportunity. Now through what I teach, we have helped our clients reopen past doors that closed for them – but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to revisit these past opportunities because once we get you back in, the companies now see your BEFORE and AFTER – they have leverage over you, and it’s extremely difficult to win them over if you don’t have it all dialed in right.
The key is to address your uncertainties before they become a bigger problem. Our Thrive By Design program is specially designed to show you how to make these critical career decisions and how to perfect being that high-ticket professional in this industry, in a safe space where you can explore refining all the nuances of how you show up and come across as a professional. This way, you’re not risking practicing on a real job interview and potentially closing yet another door to opportunity.
Some people come to us too late – they’ve closed all the doors to the top companies they’ve wanted to work with. They’ve told the world the wrong stories about themselves and they’ve run out of funds and energy. Most of all, we’ve seen how many of them have lost all faith in themselves. We wish we could work with you before it gets to this point.
In the past, there used to be corporate policies in place that gave employees time to get their affairs in order after being laid off; at the very least, this gave them a safety net to fall back on. Sadly, such courtesies are no longer standard. Same-day terminations make more practical sense for large corporations because they protect these organizations from potential disgruntled employees who may try to sabotage them in some way. These companies are always looking out for number one – and it’s time you do the same. Only a select few creative professionals really know how to develop long-term, successful careers in design. Join the ambitious group of creative professionals who have taken our program and learned how to reach consistent career success.
This time of year is extremely busy for everyone. You’ve made it this far on a wing and a prayer. It’s time to dial it in and make that change for yourself. Start the new year on the right foot: looking ahead and planning out your future, instead of leaving it up to chance. Be prepared and see how you can own how your career plays out – no matter what the future holds!