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Amy Smith is an incredibly smart, driven woman who’s enthusiastic and fun at after-work happy hours (well, I don’t know this for sure, but I think she’s fun at regular happy hours so…). So 2015 when her boss gently broke the news that her job had been eliminated, Amy was gobsmacked. She went through all the feelings you’d imagine: fear, shame, self-doubt, anger… you name it. But after a series of events, her mindset shifted. Now she says getting laid off is the best thing that ever happened to her. Here’s how it all went down.
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Tell me about the day you were laid off.
A few days before it all happened, I got a weird “meeting” invite on my calendar so I had a hunch that something was wrong. I kept trying to tell myself I was being crazy. I mean, how bad could it be, really? I was doing a job I loved and people seemed to genuinely appreciate the work I was doing, so I figured whatever it was couldn’t be that big a deal.
When I got to the meeting, there was no one around and I ended up waiting by myself in the hallway for what seemed like forever.
When my manager and director arrived, they jumped right in and it took no more than two seconds to get the news that my job had been eliminated. I was stunned to say the least, but what could I do? I had to hold it together the best way I knew how.
How did you feel immediately after it happened? Scared? Hurt? Relieved? Embarrassed?
That moment is one that will likely stay with me forever. It was like being doused with a cold bucket of water. I had no idea what to say or do – I mean – how do you prepare for something like that? Fear, disbelief, anger, shame, embarrassment – you name it, it was there.
Sitting in that chair, I went immediately into reactive mode, trying to figure out how I could stem the tide. Were there other jobs available? Would I be considered for them? I had no idea what to expect.
Where I feel like I just got so, so lucky is that my director immediately addressed all of those fears. She said point blank, “All I can tell you is that we asked you to do a job and you did it. Look at our team now. They’re self-sufficient because you taught them, but unfortunately it means you’re out of a job.”
Hearing someone reiterate the value my work added was so critical. Without it, I don’t know that I’d be where I am today.
What was the first week after your layoff like?
I was so raw in those first few days. The fear and emotion of everything that was opened up was overwhelming at times, but I just continued taking one more step forward until I got back on my feet again.
I’d been given 60 days to find another job within the company, so I continued to go to work every day, interacting with my peers. Letting my co-workers know was probably one of the hardest things I had to do. Suddenly, I felt so separate from everyone else, so vulnerable. Luckily, I was welcomed with big open arms. That sense of community and support is what got me through the hardest of days.
After losing your job, you ended up taking a trip to New Zealand? Why?
My experience transitioning out of corporate was honestly gratifying (strange, I know!). For 60 days, I did nothing but network… The more I did, the more confidence I picked up and by the time my 60 days ended, I had come to a place of peace. I felt confident that I could find a new job when I was ready. Plus, I had this whole new army of supporters, which was an incredible feeling.
Once I knew I would be ok, my thinking completed shifted and I started to see all kinds of possibilities. New Zealand was one of them. How often do you get to travel open-ended, especially once you’ve started a career? Instead of trudging through a Minnesota winter, I enjoyed a double-summer!
What was the trip like?
The trip was 100 percent life-changing. I’ve traveled a lot, but always with a schedule. This time I felt completely unburdened. I literally picked up my backpack, bought a one-way ticket and said “I’ll come back when I come ready.”
For more than two months, I lived out of that backpack, sleeping in hostels and hiking almost every day. New Zealand is an outdoor lover’s paradise. It’s mountainous and beautiful everywhere you go. There are incredible beaches, hot water waterfalls (like an outdoor hot tub you can sit in!), glaciers, birds, glow-worm caves – so many things you just don’t see anywhere else.
I found myself feeling creative and whole again – like I was finally able to draw on my full resources and capability. Ideas started flowing. It was a truly joyful time.
You’re currently writing a book called The Layoff of Your Dreams: How to Make Lemonade When Work Gives You Lemons. Was there a specific moment that made you realize, hey, maybe this layoff is a gift?
When I realized that life was providing for me. I’d begun to meet with people I really resonated with – something I’d struggled to do early in my career – and suddenly I had all these new options. The reality is, those options were available to me all along, I was just so focused on what was right in front of me that I didn’t even see them as possibilities. At that point, I was able to look at the layoff in a completely new light. It became an opportunity to choose what I wanted to do next and that was a huge gift.
Since getting laid off you started your own company. Tell us about it.
My new company is called The Lemonry, which is a take-off on the title of my book.
At The Lemonry, we provide coaching for individuals ready to make a change. This process is powerful, transformative and actionable as we work together to intentionally design the future.
There are many reasons that people become ready to make a powerful change. It may be job related or it may just be that sense that there’s something missing. At The Lemonry, we help individuals and organizations get unstuck.
We love working with people who seek jobs more aligned with their values. We also love working with executives at small/medium sized businesses, who are knowledgable about their subject matter, but overwhelmed with actually managing of the business. They have ideas, but can’t seem to bring them to life. We help with clarifying goals, identifying ideas and communicating them effectively.
We also provide workshops for groups and teams to build alignment, increase productivity, and leverage the unique skills of each person.
Had you been thinking about this company prior to your layoff? Do you think you would’ve taken the leap on your own?
I’ve always been drawn to coaching, so it’s no surprise that I’ve ended up here. It’s so rewarding to see that light bulb moment when a new idea or solution becomes crystal clear for a client. Add that to my business background and there’s a whole host of things that I love to work on – and now get to do every day!
Would I have done it without the push? No, I honestly don’t think so, and therein lies the gift!
What are three things you learned through your layoff that you think would help other folks in the same situation?
Layoffs are tough – for everyone involved – but the more you can separate what’s happening to the work from what’s happening in yourself, the easier it is. Businesses move and shake so you’re definitely not alone. While layoffs have a huge impact on individuals, they are not about individuals so it’s important to separate those two.
Allow yourself to grieve for a while – it takes time to come to terms with what’s happened and that’s ok. Give yourself a break.
Reach out and stay connected to friends, family and co-workers. This can be a hard one, but it’s so critical. Not only can these supporters remind you of your value and skills, but your brain functions better with others around so get that brain revving before you start making decisions about what you’ll do next!
Stand in your value. The work you’ve done is something to be proud of. No matter what an organization is going through, your work makes a difference and the very thing that seems so ordinary in one organization may be a skill that’s critically need at another organization. You are worth it!
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Learn more about Amy’s latest venture by visiting TheLemonry.com.
PS Here’s another story of an awesome woman who lost her job, then started her own business and is killing it!
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