I’m getting laid off and it’s threatening my sense of identity

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

So a few days ago I found out that my last day at my company (of over a decade) will be in two months. Due to the pandemic, there’s a re-org and downsizing and I, along with many others, are being let go. I’m not angry at all and received a generous severance. I’m mostly sad because I love my company and my job. I was able to craft a job essentially just for me and add responsibilities to it as my career progressed. I had a very unusual situation but I’m the type to be like “hey someone should do this, I’m happy to” and it morphed into a unique role in the company.

My main problem is my sense of self. Often meeting new people, one of the first things that comes up is what I do for a job as I am currently single and have no kids. I know Americans tend to tie up a lot of their identity in their jobs. Even though I’m already actively looking for a new gig, working my contacts, and thinking of new ways to pivot to see if I could explore other interests, if I’m unemployed two months from now I know my confidence and self-worth will take a hit. How do you advise keeping my chin up? I’ve never been downsized or fired before in an over 15-year career.

Sooooo many people are in this boat right now or have been in it in the past! Let’s take this one to readers. Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 231 comments… read them below }

  1. Patty-Ice*

    I don’t have any advice I just want to say I really understand this. I got hired right out of school at my dream company and have been here for nearly 5 years. This is one of my biggest fears because my identity was for so long tied to “being a student at this school” to “being an employee at this company” and I became unemployed I’d definitely lose a bit of my sense of self.

    1. Sterling*

      What are the aspects or qualities of the company you most identify with? If you identify with things that you can apply internally, the pain and fear of losing a job are lessened because then your identity becomes fully about you and not about something external to yourself. Any time you can not have to go through an identity crisis at the same time you’re going through an income crisis is a comparative win. Any time you take control over your identity from an external party you become more resilient and uniquely you.

      Internalizing those identifiers can also make it easier to voluntarily walk away from a “dream company” or a “dream job” if a situation ever arises where you might need or want to do so. Sometimes the dream company may not end up being so dreamy, either because you realize you don’t like the work, or because it’s soul-destroying, or…. If your identity is directly tied to “*I* work for Cool Widgets, Inc., the coolest and most trendy company in the whole widget segment,” you might not be able to bring yourself to leave for something more fulfilling because the other thing isn’t the “cool” option.

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        True, I think over-identification with a company or a school is how we get a lot of the cover-up abuses that seem inexplicable. They think the most important thing is protecting the institution. We all need to practice standing up when it matters.

    2. Paisley*

      I was at my first “real” job out of University for 19 years when the Tech Industry tanked and they laid off a large portion of their workforce. I loved my job, my co-workers were like family and a lot of my identity and self-worth were tied up in that job as I was highly regarding among my peers. As you can imagine, my mental health took a big hit, but I had to keep my chin up because I had two young children and a husband. I was lucky and found a new job (which I ended up hating) a few weeks before my severance was up (I think I got a 3 month severance, but I can’t exactly remember). Since I had been there so long I took a free resume writing course and interview workshop at our local employment center – which helped tremendously since I had been there for so long.

      I can’t say that things went well for a while. I stayed at the job that I didn’t like for 2 years before I found the job I’ve been in for the past 8 years – which I love. I worked my way up and now am in Senior Management and I love my job, my boss and most of my colleagues :).

      I think the most important advice, looking back, is to trust your skills and have confidence that you will find your next favourite job if you are patient and not afraid to say no to what will not be a good fit. I would also suggest maybe a therapist or someone you can talk to about your feelings who can help you work through them – which I did not do, but should have. And to remind yourself that your self-worth has to do with who you are regardless of where you are. You have skills, you’re adaptable and you will find your next niche – maybe someplace totally different. I’m now in a totally different industry, but the skills that made me successful in my old position, helped me adapt to this new industry and find even more success here. That’s my take-away – your past experiences and ability to see what’s needed and adapt will make you just as successful in your next adventure and you might look back and realize the previous job was a stepping stone to something even more fulfilling. Good Luck!

    3. Jackie*

      I suffered through this over the past year, to the point of going to therapy to talk about it. A kind of surprising thing solved it for me: I made a personal website. I did it mostly to help my job search but ultimately I found the exercise of writing my personal “philosophy”, “about me”, samples of work, etc. to be incredibly therapeutic. It helped me think of a person who “helps companies do X, Y, and Z”, rather than doing one specific thing for one specific company.

      I spent a lot of time trying to make my identity not about my job- hobbies, etc. And while that was all well and good, the truth is that I AM a person who identifies by my job. The key was to make my professional identity about my skills and specialties and not about the company I happened to be working for. My career is all of my knowledge and experience, not the paycheck I happen to be collecting at any one point from a company who needs my skills at that time.

      You don’t have to make a website but I really do recommend writing a personal mission statement. Even if nobody but you reads it, I found it incredibly helpful and grounding. And as a bonus, it helped me A TON in my job search- it gave me a personal “brand” I could represent and come back to throughout interviews and networking conversations.

      Good luck!

  2. Rose*

    Get thee to a therapist! Seriously, a good therapist will help you answer the question, “Who I am without my job.” DO it now while you still have health insurance. I think it’s a great question to have the answer to even if you do pivot successfully before your layoff.

    1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Seconding this. A good therapist can help you navigate exactly this kind of upheaval and the identity crisis it kicks up. It’s a good idea to start now not just because of the insurance, but because using the two-month runway can help you be prepared for the “crash” once the transition actually happens.

      It’s so normal to be thrown off by this kind of change, especially one that’s outside of our control. We become attached to what we do day-in, day-out. Whether that’s showing up and giving your all to a job that can’t keep you, loving a spouse who you’re separating from, or moving from a city to a small town (or vice versa) – having to suddenly readjust to a change in external circumstances means having to find an internal compass that you may not be used to checking in with. There are ways to do that without a therapist, but a good therapist can be a majorly useful tool.

    2. Double A*

      Also check if you have access to your company’s EAP! When I was laid off (well… I could have stayed an taken a job that would have destroyed me) when my program closed, I was really mad about how it was handled and I used therapy through my EAP to process my feelings about it. Very helpful.

      1. Good Luck*

        Call your EAP. Schedule an appointment with a therapist. Do it NOW while you have the benefits.

        +1 to this entire thread.

  3. nuqotw*

    I’m really really sorry.

    It sounds like you’re seeking to avoid the following conversation:

    New Person: What do you do?
    You: My job was [x] but I was recently laid off.
    New Person: Let me tell you about a job doing [y]! / Job search tips / My job

    Do you have anything else you identify with that you could lean on right now? A hobby of some sort? Volunteer work? I’m imagining you could then have a conversation that goes

    New Person: What do you do?
    You: I was recently laid off and I’m doing [z].

    That should be a signal that it’s time to talk about [z] and not about jobs.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I’m not sure how much of the LW’s question is answering the question “what do you do?” and how much is sense of identity without anyone asking.

      I guess my answer for both is to find something else to do like a hobby or volunteer activity or create your own course of study with books from library, audiobooks, podcasts. It could be through some online learning systems, but doesn’t have to be. For a period of time I was into learning about architecture and checked a lot of books out of the library and watched documentaries. I read a lot of books and run a book club. I also ride my bike a lot, have a weekly mileage goal, plus it’s a great way to cover my city and I see a lot of cool houses, street art and other things on my rides. I have a friend who loves dogs and raises money for the animal shelter through craft sales and volunteers with the shelter.

      Not going to lie, this is going to be hard. None of these hobbies or volunteer work will likely fill 40 hours.But I think having one or several things to do with goals or a schedule to distract from your job hunt, to stimulate your brain, and give you something to talk to others about will help.

      We in American are obsessed with jobs and so often lead with “what do you do?” Where I live now that’s not as often a question and I think we’re better for it.

      1. Autumnheart*

        When you think about it, having one’s profession be their identity has a lot of historical context. Think of all the people named Taylor, Baker, Wright, Smith, etc. In modern society, it’s a lot easier to change careers and fill a new niche in the workforce, but that hasn’t always been true.

    2. Ellis Hubris*

      My advice is in this camp so I’ll get with this bandwagon.

      Get a lot of sleep. When your career is a large part of identity, you need sleep. I used to dream of my projects, how to improve, the tasks I need to complete. That will take up some time.

      Like those here say, find who you are. Consider it like a new friendship, come with curiosity and see what comes out. Often our careers reflect who we are, our values and such, but there is always more.

      When I got a few month’s, after years of pushing hard in a career I loved, I slept, I drank wine with friends, I swung on a porch swing at midday and watched neighbors. Slowly I found desires of things I never had time to do or where I wanted to be – fostering kittens made me insanely happy, using my organizational skills to help homeless youths satisfied my desire to feel useful – there is so much out there. Explore.

    3. PromotionalKittenBasket*

      I loved cheerfully saying “I’m not working right now!” and moving the conversation along. It was kinda fun to see people try to figure out why without actually asking.

  4. Been There*

    Those feelings are so hard. I cannot more strongly recommend seeking out a therapist, there are a lot of virtual therapy options now and insurance is covering it more and more. When I went through a crushing identity crisis after a career shift, having someone objective in my court was critical. Seeing the likelihood of this coming from you is so valuable – you can head it off now and a therapist can help you maybe even avoid it entirely, or if not can help get you through it. Good luck!

  5. The Original K.*

    I’m there right now – my last day at my job is tomorrow. I didn’t even like the job very much but losing it in a pandemic with unemployment rates over 10% is scary. I was laid off in 2015 as well after a restructuring, and I really went through feelings of uselessness. You’re right that Americans are really wrapped up in our jobs; we ask “what do you do?” immediately after meeting a new person.

    I have found a few things helpful: for one, recognize that in this moment, literally tens of millions of people are in our shoes. 1.1M people filed for unemployment last week. Odds are good that most people you know knows someone else who has been affected by the pandemic in this way. Also, have some semblance of routine – you don’t need to keep the same hours you did when you were working, but a routine is useful for me. And if you can, keeping your skills sharp with volunteering (there are remote volunteer opportunities) can help contribute to feeling useful.

    But even with all that, there are days that are going to suck. If you hit one where you’re just down in the dumps, it’s OK to lean into it and stay in bed. It’s virtually impossible to be happy all the time right now even if you ARE employed – the US is grieving not just people, but lost opportunities, jobs, plans … it’s just a bad time.

    1. Double A*

      This is a bit tangential, but I’ve tried to stop asking people “What do you do” as small talk anymore. It’s interesting to get to know someone without knowing what their job is. I find that since I moved away from the city, this question actually isn’t as on top of the agenda anymore when I meet people. Also a lot pf people I know have kind of weird freelancy, family business type jobs that are sort of hard to explain, so I often forget what anybody does anyway.

      1. Partly Cloudy*

        Yeah, I hate how it sometimes (usually?) comes up out of the blue. I don’t mind when the subject comes up organically, but when someone asks me just for something to say, I feel like my response is either curt-sounding ( I can give a one-word answer that is technically complete) or a long-winded paragraph and they didn’t really care that much in the first place.

        Ironically, I liked it better when people asked when I was actually job hunting, because I could segue into “do you know anyone who’s hiring for X?”

      2. Orange You Glad I Said Orange*

        I’ve switched to asking new people, “What are you a nerd about?” and it’s sparked the most intensely interesting conversations (building a trailer-boat to circumnavigate the globe, touring haunted houses every weekend, selling collectible sneakers on EBay, etc). Soooo much more interesting than “what do you do to earn your daily bread in our dystopian capitalist society?”

      3. Cassidy*

        A 1-off I have of that is when people ask me “Oh? Where?” after asking me what I do for a living. It’s just so…awkward. They may as well be asking me for my home address.

      4. alphaOne*

        My husband is essentially a career coach, and he is adamant about never asking the question in that way, and he encourages all his friends to avoid it too

    2. Anni*

      I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

      I lost a job I felt similarly about in June. It felt so strange to be suddenly rudderless, and extra-hard that it’s during a pandemic that’s using all of our mental and emotional reserves up. Here are some of the things that have really helped me, take or leave whatever works for you:

      1) If you have severance/unemployment to hold you through financially for awhile, take some time to not think about what’s next job-wise. So many people feel like they have to start applying to places right away, but I wasn’t emotionally ready for this yet. I needed time to grieve, rest, and recharge. I went for long walks, cooked, wrote in my journal, read books, watched bad TV, cried, whatever felt good in the moment.
      2) Find a therapist if you can. It was really nice to have someone to talk to who was trained not to just say “oh everything happens for a reason” but instead guide me through those rough months.
      3) Eventually, all the stuff from #1 stops feeling like enough. After a month of that, all of the sudden I was itching for something new. I started getting excited about the possibility of job postings when before I’d felt a pit in my stomach reading them. Not forcing myself to think about what comes next… helped me figure out what I wanted to come next.
      4) Set a routine for yourself, eat healthy, exercise (after appropriate couch time and junk food in stage 1, of course).

      I honestly hadn’t realize how burned out I was starting to feel from my dream job. I loved it, and gave it my all, but also hadn’t established great boundaries with it. I think when you’re somewhere so long, it’s easy to assign a lot of your personal growth that happens post-college to the place. But it’s not the place–it’s you. And you get to take that work with you wherever you go next.

      1. Vaughanstein*

        My company abruptly closed down in June with no notice. I don’t have any advice for you, just solidarity. I have never felt so useless and expendable. I often wake up and don’t know what day it is. I’ve had 8 interviews since then and come very close to an offer with 1 company, but no offer yet. It’s so competitive out there and the constant rejection can be very demoralizing. I’m hoping better things are around the corner for you.

        1. TardyTardis*

          There are a lot of resources at a site called Think TQ (Total Quality). Yes, they try to sell you a lot of things, but there is a lot there for free that you may find help. Although the chipper little booster audio they have each morning is only if you’re up for it, there are lots of days I avoid it!

  6. katelyn*

    I hit up against that a few years past and realized that it wasn’t the company that I really identified with, but the profession. I wanted to stay in the same type of role and industry, because I’m really good at it and find it engaging. So I re-framed it in my head from “I work at Llamas Inc.” to “I’m a senior Llama groomer currently looking for my next opportunity”.

    Best of luck in your search OP!

    1. glitter writer*

      I work in a layoff-prone industry and this was what I realized when a surprise axe fell on my whole team after four years together. It wasn’t the job I missed so much (although I did love that job) as it was the fear that I might have to leave the profession and the industry. And I was definitely hanging a lot of my identity on those.

      Luckily I have been able to remain in the industry, doing similar work, and a focus on that was able to get me through most of the unemployment window. (Unemployment is always so, so, SO hard. Even when there’s not financial precariousness as part of that.) Rooting for the OP to achieve the same!

    2. Shirley Keeldar*

      Right, I had a similar thought—OP has lost her job (so sorry, OP!) but not her profession. She’s still a llama groomer or a hoof specialist if that’s part of how she wants to see herself and introduce herself to others. She has all her skills and knowledge and experience—those don’t vanish with the paycheck.

    3. OtterB*

      I agree with this. Although OP has created her own job to some extent, which makes this harder. But I would suggest framing it in terms of the kinds of tasks you like to do or the services you want to provide to people. So my answer would be, “I believe people should have the information they need to make decisions, and I’m currently doing that by running surveys and handling data management and reporting about topic X for organization Z.” Which could pivot to, “I used to do this for organization Z but was laid off, and am looking for another opportunity in that line.”

      (Possibly addressed to yourself, not just to other people.)

      It is hard. Good luck with finding something good.

      1. HeyItsMe*

        This is great, I’m looking to pivot more to what I’ve been doing at work on a volunteer basis so correlating my skills has been tricky but feasible.
        – OP

    4. MassMatt*

      I would take this a bit further and say it’s helpful to identify yourself with your SKILLS. This does literally answer the “what do you do” question but focuses the answer on what you are capable of, which may expand the scope or universe of what both you and the people you are talking to think you are capable of.

      Try to shift the conversation from the past and the layoff to the future. Acknowledge it, say something positive about it, and immediately talk about what you are doing and looking for NOW. It’s very hard to stay positive, and while people are sympathetic with so many people going through layoffs, people are more inclined to help someone with a positive outlook.

      If your layoff includes any kind of outplacement services, I would recommend using them. I was laid off after 15 years with the same employer, the help I received there was instrumental in improving my resume and interview skills (I had not yet found this blog–definitely use the materials here for resumes, cover letters, and interviewing!).

      Being laid off is painful, there’s no way around that. Take care of yourself, get your sleep, try to exercise and stay active, this is a challenge in the pandemic but it will help.

      Good luck, OP, and to everyone else out there in the same boat!

      1. HeyItsMe*

        I was even advised to add a skills section to my resume by HR pros and you’ve hit it on the head: “This does literally answer the “what do you do” question but focuses the answer on what you are capable of, which may expand the scope or universe of what both you and the people you are talking to think you are capable of.” Thanks for the insight and well wishes!
        – OP

    5. Sarita*

      This mindset change really helped me, and I’m also in a layoff prone industry. Whether or not I’m employed this is still what I’m skilled at and interested in, there are just different ways in which I apply that.

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I second this advice. I would add that it sounds like the LW might have done a lot of different things or wore a lot of hats. Maybe she was more project manager or something. I would maybe pick out a few things that they really liked and focus on how that can tie in to your life. May e looking for similar jobs.

  7. Disabled ace*

    I’m going to quote the post I made a few months ago on from a post I made a few months ago (May 15th, can I put up privacy film at work, how to explain my dead-end job, and more):

    Not because your situation is 1:1 the same as the OP’s in that post – because it’s about the tie between work and identity and the way that that, maybe, is overrated.

    I’ve recently gotten on disability (the can’t work at all and never will kind) and thus don’t work. I’ve got visible and invisible disabilities, but the reason I can’t work is because of the invisible ones.

    When people ask what I do for a living/in daily life/etc (my age bracket is ‘maybe works, maybe goes to college’), I usually answer with ‘Not much at all – my health isn’t great’.

    I have over the years started checking myself when someone assumes, or might assume, I have an intellectual disability – I used to pre-counter that assumption by saying something witty. A disability rights blogger, Dave Hinsburger, was talking about internalized ableism and the ‘disability hierarchy’: the notion that disabled people who can work are better than disabled people who can’t and that people with physical disabilities are better than people with intellectual disabilities. Which is all nonsense, because we’re all people, and we all have worth.
    There is dignity in work, whether you’re a CEO or a grocery bagger.
    There is dignity in living, whether you get out of bed in the morning or whether you smile at the people who bring you breakfast because you can’t get out of bed.
    When someone assumes that you work your McJob because you lack the intelligence to work a ‘better’ job – maybe you do lack that intelligence, maybe you do not, but is that even relevant? If the other person thinks you are worth less if you aren’t intelligent, they are ableist butt-holes and maybe their opinion doesn’t matter. The problem isn’t their wrong assumptions (regarding your intelligence), but their wrong judgement (regarding the value of a person with low intelligence).

    There is value in all work, except for calling old ladies to get their social security number.
    It consistently surprises me that a pharmacist is seen as better than the pharmacy tech, and the tech as better than the pharmacy janitor. All three are necessary for the smooth running of the operation. I’m not talking about pay disparaty here – that’s a result of scarcity, not necessarily of value – but in regards to ‘social capital’ or ‘what job is better’ and ‘who is worth more, who is more valuable, who is more necessary’.

    Google “Why Garbagemen Should Earn More Than Bankers” The article – it’s not behind a paywall – is a delightful comparison of what happened when a city’s garbagemen went on strike for nine days, and when a country’s bankers went on strike for six months.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I worked in a particular industry for 30 years in many roles. I didn’t realize how much I identified with my industry until I started working a civil service job. I went this route for benefits and to be near my aging mother. I was lucky to get the job and yet…when someone asks where I work, I always seem to add an introductory explanation as to why I am at that job. (I am still doing that explaining, as shown by my third sentence in this post.) It’s hard. I get a few freelance gigs too, and I tend to focus on that work when asked. I also have many outside interests, so I will steer the conversation to those things.

      I am disappointed in myself for doing this. If you’d asked me how I’d feel about this before I got laid off and decided on a very practical path, I would have told you it wasn’t going to bother me. I actually do like the idea of being of service to my community, so I focus on that aspect. But…I also frame it as my “retirement job” so there you go.

      1. HeyItsMe*

        Ok I didn’t realize not all emojis are showing up… but I gave you the hands up “saluting” emoji! Thanks so much for sharing.

    2. Portia Longfellow*


      Two months ago I took a medical retirement from a career I deeply loved (and still do) that I had internalized in ways both good and bad. I’ve been disabled all my life, but a new health issue made me completely unable to work about two years ago. I’m not yet 40, and appear mostly able-bodied, so a lot of people make presumptions. (I’m also single and childless! *high-five*) I’m still working on some of the internalized identity stuff and shame – therapy is a godsend there, and even if you get your dream job tomorrow, it’s still worthwhile to build those boundaries between work and self and your worth.

      To boot, even when I was working, I rarely told people what I actually did because of security reasons, so I would just offer a vague, “I work in government/do a lot of research,” type answers. All of which is to say that I’ve had a lot of practice not telling people what I do!

      What’s really helped me is being upbeat in my responses, even though it took some practice and ‘fake it till you make it.’ If someone says, “What do you do?”, I may interpret it casually and redirect, “I’m really loving this [book/hobby/show]. What do you enjoy doing in your time off?” If they ask specifically about work, I’ll say something like, “I used to work as X, but now I’m an international lady of leisure! I enjoy [hobby], what about you?” (Alas, since COVID, I am only a local lady of leisure, but I kind of love the alliteration.) I say all of this quite cheerily, and most people follow my lead. If people ask why I don’t work, my answer depends more on their tone; if they’re being nosey or pushy, I’ll stick with a short, “I can’t because I have disabilities”; if they’re sincere, maybe a more lighthearted, “My disabilities were buy one, get one free!” or “My mom forgot to get the extended warranty when I was born.” I’m comfortable about sharing some of my diagnoses with people who are respectful, and it’s actually sparked lots of interesting conversations. As others have mentioned, I’ve also tried to get out of the habit of asking what new-to-me people do for a living. Open with “What are you nerdy about?” or “What do you like to do?”, which offers the the choice of bringing up work themselves of discussing hobbies. I try to encourage everyone to reframe these loaded reflexive questions about work.

      In your situation, for the practicalities of what to say to people who ask about your work, here are some options, depending on the situation and your desires:

      – “I am an X, but I’m between jobs at the moment. I’m really enjoying [the downtime/book/etc]. What do you like to do in your spare time/to stay sane during the pando?” to cheerfully redirect the conversation.

      – “I used to work as/for X, but I was recently laid off. I’m taking some time to explore my options/looking for new opportunities in Y,” if you want to be a bit more frank or try to network. If people try to push unsolicited suggestions, you can deflect with something like, “Thank you, but I’m enjoying the chance to relax/decompress right now.”

      Please try to let go of any shame for being laid off – one of the crappy silver linings of the pandemic is that so many people share this experience that everyone understands. If you’re out of work for two months or six months or a year or more, no one’s going to question it. The same thing happened on a smaller scale during the Great Recession. Neither employers nor anyone else are going to think you’re not a good employee or person – this is thing that happened to you and many others totally outwith your talents, skills and abilities.

      I know you basically built your own role at your last job and it may have seemed like the perfect unicorn, but I imagine you’ve built a wide variety of skills, some or many of which will apply to a new job. I don’t believe that people only get one true love, nor do we only get one perfect job. If you focus on the parts of your job you loved the most, you may very well find a job and a company that you come to love as much as your old role. Or you might find something completely different! I had two English degrees and ended up in a career that I didn’t know existed, that was heavy on quantitative and qualitative research and geospatial analysis. All of this was new to me, but I absolutely fell in love with it. And as much as I loved it and it became a core part of my identity, I’ve learned that it does not define me. We all have worth beyond what we do to pay the bills, and the vast majority of people have also been laid off at some point or care about someone who has. You are not alone, and no decent person will judge you. Be kind and gentle with yourself, take what time you can to explore your optionS, and maybe look further afield – you may not find a position exactly like your old one, but I’m confident you can find one that you can enjoy and excel in. I wish you all the best!

      1. HeyItsMe*

        Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. It is true- it was kind of like a unicorn job and that may be part of what is hard to deal with. I am not ashamed of being let go- like you said, it’s not just me. I hope that anyone else in the same boat can find strength in solidarity.
        Do you pronounce it lee-sure or lej-ur? Just curious because I pronounced it both ways in my head while reading and wondered what you chose.

    3. SeluciaMD*

      That is a beautiful sentiment and framing that I think is really helpful to a lot of people right now, and one that, frankly, we should all be reflecting on and internalizing on the daily. So well said! Kudos.

      Also, thanks for sharing that article link – it was fascinating!!! Such an interesting read. I’d love to think that we as a society could reframe our value model around work and societal contributions and make sure essential workers are properly compensated. You’d think we might have learned a little something about that during a pandemic, but not so much it seems.

  8. ThatGirl*

    A few thoughts:
    – so, so, SO many people have been laid off at some point in their life, and it’s even more understandable right now. there’s no shame in it, and it’s also OK to not want to linger on it in conversation.
    – find a hobby and/or volunteer work to keep yourself busy; it will give some structure to your day and something to focus on besides job searching
    – set aside a few hours each day to do job-search related stuff, do it then, and then stop. keep up other routines – don’t sleep too late, eat at normal times, exercise, etc. — but also let yourself have a weekend of doing absolutely nothing sometimes, just to recharge.

    1. ThatGirl*

      oh, and above all, be PATIENT with yourself and the process. Even in the best of times it can take a few months and job searching is more precarious now; even once you find the right next job it can take a month or two to get through the hiring process. That’s normal. And it’s normal to get antsy or anxious about it, but remember that these things take time and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or your resume.

    2. Cassidy*

      To ThatGirl’s excellent post, may I add, file for unemployment. Call your creditors and find out what they can do for you. Make minimum payments on your debts. Consider a credit counselor (and your credit union or bank is a good place to find one) if you’re deep in debt. Go to food pantries. If you it’s feasible, move in with someone else. If you pay on student loans, take those payments (suspended interest-free until Sept. 30) and put those payments into a savings account. Apply for reduced payments or assistance at your utility company/-ies. Cut cable and if you need TV to make it through, get a digital antenna. I got one for about $0 and couldn’t be happier. Same for Internet: use your phone as your access to the Web it possible.

      Meanwhile, see if you can do anything remotely, even for only a few hours a week. You’ll be employed, have at least some income, and otherwise feel you have some direction. You might find work as a contact tracer.

      In short, do everything you can to get things off your plate so that you can focus on you as those things hum along and take care of themselves. I understand you’re asking about identity but I think it’s smart to take care of logistics first. Of course, rest in between, cry when you need to, and laugh every chance you get.

      Good luck, OP. This will pass, and you’ll be gainfully employed once more. You’ll see.

      1. HeyItsMe*

        Thank you! I have been actually jumping into the logistics and taking a second look at things right away- it helps to have purpose. Unlike many others I am quite lucky in that I know I will be ok for a while and my parents have also offered to help out if needed. In the middle of this kind of economy, I truly recognize how fortunate I am.

  9. WantonSeedStitch*

    This definitely sounds like an excellent time to explore new hobbies or get more serious about old ones! Learn to knit! Start Zumba classes! Volunteer at an animal shelter! Start baking sourdough bread! What fills your time and takes up your attention when you’re NOT working? What have you always wanted to try doing but never had the time?

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      True, I wouldn’t always say this but it sounds like this could almost be an opportunity for OP. I personally don’t think it’s the most healthy thing to define yourself by your role at work: you always run the risk of losing something external like that in many ways (illness, have to move home to take care of family, other unexpected life circumstances). Who are you *internally*? Who are you in your community? This is a somewhat privileged position, of course, as many people cannot afford to go without work for even a few weeks, but maybe this time can be used to help answer those questions. Good luck, OP!!

  10. AnonEMoose*

    I’m sorry, OP – job loss is devastating, for so many reasons. Especially when you’ve been there for so long.

    I’d say…give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. Trying to repress or ignore the feelings just makes them worse in the long run. So be sad, be angry, feel abandoned, whatever you need to feel. Different approaches for managing this work for different people.

    Self-distraction is one strategy – notice whatever you’re thinking or feeling, acknowledge it to yourself (“I’m feeling sad and angry right now”), and then go back to whatever you were doing.

    Or give yourself permission to be sad for 30 minutes. And then at the end of 30 minutes, get up and wash your face or take a shower and do something else. Go for a walk, work on your resume or apply for jobs.

    Be kind to yourself. Try not to give too much head space to negative thoughts about you…even if you’re unemployed longer than a couple of months. It’s hard right now. The world is a massive dumpster fire, and you’re trying to find a new job, and that’s hard even when things are good. And as long as you are keeping on keeping on, you are awesome.

    I wish you all the best, OP, and that you find yourself an even better job, very soon.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I was coming here to say this. Some things are just going to hurt. You don’t have to wallow, but you do have to feel your feelings. (Ask me how I know!)
      Do you have someone you talk to? It is helpful just to process things by talking, and another person can help you from crossing from reflecting into ruminating.

    2. WhatDayIsIt*

      Second this.

      I’m currently grieving a missing pet and I think my therapist’s advice rings true here as well: Schedule in your grief. Something has been lost, a part of your identity, and it’s okay to be sad about it. Take that half-hour/hour period to feel it, and then be gentle on yourself when needed the rest of the time.

  11. Nikki*

    I’ve been laid off three times in my career, so I’m very familiar with how this feels. When such a huge life change is forced on you, it can be disorienting. I think you should try to view this as an opportunity, as much as you can. Try to spend a few hours a day away from job hunting and focused on something else. Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to take up or invest more time in? An online class that might boost your resume, or even just one you think would be fun? Books you’ve meant to read that you haven’t had time for? Spending this time daily focusing on something productive that has nothing to do with your job search will do worlds of good for your mindset.

    1. Another freelancer*

      Agreed. When I was unemployed, I would job-search in the morning, when I felt the most focused and refreshed. If I completed a certain number of job-related tasks each morning – for instance, filling out two or three applications – then I treated myself to something small. It wouldn’t be expensive, but it would be something like watching a few episodes of a favorite show or taking the afternoon to read a book. It helped me stay motivated.

      Best of luck, OP, and best of luck to everyone in this situation.

  12. Not A Girl Boss*

    All I can say is, same. So much of my identity is “high performer” or “successful person”.

    The HBR article on insecure overacheivers really hit home for me, and allowed me to start questioning why thats an important part of my identity. Which helped.

      1. Red Stapler*

        Thank you for this article. My mouth dropped open as I read it. I felt that metaphorical light bulb going off over my head.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      This is a great point, it’s not just that one over-identifies with their job, it’s that all your apples are in the bucket of “smart, successful go-getter.” It’s good to cultivate love for yourself even if you’re not achieving, even when you’re not on top, even if you’re not the smartest person in the room. It makes you a more well rounded and compassionate person honestly.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yes this!
        Its funny how the less afraid you are of “not being the best” – the more capacity you have to grow and actually become the best.

        Or, as some silly quote on Instagram said this morning, “Self care *is* productive.”
        Just in general learning to have hobbies that weren’t productive was huge for me. Previous hobbies included exercise, self improvement books, educational podcasts, educational books, and nutrition coaching… and I ended every day tired but wired.
        3 months ago I bought myself a kindle and made myself download only trash romance, no self improvement books, and reading them before bed has been the best thing ever for improving my sleep which in turn has improved my productivity levels during the day so I can spend more time reading at night…

        1. HeyItsMe*

          Thanks for the article and the “you don’t have to be the best” self-care reminded!
          – OP

        2. Sheep*

          So much this. I buy all the educational books and do all of the relevant courses, and listen to all the smart, learn something useful podcasts & although I love it, it’s still learning/working. This summer I’ve mostly read fiction, and it really does do something else to me.

          Thanks for the article as well! I’ve read it before, but it’s a good reminder for a high achiever on FMLA.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      This is where I relate the most. I’ve been laid off twice. Losing the actual jobs weren’t too much of a hit to my identity and for the first layoff, it was massive and cut almost everyone in my division. I had only been there for just over a year and given how many people were affected, it was hard to take that personally, and I had a backup plan (going back to grad school) within a few weeks that I could look forward to.

      The second one, though. While my company as a whole was laying off a ton of people (a regular thing in our industry), I was the only one in my role who was laid off. How could my “high performer” identity take that? I kind of ignored it and figured I would just pack up my expertise and go elsewhere. It didn’t work out very well for a while – I’m senior-level in a very niche field and geographically bound. I had many sleepless nights freaking out that my career was over. I considered switching fields and found a few to get excited about, but they were impossible to crack into without also considering retraining. So I felt stuck for a while, which wasn’t great. Eventually I started taking an online certificate in a challenging new area with overlap in my area of expertise, and found that I really enjoyed it. It took a lot of focus and I felt like I was accomplishing something of value. It gave me back my feeling of being successful at something.

      So, things I would have done differently: looked into online courses immediately and started focusing my energies on learning new things and finding inspiration there. I tried to reframe my identity from being just Expert in X to Expert Learner, and maybe from that I’d find that I could eventually become skilled in Y or Z or something else I was interested in.

      1. TardyTardis*

        But you needed the adjustment time before you would have been happy at those courses. Grieving has its value, too.

  13. Steve Szalecki*

    My advice is to become the CEO of your job search, which you need to begin quickly. Start by branding yourself for your ideal next position, by updating your resume and LinkedIn profile. Begin composing “pain letters” to prospective hiring managers at companies you are interested in, whether or not there’s currently an opening. And lost importantly, find opportunities within your network to get in the back door to get in front of the hiring manager. It’s ok to grieve, and doing do now while you’re still employed will help you later. Treat the job search with the same fervor you’ve treated your current job and you’ll get the desired results!

    1. ThatGirl*

      Ugh, no, do not write pain letters. Alison has advised against them, and they are more annoying than successful. Link in follow up comment.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        This. And don’t try to “get in the back door” through your network either. Use your network to find out who’s likely to have positions opening up soon, what kinds of skills or qualifications people in your field should have now, what the culture is like at various places, where they feel the industry is going, etc.

      2. voluptuousfire*

        Yes, no pain letters. Do not follow the advice of Liz Ryan, please!

        How do you know exactly what the role is going to deal with? You may have a high level, vague idea but assuming what you’ll be doing to show how you would alleviate a pain point is kind of gauche.

        Also, speaking as a recruitment coordinator, ALWAYS APPLY VIA THE ROLE IN THE ATS. Don’t create more work for the people who are hiring for the roles. I once had someone snail mail their resume to our office for a role (and we’re a tech company!) and I had to scan it into our ATS and email it to the recruiter. While it didn’t take long (15 mins with everything), it didn’t cast the candidate in a positive light. They ended up not even being in the ballpark for the role either.

        1. FormerInternalRecruiter*

          Ugh yes please do not follow the advice of Liz Ryan! As a former recruiter, she annoys me to no end.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      ” whether or not there’s currently an opening.”

      Absolutely not. Everything has to go through the Applicant Tracking System. Companies are strict about this because the ATS is used to monitor submissions for EEO violations. If they get caught going around it, it’s a legal problem.

      1. Anononon*

        While I do disagree with the advise the Steve gave, I’m confused by this comment. This…is definitely not the case for many, many companies. There is no general “Applicant Tracking System,” and many (most? a majority?) companies don’t have this formal a process.

        1. ThatGirl*

          I’m sure there are small businesses/companies out there that don’t use an ATS, but I can say with some certainty that they are very widespread in usage. The larger point, I guess, is to use the application process that the company has – it’s there for a reason, and trying to get around it will generally not put you in a favorable light.

        2. FormerInternalRecruiter*

          It depends on size of the company and industry, but every company I’ve ever worked for (except a family owned small business) has used an ATS of some kind. There usage is widespread, and it can look different from the applicant side. You might just see a form to complete online with a link to upload your resume, but that is getting fed into some sort of ATS.

    3. Beth Jacobs*

      Apart from the concerns voiced above, becoming “CEO of your job search” won’t help OP feel better if the job search won’t go as well as they’d like. And in this economy, that’s very much a possibility. Human beings have value independent of selling their labour.

  14. 56ismyfavoritenumber*

    I think a counseling or therapy session would be good to consider. Not because there’s anything wrong with you or what you’re going through, but because they’re great resources for revealing/developing an identity outside of external factors – especially relationships and jobs. As someone also single with no kids and who tends not to dive into hobbies super deep (I’m more of a dabbler) I find I run out of things to talk about real fast that aren’t the latest videogame I’ve played and the latest movie I haven’t seen, and I’ve been given more tools to deal with that (among lots of other things!) as a result of counseling.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      After one layoff, we were all given access to outplacement services. That was the single best thing that happened to me that year. It was group sessions, andhad low-stakes practice with other people in the same boat. All the temporarily awkward questions like “what do you do” and “where do you work” get easier with repetition.
      I was in an emotionally easier place, laid off from a job that was a great learning experience but not the ideal one. I realized after the layoff that I had already been answering “what do you do” in a way to put me one foot out the door. “I’ve been in X for years, although I’m an X1 at the moment.”

  15. Lizy*

    Discover yourself!!! It would be a great time to find a hobby (or 5… lol). Try out something you’ve always wanted to do and fail spectacularly at it. Keep at it until you’ve mastered it or get bored with it, then try something new! When job stuff comes up in conversation, you can easily say “I’ve taken this as a time to try X and I’m actually really good at it” or “I really, REALLY suck at it and that’s hilarious”.

    I think it will definitely help that you’re not mad about the lay-off. Find the good in having some “extra” time to yourself. And remember to keep it positive – it really doesn’t matter if you have to throw out a pot because your pot roast cooked too long and it literally crusted to the pan. What matters is trying and exploring and ENJOYING yourself. (I may or may not have had to throw out a pot when I first got married because the pot roast literally crusted to the pan… thankfully I’m a slightly better cook 13 years later…)

    Good luck!!!

      1. Lizy*

        I’ve gotten the most out of things/projects/hobbies I knew I would fail spectacularly at. I’m generally a perfectionist with hobbies, and it has hindered my ability to take that first step. Once I changed my mindset to “I’m going to enjoy this and who cares if it sucks” it helped a lot.

        Example – I can a lot of stuff (like homecanning pickles, jams, etc.). I canned a TON of pickles the first year, and I just so happened to be pregnant. I still can’t eat those, and it’s really been just the last few months that I really want anything to do with pickles at all. Everyone else claims they taste fine, but in my mind, they are literally the grossest thing EVER. Epic fail. But – I enjoyed it. I tried something new, and now have a comical story to tell on top of the fact I now sell pickles that I can’t eat LOL. (Because seriously – the irony that a pregnant lady can’t eat pickles is definitely not lost on me.)

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Thank you- accepting one’s failures can be tough! And as far as not being mad, I want to stress I’m sure some others are and everyone is entitled to their own feelings and responses. I also know many people may have been laid off months ago and may be in more difficult situations. The single/no kids also means I have more opportunities to experiment than someone else might. But I have found to hard to get angry, even though I went from getting promoted to getting laid off. The outpouring of support is so lovely!

      1. Lizy*

        Oh I’m sure I’d be PISSED at first lol! I mean, I’m still a little bitter that I wasn’t able to continue my job of 5 1/2 years… I moved and was able to work remotely, but wanted to stay on forevah. They said no because it wasn’t a job that could be done remotely (yeah, right *eye roll*). There’s definitely a part of me that’s silently gleeful that they had to all work from home when the pandemic hit. Karma? And that was a year ago… lol!

        You seem very gracious about it, and I hope you’re able to “refind” and redefine yourself :)

  16. tab*

    I went through this 10 years ago. I had been with my company for over 20 years, and hoped to stay until I retired. I’m not going to lie, it hurt! Here’s what I did. I made a schedule for myself. I went to the Y every morning and exercised. I got into shape. I let everyone I know that I was looking for work. In a few weeks a former colleague asked if I could consult. I checked my schedule, and said, “Yes, I’m available.” Then another former colleague asked if I could consult, and I started my consulting business. I’m still consulting 10 years later, and I love it! It’s true that when a door closes, another opens. You got this!

  17. CatCat*

    Ooooh, I could be really down on myself when I had some couple stretches of unemployment in the past. Volunteer work helped me so much, even when it was just like half a day per week. It created some structure to my time, helped with a sense of purpose and well-being, I got to help others, and it also gave me something really positive to talk about.

    Sometimes the volunteer work was related to my professional skills and sometimes it was not. Reflecting back, I’d say the work relating to my professional skills was more practical because it kept those skills up and I could talk about it in interviews. But the work not related to my professional skills was still extremely valuable and worthwhile for my sense of self.

    1. tab*

      I should have mentioned that I also volunteered more with my professional society after my layoff. I’m still volunteering today, and was elected to the BoD representing the US Southeast Region.

  18. LadyByTheLake*

    I am nearing retirement, but throughout my career I’ve been laid off four times and know many many people who have been in the same boat. The first thing to know is that there is no shame at all in being laid off — most people have been there.
    The way to frame it is what are you looking for — “I’m a llama groomer, I just got laid off, so I am a currently looking for something in llama grooming” “I’m an Office manager, most recently I was in the llama grooming industry, but now I’m open to anything where I can use my organizational (or whatever) skills.” In other words, you are still a llama groomer or office manager or whatever your skill set is.

  19. irritable vowel*

    At the end of last year, I had two huge life changes – I left my job of 15 years, and my marriage ended. One was my choice, and one wasn’t. So, I have absolutely had the feeling that I lost two big parts of my identity, and have been working on figuring out who I am without those things (in the middle of a pandemic). It’s hard! But I keep reminding myself that I have an underlying sense of self that belongs to me, aside from those external parts that are no longer there. And those things are still a part of me, as well, in the form of lived experience. Therapy helps – if you’re able to talk to someone about this stuff, I recommend it.

  20. Furloughed and waiting*

    This couldn’t come at a better time. I’ve been furloughed since April and I was told my boss would know more mid-August. It’s past mid-August now and I literally jump every time my phone rings. The next call will either be asking me to return, or letting me go. I’m terrified. I await the knowledge of your readers…

  21. FirstDayBackHurts*

    AH! I am sorry. This is the reality for so many people right now and it is really painful. BUT…it doesn’t have to mean your sense of yourself has to take a hit the way you fear.

    I would suggest you craft some quick message (think elevator pitch) for yourself that offers truth about your work status but leaves the door open for discussion of your skills and experience. For example, when someone asks what you do for a living, you can say, “Unfortunately, I was recently laid off, so I am looking for new opportunities to do XYZ work” or “so I am looking for a way to use my skills in ABC.” Your identity can still be about your career but let it morph from where you worked to what you are good at and enjoy doing. This is a good tactic to use to build connections for your next career move, regardless of whether the move is intentional or forced, as it allows you to put forward your best skills and your strongest interests and to craft a professional image of yourself that reflects your ambitions.

  22. Kacie*

    I worry about people who define themselves by their jobs, because work doesn’t last forever. Someday you’ll retire, and then what will happen to you? A lot of people die a few years after retirement simply because they don’t know what to do with themselves without a 9-to-5 routine. Everyone needs family, a social life, hobbies, volunteer activities, exercise… something other than work in their lives.

    In the end, letting a business define you is giving far too much power to an entity that would drop you like a hot cake, generally with little more than two weeks notice, if it became convenient for them. Better to define yourself through just about anything else.

    1. M. Albertine*

      This was the first thing that came to my mind: people who retire have to deal with this, and it doesn’t seem like there is a lot of resources for people to make that transition well, either. When you retire, you have to find a whole new sense of purpose, and I think a lot of the suggestions so far do address that!

      I think the key to thinking about it is, “What kind of impact do I want to leave on the world?” Do you want your legacy to be your job, or do you want it to be something else? I have been thinking about this recently, touched off by a recent reddit thread posted by a man who wanted to end his life because his wife was dying and he couldn’t imagine living his life after she was gone. A commenter asked him what he would do with all the love he had for his wife, couldn’t he spread that love in the world instead after she was gone. He seemed to find a new sense of purpose with that (his wife loved the idea) and said he would put off his decision to see if he could honor the love he has for his wife in a different way than how he had been living it.

      What is it about your job that gives you a sense of purpose? How can you spread that part that makes you feel good about yourself out into the world? What do you want to be known for? Big questions, but then, so is yours.

    2. Millennial Lizard Person*

      (Not the OP, but a similar personality…) I’ll worry about that when I retire. Right now I’ll worry about how far behind I am at work. I ask this sincerely — how do you not define yourself by the things you spend most of your waking hours doing? How do you not define yourself by what consumes most of your energy and brainpower?

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        This. Also, I work to live rather than living to work, but there’s definitely a reason why my job is my job and my hobbies are my hobbies.

      2. MayLou*

        I think it may be the flip of that – people who don’t define themselves by their job don’t allow it to consume most of their energy and brainpower. I like my job, I am proud of it, and outside my working hours I almost never think about work at all.

        1. Millennial Lizard Person*

          I feel like this goes into ‘job’ vs ‘career’ almost. The only job I’ve had that didn’t consume most of my energy and brainpower was being a cashier.

      3. nona*


        Your job is what you do, not who you are. Yes, it takes up a lot of your life, and its ok to be proud of the work you do, but it isn’t the whole of your life! There are so many more dimensions to a person that have nothing to do with the job they’re paid to do – are you a good friend? do you like to cook (or eat!)? what do you like to read? Do you throw excellent birthday parties (when not needing to social distance)? Do make baby blankets for your friends’ kids? Would you rather just stay home and putter in the garden?

        Recognize the parts of yourself that have nothing to do with what you get paid to do.

      4. Kacie*

        I spend a lot of my time sleeping, washing dishes, grocery shopping, and doing laundry, but none of those are fundamentally *me*. They’re just the things I have to do so I do the things I really enjoy: read, spend time with loved ones, play with my cats, watch Chinese dramas…

      5. Bob_NZ*

        For your first question: I can relate. I take some solace in reminding myself of the maths: I’m awake for about 112 hours a week and I only spend a little over a third of those working. That leaves one heck of a lot of waking hours for other things to define myself by. I also find it enormously useful to reframe work-adjacent tasks like commuting to e.g. “my time for listening to podcasts” rather than letting “work” (getting ready for work, commuting, work itself) become a 60+ hour beast.

        As for your second question: yeah, it’s a tough one, eh? I’ve found some success in setting myself little challenges so I can see progress in non-work aspects of my life (home maintenance, fitness, community involvement etc). One of the best things I ever did was complete a Couch to 5km running programme – ticking off each run and seeing my progress was disproportionately satisfying and provided a huge sense of achievement and identity for something other than work or education.

      6. Portia Longfellow*

        Practice, and deliberately cultivating things I love outside my work. The same traits that made me excel at my job (e.g.: my love of research, my attention to detail) also fuel my hobbies (most recently, the film The Old Guard has sent me down a delightful research rabbit hole on medieval Maghreb).

        Illness, accident, or disability can cut short anyone’s career. I’ve been mildly disabled since birth, but being hit by a car in a crosswalk was really the first time I had to reckon with who I was without school or work. Aside from the physical recovery, there’s the emotional work of grieving the life and the plans that you had, but can no longer do. You have to readjust your expectations to your current abilities, and that honestly took me about five years to figure out how not to push myself too lest I break down. I deeply loved my job, but it was not worth sacrificing my health for. I’ve since developed several new health issues, each of which forced me to make changes to my life, and grieve the things I could no longer do. But each time, the grief gets easier to bear, because I’ve been down this road before, and I know I’ll get through it, and along the way I’ve found the things I love that I can still do.

        I had to stop work completely two and a half years ago due to my disabilities, and two months ago I took a medical retirement at age 37. It took most of the time in between to disentangle my sense of self and worth from my job. Pre-Covid, I was an avid theatregoer, and I love to read and watch TV and films, and I follow global politics. Even on days when I can’t get out of bed, I can still be a part of the world.

        I worked with first responders, in a career notorious for become an integral part of people’s identity. Sadly, I know way too many colleagues who have died within five years of retirement, often before 65. It’s a career that will wring every ounce of energy that you give it, to an absolutely unhealthy extent. Those that set work-life balances tend to do better post-retirement, because they have interests and hobbies outside of work. The ones who don’t are sadly the ones who die not long after.

        Even when I was still working, I didn’t define myself by my job. As much as I loved and took pride in my work, it was only part of my identity. I was also a Shakespeare nerd, a book lover, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a cat lover. I am still all of those things, and they ground me and bring me joy.

        The pandemic has created collective trauma – every one of us is grieving the future lives and plans that have now been altered or destroyed. The uncertainty is a huge stressor, and I know the mental health toll for everyone will be significant. But it’s offered temporarily able-bodied people (we will all end up disabled if we’re lucky to live long enough) a sense of how folks with chronic illnesses or disabilities live every day. We have to carefully plan tasks and errands, always calculate the risks and benefits of activities, and trying not to cause a flare-up. And a lot of the COVID workarounds make things more accessible for us, from telehealth appoinments to streaming theatre productions we otherwise couldn’t see. I hope that post-pandemic, we keep some of these accommodations, like expanded WFH options or digital concert tickets. And I hope that people remember how hard and scary this experience has been, and offer empathy to others that are still struggling.

        Sorry, that was a long-winded way of saying that having hobbies and passions and a community beyond work enriches your life and makes retirement a much easier transition.

    3. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Not even just retire! I have had friends get into accidents that ruined their ability to work, friends diagnosed with chronic illnesses, friends who had to move home to help elderly relatives or who had to scale back to focus on special needs children or in one case, a spouse. It is good for all of us to have an identity beyond who we are as workers.

  23. mli25*

    I have been laid off a couple of times, the most recent being Nov 2018 and it took until Jul 2019 to return to work.

    My tips:
    1. Allow yourself to wallow in your feelings of anger, hurt, frustration, fear, shame, whatever they are…for about a week.
    2. Recognize that productivity does not equal working. Think about all the life/home tasks you have put off and start tackling some of them (clean out a closet, paint a room, organize your bookshelf, whatever it is!).
    3. Recognize that every day won’t be a huge success or that you will find a job to apply for. The point is to keep looking, applying, and trying.
    4. Remember to shower, get dressed, and leave the house, even for the grocery store. It will help you feel more “normal”
    5. Go through all the unemployment filing steps. Any money is better than no money.

    And last, be kind to yourself. It really, really sucks, but like most things, it will pass.

    1. mli25*

      Volunteering helped a lot. Granted, it was in person, which is going to be tough right now. It helped me focus on someone (typically driving people to doctor’s appointments or grocery shopping), get out the house, and realize there are people worse off than me (the folks I helped are on federal disability and my 2 consistent folks are both well below retirement age)

      1. Not today, Satin*

        agreed – keeping a schedule, even if it was a scheduled walk made the transition easier for me when I went from 8-10 meetings a day to ‘free range’ time use. Volunteering (which can even be done on line if needed) also provided that structure.

      2. Eva Luna*

        And if you don’t find an already-structured volunteer opportunity that you like, make one! I resigned from my job 2 weeks before the economy cratered, thinking it wouldn’t take me long to find a new one, but well, the rest is history. I am a giant foodie and avid vegetable gardener, and I decided to do some volunteering with my local mutual aid organization that was created in response to the pandemic. Aid recipients expressed frustration that most of the food banks didn’t provide fresh vegetables. Meanwhile, my gardening buddies were wondering what to do with their extra 16 zucchini. So I decided to put those two groups of people together by creating a veggie giveaway on Saturday mornings at a local community garden. It’s been fun to swap recipes with people, I’ve made new friends with others who have joined in volunteering, and it’s just an all-around pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning. It’s been growing every week, so we plan to keep at it through harvest season, and who knows? Maybe after that, too!

  24. Blisskrieg*

    This is so tough! I’m extremely career-minded as well. It may help (a little) to remember that there are certain industries where this is the norm. For example, I work in pharmaceuticals and there are always small and mid-size companies or divisions of larger companies folding as drugs become obsolete, or acquisitions occur. My first lay off I was taken aback because the whole Sales team collectively rolled their eyes and said “Here we go again”–All of them has been through multiple layoffs and there was a sense that this just comes with the territory. I should add that these people tend to be very competitive, driven alpha types, and so to watch it roll off their back really clued me in to not take it personally. Unfortunately, with COVID so many industries are susceptible now. I hope this helps a bit, to hear the perspective from an industry where this happens all the time. Best of luck–

    1. TardyTardis*

      Yes, this! Back in the Olden Days we read about Adam Osborne and his first bankruptcy–and how he was assured by other company owners that ‘you just lost your cherry, now figure out how it happened and don’t do that again’.

  25. LaidOff4YearsAgo*

    Oh my goodness. I pretty much could have written this 4 years ago this week (the only difference is that I was laid off immediately, just given time to gather my things). My Facebook memories have been interesting. So I didn’t have the chance to say bye to people who I’d worked with for a decade, etc… so I am glad you do!

    How I got through it:
    Leaning on my people. Both IRL and Facebook.
    I am not a list person, but I made a list of everything I needed to do. At the end of each day I made a list of everything I had accomplished that day. That was the biggie because it helped me see that I really had done a LOT that day. I also actually published this to Facebook (friends only); and got a lot of moral boosting that I was actually getting a lot done.
    I made sure to get all my medical appointments were done before I lost insurance.
    I intentionally rested for a few days and told myself that it was ok; that I was getting a vacation.
    Because of my type of lay-off, even though I got a severance, I was able to collect unemployment as well (which ended up being a huge help), so that also gave me a goal of applying because I had to have a minimum.
    Also, because I was single, with no kids, and because of my settlement, I realized that I could *move* (and that’s what I ultimately did).
    You will get through this. Make sure to make connections with your people now. If you don’t feel like you have people – you probably do. I hope you do.
    Start getting in the habit of identifying different types of accomplishments.
    If you don’t have a job by the end, reframe the first week or two as a vacation/sabbatical and just REST.
    I hope that helps.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      True, a big advantage to being single with no kids (this is me also) is that you may be able to be more flexible. Not all of course, but it has certainly been the case in my life, and I really cherish that.

      1. LaidOff4YearsAgo*

        Yeah, I didn’t say it, but I suspected that I would have a really tough time finding a similar job in my area, so had started looking all around my previous state. I think that also took up some more of my headspace because I was also researching new areas – things like COL, etc.

  26. YoungTen*

    I’m sorry and understand how you feel. But please know that we are so much more than an employee of X company or someones spouce or parent etc. The problem is we feel we belong in a certain box all the time. But we all know we don’t live our lives in boxes with labels. I’m sure if you think about it, they must be people who know you outside of the work context as just you. It sounds like you are a well rounded person and can adapt will to situations so you may find that this layoff was just the beginning of something amazing. Just remember to not confine yourself to one role as if you only matter in that context. Thats not true!

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Thanks! I do think I’m well-rounded, just have to figure out how to express it better!
      – OP

  27. Jaybeetee*

    I’m sorry you’re going through this, and you’re not alone.

    I’ve mentioned before that I graduated into the Great Recession, and had an awful time finding work. I was a high-achieving student from a white-collar family, so I, too, tied up a lot of identity in “what you do”, and really had a hard time with that.

    What I wish I understood better at the time, and what I’d say now, is of course there is much more to any person than their job, and the numbers on their paystub do not reflect their actual value as a person. I have since seen others around me go through stints of unemployment, and handle it much more healthily – as a set-back, not a devastation (in the sense of having EI/savings/a SO still working so that they might have to tighten spending, but were indeed not financially devastated). I experienced multiple layoffs during those recession years, and eventually learned to adopt this attitude as well.

    Try to do something productive every day, but also try to do something specifically pleasurable/care for yourself each day. Some days will feel worse than others – that’s okay. Ignore advice that “job-hunting should be your full-time job”, as that’s not practical for most people and just adds pressure.

    Life is long, and rarely linear. There are always peaks and valleys. Good things will come to you again. Just try to look past the moment.

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Thank you. I got pizza for dinner last night even though part of me was like “you should be saving your money” but just a little pick me up was nice! Not every day of course, but it’s ok to do a little indulgence. It was great!
      – OP

  28. londonedit*

    Remember that being laid off is not the same thing as being fired. Americans tend to use the two interchangeably – in Britain we use ‘redundancy’ instead, and the law is that it has to be the *role* that’s being made redundant, *not* the person. It might help to think of it in those terms. You’re being laid off because the company is in trouble, not because of a personal failing.

    If you do come up against the ‘what do you do?’ conversation, I’d give an answer like ‘Oh, I’m a llama trainer by trade’ and then move the discussion on. Also known by Captain Awkward as ‘bean dipping’ – ‘Oh, I’m a llama trainer by trade – by the way, have you tried the bean dip? It’s amazing!’ You just redirect the conversation. If the person goes further – ‘Ooh, really? I’ve heard things are bad for the llama training industry’, again, just channel Monica Geller, be ‘breezy’, and carry on redirecting that conversation. ‘Yep! Tough times everywhere, there’s no denying it. So, have you lived in this area very long? I keep meaning to go to the park downtown. Have you been?’

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Lol I’m a bit of an Anglophile so I do get gently teased for using words like “takeaway” instead of “takeout”, but thinking of it as “redundancy” is smart! Thanks for the convo tips.
      – OP

  29. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Over a year unemployed here, no kids, no interest in having any etc. Here’s my current ways of keeping true to ‘me’:

    1. When people ask what I do for a living I answer ‘currently looking for a job, but don’t need recommendations’ then I change the subject. I’ve found getting into a ‘why are you unemployed?’ or ‘what happened?’ does my mind no good at all.

    2. Keep a routine but structure it around non work stuff. I’ve got a ‘get up a 7am and take meds, read till 9am, job search for 2 hours, get out the embroidery or play on computer till dinner’ routine. Fit in household stuff wherever.

    3. Hobbies and interests! I’ve got really good at embroidery and now create my own patterns.

    4. Social gubbins. If you’re not completely antisocial (like I can be) it’s an opportunity to spend time reconnecting with family, friends and the like when you’ve not got work. (I’d suggest phone, video etc. due to virus pandemic) Also a good way to establish who you are outside the workplace. I’ve got a filthy joke contest going with a few mates in the US I’d neglected for years.

    5. Something my psychiatric doctor recommended after I stressed a lot about being unemployed and thinking I was a bad person for it was to rethink how I introduced myself. I wasn’t ‘Keymaster, an unemployed tech expert’, I am ‘Keymaster, supreme geek’ or, professionally, ‘Keymaster, a very adaptable techie’.

    I was at one firm over a decade, a place I loved, a job I’d risen through the ranks in, people I looked forward to seeing each day. Then I got made redundant, spent 3 months on gardening leave and realised I was prefacing a lot of conversations with ‘at (company) we did this…’. Took me some time to rediscover who I was when I wasn’t in a suit.

    You’ll manage it. It’s scary to leave the known environment and venture into the unknown. But I think having the self awareness to realise how you might have issues is most of the battle fought already.

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Thanks! I think part of it is that I DO want kids in the future and as that hasn’t happened yet I put more stock in my job. But I’m working on all the wonderful suggestions I’ve gotten to think of myself in a more well-rounded way!
      – OP

      1. J.*

        Have you considered getting a pet now that you will have more time for one? I don’t have kids but I got a puppy just before COVID and it has been so fantastic given I’m single and live alone. Also gives me a sense of routine walking her twice a day while working from home (and when I took a week off at home).

        1. HeyItsMe*

          I would never hurt an animal, but I’m not really a pet person. I do live in a pet friendly building, so if there’s a dog in the lobby I can always be cheered up admiring it from afar! :)
          – OP

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        My cat keeps me sane too. Relatively. Except when he takes a chunk out of my leg and I have to go get a tetanus shot :p

  30. Ali G*

    I was in a very similar situation about 3 years ago. One thing I would recommend, if your financial situation allows, is to just take some time off. Like watch bad daytime TV time off. Give yourself a mental break. You sound like a really productive person, so this will last like 5 days and then you will be bored and motivated to figure stuff out. But it’s OK to wallow a little. This sucks, and it’s OK to give yourself some room to just…not.
    You are single an have no kids, which also means you have the ability to pivot into what’s best for you. One of the things I did was to really explore other options and take the time to figure out what I wanted from my next job. I could have leveraged my network and had a job in my previous role somewhere else, but I realized that I didn’t want that anymore. So I spent time thinking about my past positions, what did I like, not like and what, ideally would I do next. It really help me look at job openings and not say to myself “could I get this job?”, but “would I be happy in this job.”
    Good luck! We are here in the Friday thread if you want to chat more.

  31. Diahann Carroll*

    I have no advice since I haven’t been there (yet), but I just wanted to offer you support and say hang in there. I know this is rough, as someone else who really derives a great sense of my own self-worth from what I do, but maybe this closed door is showing you that you have something else out there waiting for you to tackle that’s better suited to who you are now. Also, if you have the finances to do so, maybe talk with a therapist. My therapist is helping me to figure out who I am outside of what I do because she also noticed I have an unhealthy obsession with titles and career advancement, and it’s been very beneficial to me to have that outside perspective.

    Good luck to you, OP. I hope you find another, better job soon.

  32. Encouragement*

    Hi OP,
    I want to say you are still who you are, employed or not. For example I am still a designer even if I am not currently employed as a designer. You are who you are, you do what you do, not matter what your employment status is. I would encourage you to introduce yourself as your unique self/role still.
    “So what do you do?”
    “I am a llama groomer coordinator. I am great at it, and I am currently seeking my next groomer opportunity”
    The next couple of weeks is not going to be fun. I personally have been laid off and fired so I know how it feels. You go through all sorts of negative catastrophic thinking and pain. I want to encourage you to resist the negative self talk and keep plowing ahead. The only way through it is through it. Grieving is ok. Grieving the plans lost and the future that has changed. You are allowed to do that. Moving forward means grieving then getting back into it one small step at a time. Today it might be getting dressed, then turning on the computer, then job searching, and then interviewing . Small steps is fine. The point is you do not stay still for long. It is important to believe you can get another great job and you will keep trying to move forward to get over this hump. I cannot promise you what the future holds but you have the capacity to. do it. Good luck!

  33. blink14*

    I’m sorry to hear this! I totally agree that a lot of Americans do tie their identity to their job, and this is something I have actively tried to not do when I started working full time out of college. I very purposely kept my work and personal life as separate as possible, with my own interests and hobbies outside of work. Some of that is that my “dream job” is pretty unattainable/doesn’t really exist much anymore, but also because I don’t believe people should be defined by their employment and what they do for a living. I work to live, to support my hobbies and interests, to have the funds to travel and pay for medical care, to have good health insurance.

    That being said, you’ve been at this company a long time and I can see how much anyone would take a self-confidence hit and be kind of lost. I suggest taking some time off after your position ends, if you can, and then figure out what you really want to do or like to do in your downtime. Do you like redesigning your home? Revamp a room at a low cost. Cook, bake, read, do outdoor activities, etc. It’s not the greatest time to travel, but I think you can probably explore to some level your local area and just see what else is out there. Then, take the time to evaluate what you want out of your next job – is it a reliable schedule, a fast paced environment, working in non-profit?

    When I left my last job, my first permanent, full time job, out of college, I had been in an entry level position with no upward mobility for about 7 years, largely due to the 2008 recession. I had stayed because I needed a job, but I got nothing out of it. I recognized that I need my job to feel like it was worthwhile and making a difference, so I started applying to local colleges and universities. This also fit my need for extensive PTO, top level health insurance, and a steady schedule. I’ve now been at my university job for over 5 years, and while it’s not my ultimate dream job, its a whole hell of a lot better than where I was, and I feel like its worthwhile.

  34. Sterling*

    Try to think of it not so much as your specific job/place of employment being tied to your identity, but how you’ve approached it. It sounds like you’re an innovator, a go-getter, an independent thinker, etc.. People always think that they want to “craft a job essentially just for [them]”, but most people aren’t able to once they get the opportunity. The fact that you’ve stayed in the company, grown your responsibilities, and created something out of whole cloth shouldn’t be understated, so think about the qualities you have which allowed you to do that and to thrive in that environment. Not only will this be healthier for you by keeping your identity tied to your internal self, but it will also help you market yourself to future employers who will absolutely love the qualities it took for you to succeed at your current place of employment.

  35. Gloucesterina*

    Following on FirstDayBackHurts’s ideas, I wonder if it is useful not to think in terms of stark either-ors – I can choose to be defined either by my work OR by my life outside of work – and explore different ways of telling the story of one’s work.

    The OP probably has multiple unique and compelling stories to tell, especially if they went through some process of self-discovery about their skills, investments, or values over the course of their tenure with Company #1. This is fertile experience and data to reflect upon and eventually parlay into helping get their feet under them and tell a version of that story to other companies.

  36. C in the Hood*

    When I was laid off from my first job many moons ago, it was jarring! But what I’ve discovered over the years is that the awesomeness that I brought to that first job, I brought to each job after that. You will do that too. And you’ll learn even more things about yourself and will grow with each job you hold after this.

    Yes, getting laid off is a devastating process, no matter how well it goes. But you will overcome this. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, but don’t dwell on them. And do invest in other areas of your life, as others have said above. You will get through this!

  37. A Simple Narwhal*

    If you can afford it, I’m always a big fan of therapy! I used to tie up a lot of my identity in my job, and when I made a career switch to get out of a bad situation, I definitely had a crisis of character. Having someone to talk it through was a really big help for me, and led me to be in a much healthier and happier situation.

    This should help you in the future too because while you were in a situation that was great and tying your identity to your job was a positive aspect of your life, it could/can just as easily be a bad thing – when oldjob took a bad turn during a buyout and all of a sudden things weren’t great at my job, that to me meant not being great at life or a competent worthwhile human being. And I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!

  38. Mazzy*

    When I went through a layoff, I found it helpful to study a topic that I know will come up in everyday small talk, so that I’d have something to say when talking to people I wasn’t really close to and would also feel confident if they started talking about said topics.

    This will usually be sports, current events, or politics. People will say they are too triggered by the last one, but there is so much to that topic that is neutral and is actually interesting, especially the more local you get. I got to know who all of the players were and read up on all of the issues of the day, be it climate change or brexit or information on covid, you name it. I realized there was so much I didn’t know, and the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, but also the more confident you are in any situation because you’re not afraid that someone is going to start talking about issues you don’t know anything about.

    I also started learning about the stock market at that time, which is another thing that I found comes up so much in small talk if people know you know what they are talking about. In 2020, this can mean, what are your opinions on Tesla or Amazon and Apple, are they overvalued, are they going to be coming out with interesting enough products, do you like them, etc. It’s one of those things that once you’re exposed, you realize how many people you didn’t know even cared about it follow it.

    Now I feel more confident just starting a conversation with a stranger. We don’t have to talk about what I do for a living.

    TLDR arm yourself with more common knowledge. Use it to relate to a wider circle of people. It will build your confidence and help you move past your past.

  39. PromotionalKittenBasket*

    Oh that’s a hardcore bummer.

    I got fired in November, which really hurt. Luckily I was starting with a new therapist the day after, which really helped me process what I was feeling and thinking, and my internal narratives about my identity and value.

    Suffice to say, if you are able to, take some time with a therapist or counselor. Just like you’d have a specialist for a physical health condition, you can add a specialist for this kind of grief to your Team You.

    Second, feel all the feelings. As much as they suck.

    Third, dive into the parts of your identity that are not work/being productive (or develop them)! Spend time on your friendships, partnerships, spirituality, family ties, whatever, and embrace your joys. I finished and self-published a book, started taking music lessons, committed to a new fitness practice, adopted a cat, and started a small business. That made finding a new job a portion of my life, instead of the whole thing.

    Fourth, set limits around your job hunt. I gave myself two hours M-F to job hunt, once my references, resume, and cover letter(s) were in good shape. I could find, edit, and apply for up to four jobs in those hours, and the rest of my day was mine. People say to spend eight hours on it, but for me that was a recipe for burnout. I also had the ability to be picky about roles, and there simply weren’t enough available to fill 40 hours a week of applications.

    Fifth, this particular part of your life is temporary and will pass. Whatever the outcomes are, short and long, your life will look different and you will find a normal again. My mantra was “every change is an opportunity”, and in nearly every respect those opportunities made my life better. In March I found a job that’s better suited to me and pays more…and I found out my replacement was unfortunately laid off in April.

  40. anonymous 5*

    So much solidarity, OP, and crossing fingers that you will be able to find something good on the job front quickly.

    As someone who was brought up in an environment of unhealthy focus on job as identity, and who still struggles with it, I can offer up that it has *really* helped me to be in contact as much as I can with the people in my life to whom my job *isn’t* the primary identifier of who I am or what our relationship is. I’m single/no kids too; and so I’ve been trying to cultivate those relationships in general. I’ve also spent a good bit of time trying to work out, “what do I value in others, and what do I hope others value in me?” which has helped me take the focus away from the career-specific things (even if some of the stuff my friends value in me also happens to be useful in my career).

    Internet hugs/fistbumps if that’s helpful!

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Internet hugs/fistbumps always appreciated! I like your idea of looking to others- I don’t define my friends by their careers so why should I do that to myself?
      – OP

  41. Janon*

    You still do what you do, you just are looking for new opportunities. I know how awful this can feel. 5 years ago I as laid off from what I thought was my dream job. Looking back, I know it was not a place I would have been long term but in the moment it hurt and some days I could not get myself to even shower. Don’t allow yourself to get there. Work your contacts, but take time for the things you maybe couldn’t do when you were working. You are not alone in being laid off right now so no one will judge based on that. But you don’t need to answer “what do you do” with starting out about being unemployed.

  42. AVP*

    Ohh, I’m so sorry. I’m not dealing with this exactly right now but I had something similar a few years ago – I decided that the really cool, fancy industry that I’d worked in for ~13 years wasn’t working for me anymore, found a new job that I liked, but then just…didn’t know what to do. I was so used to my identity being tied up in this really cool job, and people always wanting to ask about it at parties and being like “wow, I can’t believe that’s a job! Tell me more!” I was kind of embarrassed to admit that I was failing out of it, or it was failing me, or whatever.

    In this case…don’t be afraid of therapy, and developing new hobbies. What I eventually realized was, people are just as interested in chatting about what I like to do in free time, what I do for work now, etc, because I like them and I’m happy to chat about them. People in informal situations are mostly responding to your energy and ability to keep up a conversation, they don’t only value you because of what you do for a living! But definitely find some new hobbies so you feel supported, not because you’re worried about what others might think.

  43. pug life*

    This isn’t a direct answer, but what non-work hobbies or interests do you have? If you don’t have any, because your work filled that space, find something. It might take some time, but it’ll help.

    My partner’s in a very demanding career where it’s almost expected that you build your identity around your job, and he’s struggling because he’s in a job adjacent to what he wants to be doing and the chance of him *actually* getting to do that highly specific job are vanishingly small (which he always knew, he just wanted to be one of the lucky ones). But he’s recently started taking a free online class to learn a skill that is unrelated to his current job (but might help him change careers eventually) and it’s like he’s a different person now that he’s invested in something that isn’t his job.

    You are not your job, even if that was enough for a long time! And you’ll have a great job again, and it’s okay to mourn that space in your life that’s empty now.

  44. Happy Pineapple*

    While I haven’t been in this exact situation, I can sympathize with this feeling of losing your identity. I went through a period of unemployment where I had to make the decision to change fields for financial stability. I had spent so much of my life working towards one job that it was a huge part of who I was, and by prioritizing paying the bills I was effectively giving up on my dreams. In the long run it was absolutely the right decision, but that sense of loss was enormous. Besides throwing myself into my job search, I also chose to pursue other passion projects to give me a sense of self outside of work. Now my volunteerism is the first thing that I tell people when they ask about me, and it gives me a sense of fulfillment that a paycheck never could.

  45. Hotdog not dog*

    Lots of us are in the same boat it seems. I lost my job of 26+ years at the end of January this year, and discovering who I am without it is still challenging. Things that have helped me are keeping to a routine- I set my alarm, walk the dog, and spend specific hours each day on my job search. Apply for jobs even if you think you may be missing a bit of the qualifications, the stretching is good and can sometimes lead to additional contacts or opportunities. Consider the qualities that made you successful in your old job. Those qualities are still yours. As an example, I like to solve problems, learn new things, and bring order to chaos, which hasn’t changed just because I’m no longer doing those things professionally. Also, cut yourself plenty of slack. Some days will be very hard. It’s okay to grieve your loss. Good luck in your next adventure!

  46. 9to4ever*

    So this happened to me a few years ago, it was awful, I had a complete identity crisis, I felt shame, I went to two therapists, and I took the first job offered to me, literally, and it was a disaster. But after/while experiencing that, I also: found a MUCH better position where I was deeply valued, closer to my house (now remote). I never would have known about this company or this role if I hadn’t gone through all of the above. I also rediscovered hobbies and passions of mine from 20 years ago, that I’d given up because of my big corporate job & stress…I now am writing again, freelancing, and reading more, and even drawing.

    I got much closer with my family…I’d been traveling for work for much of my youngest child’s life, and I am grateful every day to have more time with him. (Well, maybe too much time with the whole pandemic thing! But still!)

    I didn’t realize pre-layoff how much my identity was linked to my job. I am glad I got a wake up call, glad I went through even worse things after that happened, because I wouldn’t have rediscovered myself from before I got caught up in the maze!

  47. RJ*

    I feel your pain, OP. I was laid off a month before the pandemic started and was finalizing two job offers just when the shutdown took effect in NYC. My specialty within my industry has been crushed and though I’ve been trying to branch out into other industries, I’ve had very little luck. Nevertheless, I keep trying and will continue to do so.

    It’s extremely important that you make time for your other interests. Having time to dwell and overthink your current situation is the absolute worst as I’ve found over these past six months. Upskilling now will also occupy your mind and give you the chance to branch out and learn skills you may not have had to the time to explore in the past.

    Lastly, please remember that you are more than just your job and more than just a job title. You have value and you’ll have a great future. You’ll get a new position.

  48. earl grey aficionado*

    Not exactly the same, but I developed some major disabilities right out of college; I’d had a career path all planned out and my health issues just annihilated it, and the identity I’d started forming around it along with it. For me, the things that helped me with this sudden loss of identity were a) connecting with other people in a similar boat (which you’re already doing here!) and realizing that this kind of derail happens to lots of people, even though it can feel very isolating while you’re experiencing it, b) finding hobbies that felt “productive” and “professional” but were self-directed and didn’t rely on validation from other people (for me, it was writing, which did eventually turn into a brand new career path when I was ready for one), and c) therapy, which helped me to process my grief and to develop a more resilient personality that wasn’t totally dependent on work and school. I realize that accessing therapy can be tricky, especially if money is tight and insurance coverage is dicey given the loss of your job, but it’s worth looking into if you haven’t already.

    Good luck. This kind of thing is scary and hard, especially given current events, and I hope you’re giving yourself lots of credit for the self-awareness and skills that it sounds like you’re already developing around this.

  49. Manders*

    I don’t have any advice, just solidarity as someone who’s in the same boat. My parents strongly encouraged me to build my identity around my career, and now I’m floundering a lot without that sense of structure and purpose in my day to day routine.

  50. Vickle*

    ““You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your f***king khakis.”

  51. cleo*

    I’m so sorry – getting laid off sucks!

    I was in a similar situation – I was laid off after 16 years at one company. I was kind of surprised by how devastated I felt and how it impacted my sense of self – at least initially. When I was a teen, I watched how my dad reacted to getting laid off (in the 80s) and how it really impacted his sense of identity and I vowed that I wouldn’t let that happen to me. I’d have a more well rounded sense of self. And you know, I did do a pretty good job of developing interests outside of work and I’m sure that helped me, but it still really sucked to get laid off.

    Echoing a lot of other advice, here are some things that worked for me:

    Give yourself time to grieve what you’ve lost

    Use volunteering and other interests to create structure and give you something to talk about (in networking and just generally)

    Look for a career transitions center or group

    Remember that you do actually have an identity outside of your job – and think about what parts you want to expand and develop. Do you want to get more involved in a professional organization? Do you want to get more involved in a hobby or interest?

  52. Struggling with similar*

    I struggle to separate my work and identity too. The conflation generates my greatest anxieties and obstacles.

    I don’t know what will help the OP, but I try at least to take the pressure off others as best I can. When I meet new people, I no longer ask them what they do, I ask, “What’s been keeping you busy lately?”

    The answer can be a work project but can just as easily be “my new puppy,” “the aphids on my rose bushes,” “binge-watching Bohemian Rhapsody reaction videos,” “finding the perfect chili recipe,” “falling into a nightly depressive doom spiral about the state of the world, followed by a restless night and then hauling myself to the coffeemaker in the morning for some caffeinated hope” (in which case my answer is, “Oh man, I feel you on THAT”), etc.

    Depending on who you are talking to, I could imagine saying, “I was hit by pandemic layoffs, and as someone who has really identified with my work for a long time, it feels very strange and disorienting. How do YOU separate your identity from your work?” Then neither of you is talking about work or about looking for it.

    Sending you solidarity and support.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Woo hoo…I just asked for an alternative opener and your post came in. There’s timing.

      1. Struggling with similar*

        Oh good! Timing isn’t usually my strong suit, but sympathizing with job=identity anxiety sure is. I’ll add it to the list of things that keep me busy. : )

          1. Struggling with similar*

            That makes my day, on a day I really needed it, so thank you right back! I’m glad to see you’re keeping busy providing psychological support to people struggling with crises of work and identity. ; )

  53. LQ*

    I’ve been in this spot, it’s hard. It’s really hard to keep your head on straight. This may sound a little odd but one of the things I did is a bunch of …informational interviews. Like genuine ones. Where you just try to explore a lot of what is happening, what direction you want your career to go next. I was in a kind of self-made position like you were and the next question and the struggle for me was how do I ever find something like that again, and what of that work do I like and want to continue.

    Having those conversations with others who were deep into some of those fields was helpful to identify what I wouldn’t like to do and what I may like to do.

    Good news is I did end up recarving something pretty brand new for myself again. Apparently part of the skills I have is carving a job for myself that didn’t exist before. (And this time in a highly structured government/union/hierarchal place, so it seems like if that’s a thing you want again, it’s possible just about anywhere!)

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Thanks for the tip! Some of my co-workers have asked to do phone calls kind of as a check-in but also worked as a motivational tool to help me think about myself in new ways.
      I suggest to anyone that if you know someone who was laid off and they’re comfortable talking about it, reach out for a phone call! It will help them feel less alone and mean a lot!
      – OP

      1. LQ*

        The “What Do I Even Do?” was a weirdly hard thing for me. I was good, at a lot of things, but I didn’t quite know how to describe that job to anyone or if there was a title for it (there wasn’t) or what it would look like at a different workplace. It was very much a little of this and a little of that and sort of whatever interested me that was valuable for where I was, which shifted a lot. I managed to parse down to about 5 very very different jobs and then sorted through that. But at the end of the day I am in another job that’s a little of this and a little of that and whatever interests me and is valuable for where I work.

        I definitely encourage recognizing that just being a person who can find important work, pick it up and do it…is a skill, and a hard to find one. I’ve hired and contracted and I only have seen one person who does that. (it’s a little culture here, but it’s also rare) Its partner getting people on board with that change is even more powerful.

        (I did start by taking a step back in pay and position from where I had been at, but kind of trusted that I could move on from there if I stagnated. Your mileage and comfort on that may vary.)
        I wish you all the best!

  54. Minocho*

    I define myself by my work a lot too, but I associate it with my profession, not my job. So I am a professional llama groomer with X skills and Y accomplishments, not an assistant manager at Pet Groomers ‘R’ Us

  55. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Side question: for those of you who don’t open a conversation with “what do you do?” …what do you say instead? I’ve never found a natural feeling alternative.

    1. mayfly*

      I think something along the lines of “how do you like to spend your time?” works a bit better. Maybe still clunky though

    2. Person from the Resume*

      What do you like to do? / How do you like to spend your time?
      What do you do for fun?
      What do you do in your spare/free time? / How do you spend your spare/free time?

      ** There’s something about “how” instead of “what” that seems to offer more room to answer because it feels like there’s space for more than a single answer.

      I don’t think these are great because it can put people on the spot, but I’ve heard:
      – What’s your passion?
      – What’s your story?

    3. GS*

      I usually say “What do you do with your time?” which is close enough that someone can answer traditionally, but broad enough that anyone who doesn’t want to gets a lifeline.

    4. PX*

      Ooh yes. I challenge myself not to ask this question when I meet new people so I will make it a point to ask about *literally* anything else. How do you like this city? What brought you here? What do you like to do in your free time? Very occasionally I might veer into current affairs (could be news/sports/weather/whatever)? What’s your dream vacation? What TV show are you watching? Book? What do you think about [topic X]?

      Basically I’m okay with asking very random questions and if all goes well it gets the conversation flowing into more interesting areas. It might not feel natural but I kind of see it as part of the baby steps required to get people to be less focused on this topic.

  56. A Brew Yet*

    I 100% get you – because I was there. I was at a real high point in my career, I was loving my job, my company and life. Truthfully I didn’t have too much else going on, but I was so so happy. And then the layoffs… I should have known better, but felt insulated by my longevity and usefulness. Business is business!
    My pivot took some time, but I’m doing even better now and have really expanded my network, my interests and looking at the next decades I really am excited.
    So what I eventually landed on is teaching. (I know, I know) Hear me out. I had built a lifetime of knowledge in my career specific area and had enough confidence to share that knowledge with students. I started with more of a hobby job – part time tutoring at my local community college. I slowly became the lead of the tutoring service and now also teach a class and possibly more in the future. The students are diverse and interesting, the work is fulfilling and I’m still using my unique skill set. One word of caution, academia is full of complete lunatics, but I have found that teaching is a real option for those of us looking for a punt late in our careers. It may even make the difference to someone down the road.

  57. Sled dog mama*

    I was laid off back in the fall, it was handled pretty badly by my employer and I spent a lot of time questioning if I should be continuing with my career.
    The two things that helped me the most were reaching out to colleagues in my network, not just to look for a position but to catch up since I often only see them at annual meetings and did not go last year (and this year was virtual). Just reaching out helped me validate what others see as my work strengths and helped me focus on what I was looking for in a new position.
    I also focused on what I could do while unemployed that I couldn’t while working (I know you said you are single and childless so it would be hard to do the same things I did). I got to take my daughter to school everyday (her school started well after my work day), I got to take her to her activities, I had lunch with her a couple of times at school, I went for a run in daylight every day, I took my dog for long walks (this was particularly special because we lost her to cancer in Feb. and I knew her time was short). Visited my parents on a weekday, and a few other things.
    Some of these are obviously difficult now due to the pandemic and wouldn’t work for everyone but it was amazing to have the time to do them. I also devoted plenty of time to job searching but I made sure to get plenty of other things done. During this time I was also able to get off my anti-anxiety medication and I’ve been off it for 6 months, that has been the most important thing, realizing that a job I loved and thought was awesome was tipping me from manageable without medication anxiety into must be medicated territory (and that being unemployed was less stressful than that place).

  58. Another lawyer*

    This going to sound nuts, but foster or adopt a pet! It’s what saved me when my career took a tailspin after a traumatic lay off. Not only does a dog (or cat, I suppose) force a certain amount of structure to your life, but your critter doesn’t give a rip about your professional identity…. and they love you anyway. Having a critter to take care of will give you an alternate sense of purpose and help you see yourself in a different way. In addition, if you get a dog, you will make dog friends by walking around your neighborhood or the local dog park. My rescue dog rescued me…

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Get a puppy that needs training. That has taken over my friend’s non-working life because her adorable, sweet, smart doggy needs a lot of training. She’s researching on how to train the dog and doing the training plus walks.

      If this appeals to you, it’s something that can really occupy your time and give you joy and love.

    2. HeyItsMe*

      Thank you so much for your input. I just want to share how you unintentionally cracked my friend up. I shared this thread with some friends and she was chuckling at this one. I would NEVER hurt an animal and if one was hurting or in danger would do whatever to help, but in my friend group where many of them have pets I am the “happily pet-free please don’t let your dog jump on me I’ll just sit in the corner here” one. This is a great idea for others, though!
      – OP

  59. Agile Phalanges*

    I don’t really have any advice, but can SO relate. I spent 13 years with a company. I started as a temp while pregnant (planning to SAH, so purposely sought out temporary work), ended up going back on a permanent basis, worked my way up from basically an accounting clerk to a go-to person in accounting who trained others and was a subject matter expert for the ERP team, etc. Then applied for and got a different role within the company, in marketing research. I loved that role, and was just starting to learn it and take on more responsibility when they closed the location (with six months notice and generous severance). It was also a fun company to work for and to tell people I worked for. Most people recognize the brand, etc. Now, I work for a tiny company in an industry that isn’t very exciting, and am back to accounting-type stuff, but since the company is so tiny, there aren’t as many resume-worthy accomplishments. I just keep the company chugging along, but don’t innovate new processes or whatever. It does suck, but at least it’s still gainful employment, and is still making the world better for some people, even if it’s different people and not as objectively interesting. Best wishes on your job search, and I hope you find something as personally fulfilling.

  60. Junior Dev*

    If you can afford to do so, I’d advise taking the first week or two out of work to not do anything related to job searching or networking (barring pre-existing commitments or things like interviews that you can’t delay). Call friends and family members you haven’t talked to for a while, work on a hobby, read a book, start a workout routine or play a sport you used to love, clean or fix things around the house, volunteer, do something fun. I know people will say stuff like “when you’re unemployed your job should be job searching” but give yourself permission to take a break from that, and reconnect with the parts of your life and identity that aren’t about work. And then keep doing those non-work-related things once the job search starts in earnest, to the extent you can.

    1. Colette*

      As long as you can restrict it to a week, this is fine. I know people back in the days when I was working for a company who laid a lot of people off who “took the summer off” job searching and somehow never got going again.

  61. Person from the Resume*

    Get a puppy that needs training. That has taken over my friend’s non-working life because her adorable, sweet, smart doggy needs a lot of training. She’s researching on how to train the dog and doing the training plus walks.

    If this appeals to you, it’s something that can really occupy your time and give you joy and love.

  62. Colette*

    I’ve been laid off three times. My advice:
    – find ways to be productive outside of work. One layoff, I set myself a goal – every day, I had to do 15 minutes on something I was procrastinating about. Clean out the Tupperware drawer, fix that towel bar that fell off the wall, email someone you want to keep in touch with – just do something every day that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something.
    – network with former coworkers. Tell them you’re looking; ask them what kinds of jobs they think you’d do well in, just talk to people who know you as valuable and competent.
    – give your week days structure. Get up, work out, check the job listings, apply for a job if appropriate, then watch TV/work on a hobby. Obviously, this may not be your schedule – but whatever you choose, put the thing you like the most after “apply for jobs”.

  63. Cafe au Lait*

    OP, you might want to take a cue from the BIPoC community and reframe the questions of “what do you do?”

    In BIPoC communities there’s a larger segment of the populations that’s un-or-underemployed. Instead of asking “What do you do?” where the subtext is “I want to know what social class band you belong to by your job title,” BIPoC individuals ask “How do you spend your time.” It opens up the answer giver to speak about themselves, not their job. “Oh, I’ve got a part time job at the grocery store but mainly I paint.” Or “I’m studying nursing at night.”

    As you work through your emotions and feelings on your job loss I hope you can make some time to reflect on the systematic power structures you’re placing yourself in. Especially if you’re not able to find a job that’s similar in title or pay to your former job. It’s very easy to think of yourself as a failure (which I promise you are not!) when your income or job title doesn’t match to what is expected within your social class.

  64. RachaelM*

    This is me! I’m married with twins, but I’ve always felt that being a professional was a big part of my identity – I was let go a month ago and am really struggling to find work. I’ve found having non-work projects on the go helps give me something else to focus on, but it’s hard! I’ve never struggled to get interviews before, but this time I’ve applied to about 90 jobs (over a 3 month period) and got one first round interview. It can really dent your self-esteem…

  65. GS*

    It sounds like you were able to piece together a really neat and interesting job because of a set of your own personal aptitudes and skills that no one else had at that company. While that particular job is done, there’s still room to wrap your identity around what you’re good at and able to do. Identify with your strengths, not with your employer.

    You say you did a lot of “someone should do this, I’m happy to”– there are skills involved in figuring out what’s missing, figuring out what needs to be done to make it more efficient/effective, and then implementing that thing. Maybe you manage a whole lot of of fiddly little bits and basically are a multitask wizard? Maybe you organize details to support or maintain other folks’ visions? Those are all valid answers to “what do you do?” and especially when followed up by “currently hunting for a position” they may well make your job search easier too.

  66. BugSwallowersAnonymous*

    I’m sorry you got laid off. I heard this advice recently and I think it’s really good – find a living being to care for and invest in, whether it’s a plant, a pet, other people, or the community at large. This could include reconnecting with friends and family, joining a mutual aid group to help people get groceries and pick up medications, or volunteering for a cause you care about. It might also be a good time to check out virtual events from local bookstores, virtual services at congregations, that kind of thing. Basically, I think feeling connected to other people/living things is key.

    1. HeyItsMe*

      Thank you! When the pandemic was at its height around here and we were all inside, virtual events like trivia nights were awesome. I’m definitely consciously looking outward to connect with others.
      – OP

  67. CathyLee*

    As someone who has also been in this situation, my advice is to find something that gets you out of the house. I knew my challenge was going to be remaining productive and not lounging around in pjs on days I didn’t have networking coffees or interviews. Now with the social distancing restrictions of COVID, you will most likely not be networking or interviewing in person. For me, the solution was adopting a puppy. We went on daily walks and had lots of training time. Now she is 2, and very well trained. My niece loves seeing her do tricks :)
    I also set an exercise schedule – and went to a local barre studio for classes on a regular basis.
    The last thing I did was try to become involved in more volunteer activities. It was something I’d done previously, but had tapered off over the years as I got busier and busier at my dream job that was my life. I’ve taken those lessons and tried to ensure that I have hobbies and interests outside of work so that while I continue to take a lot of pride in my work no longer am in the position where that is my entire identity. Good luck to you, and keep your chin up. Being unemployed is tough. One last piece of advice — take a day or two to let yourself wallow and be sad when you need to :)

  68. HeyItsMe*

    Hi it’s me, OP! Thanks so much for all your comments. ❤️ I wanted to add some follow ups:
    – since I first sent in my note to Alison a few weeks ago I’ve been doing a lot of work. One of the first things I did was contact those I have a relationship at work with in individual emails to let them know. I got a lot of thank yous from people as they didn’t want to reach out if I wasn’t making it public. A hard part of this will be not being able to say goodbye to everyone in person! Some comments here focused on if I am embarrassed and I’m not- I actually was promoted just before COVID- I know I’m a valuable employee. I also received a lot of the same support I’m getting here- and it’s made me feel great. So many lovely comments from friends and offers to help!
    – I have taken up people on their offers and asked for LinkedIn recommendations, the ability to put them down as references, and help on my resume. My boss is a uniquely awesome human and has also been extremely encouraging. I’ve already applied for some positions both internally and externally.
    – As I mentioned in my post my role was atypical so it was hard to explain. Co-workers who helped me with my resume helped me identify the unique skills I brought to the role and my resume now reveals a better picture of me and my strengths that are not tied to one role. (A lot of you also suggested this- thanks!) I’m hoping to use the work I’ve done outside of my role and as a part of working to improve employee culture to move into a different employee-centered focus, and it’s not only exciting it opens up opportunities outside my industry.
    – one comment here from Katelyn was great: “I re-framed it in my head from “I work at Llamas Inc.” to “I’m a senior Llama groomer currently looking for my next opportunity.” With the help I got reframing my resume, I can do this now without tying my skills to one obscure role. Others also suggested something similar- thank you! Sterling mentioned, “the fact that you’ve stayed in the company, grown your responsibilities, and created something out of whole cloth shouldn’t be understated, so think about the qualities you have which allowed you to do that and to thrive in that environment.” Thank you for the kind words!
    – I do already have a ton of hobbies and I know friends of mine don’t see me as X Employee when they first think of me. I think it’s been that the “most impressive” in a way part of myself has been being that employee, but all the amazing support I’ve received from everyone since my news has helped me see myself as more well-rounded
    – right now I’m mentally in a good place. I have to prepare myself that the job search will drag on and that’s probably when it will hurt more. I’ve had friends who have been in similar boats warn me of this and I’m leaning on support systems already
    – I’m very lucky in that my severance included help with a career services firm. I’ve decided to take advantage of that after my time is up and I’m not working so I can focus better on it
    – a lot of people have suggested taking some time off but the pandemic already gave me that chance! I was not doing much the first few months at all as there was no work to do and I cleaned and organized the house. But I’ve also taken time to refocus on me and who I am- and signed up for some new dating apps! “Struggling with Similar” suggested “What’s been keeping you busy lately?” instead of what do you do is a great line and I’m going to switch to that for situations when I meet new people
    – thanks also for the advice like getting doctors’ appts and such done. I will have COBRA but I have been doing that- and medical offices have been very accommodating in helping me squeeze in appointments. I did read the idea of pivoting to teaching but as my mom is a teacher I know very well I don’t have the patience to be one! to all the teachers out there

    1. tab*

      Thanks for the update. It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. I hope you find a great opportunity soon.

    2. allathian*

      Thanks for the update. Sounds like you’re doing well under the circumstances. Good luck with your job search!

  69. Alisha*

    OP, I feel this so deeply. My job of 13 years disappeared in May when our company was acquired and I feel so adrift and devoid of purpose. I was lucky to get hired for a project until the end of the year, but I absolutely sat in my closet eating chocolate cake and crying one or two times.

    I also created a unique role that doesn’t translate to traditional job titles and have no idea what to do with the rest of my life. It was surprising to learn how much of my identity was wrapped up in my career.

    I don’t have any advice to offer, just commiseration. I hope something amazing unfolds for you.

  70. Donkey Hotey*

    Been there, friend. I worked for my previous job for 14 years. (As a side note, I found out we were all being laid off halfway through a two-week vacation, for that extra twist of the knife.)

    Short version:
    1 – Give yourself a chance to mourn what you’ve lost.
    2 – Forget about who you were before you got your (now former) job.

    Long version: Like you, I also received a generous severance package (six months). My last day at work was the end of June. Basically, the next six weeks, I got up, had a good breakfast, and went for a 5k walk. After, I would work on my resume and job search, but I was locked in the mindset of how I looked for jobs 14 years before. I lowballed myself and sold my abilities short. I mentioned the six weeks because I had made previous plans to travel to see the big eclipse in the summer of ’17. During that trip, I had a series of epiphanies, kicked off by my partner telling me, “You were really invested in that job. I haven’t bugged you because you clearly needed some time to mourn that loss.” (side note: Reader, I married her.) I returned from the eclipse trip in the middle of August and hit the ground running. New resume, new job search. Interviewed the middle of September, started the job middle of October (with three months of severance still coming in). Still here.

    Good luck!

  71. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Trailing spouse here!

    One thing I’ve found really hard to manage about the trailing-catchup period, is the number of people who will attack you for it. You end up on the receiving end of lectures about how a) Your Husband Will Leave You And You Should Not Have Compromised Your Career, b) You Are Going to End Up A Drain On Society When Your Husband Leaves You, c) You Should Just Stay Home Barefoot and Pregnant, d) You Are Stupid and Antifeminist For Not Having A Better Career.

    These attacks aren’t helpful and people should cut them out.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Ugh. I’m sorry you are surrounded by misogynistic assholes. Even ones who consider themselves “feminist.”

  72. Rachel*

    I was laid off 2 years ago and it was really tough. One thing that helped a lot was scheduling in ‘good neighbor/good human being’ things into my schedule. Things like a weekly Facetime appointment with my niece, sending greeting cards once a month, walking a neighbor’s dog on the days she works late, etc. Volunteer opportunities can take a while to track down, especially when so many organizations are dealing with their own staff shortages. But, there are a lot of opportunities to help your extended network now (Tagging in on virtual learning, grocery shopping for a senior neighbor, etc) that can help remind you that you have a lot more to contribute than your job.

    Another helpful thing for me was taking free or low-cost courses online from websites like Coursera and EdX, as well as my local community college. It helped me explore areas of business that I hadn’t really done before and gave me more confidence when I landed my next job.

  73. Potatoes gonna potate*

    I too struggled with this when I was laid off. I wouldn’t say my entire identity was wrapped up in my job, but I did love it and it was a huge part of my life.

  74. Jennifer*

    This is why I hate the phrase “It’s not business. It’s personal.” Even if the decision was best for the business, losing your job is always personal. I wish people would stop saying that.

    It may seem cheesy to some, but I have been laid off twice and I got through it using affirmations. I reminded myself that I am worthy and valuable and my self-worth isn’t defined by what I do to make money. Also, continue to stay busy by working your contacts and job hunting. Consider taking up a hobby to occupy your downtime so you aren’t just sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.

    I managed to find another job fairly quickly considering how bad the job market is right now so there’s still hope out there. Best wishes!

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I hate that phrase too. I also hate “don’t take it personally.” How else are we supposed to take things that happen to us?

  75. Jennifer Juniper*

    I got laid off in 2009 due to a reorg – in the middle of the Great Recession.

    I took a telemarketing job and also interviewed constantly and obsessively. I felt like I was disappearing, because I felt I was not entitled to exist without contributing to society by working and paying taxes. Yes, I actually felt I had no right to eat if I did not work.

    Six weeks later, I found a job.

    I acknowledge my white privilege, large city privilege, and educational privilege here.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      The media was constantly filled with that deeply toxic message during the last recession. Endless thinkpieces about Entitled Millennials and other victim-blaming. I can’t fault you for internalizing it. I also felt worthless and useless and like a burden on the whole world. Sometimes I still do.

      I found it helped, and still helps, to remind myself that the Entitled Millennial screeds and terrible job advice about Gumption are propaganda from members of the owning class designed to make workers feel like we have no value and should be grateful for any scraps they deign to give us.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Thank you for your support and sympathy. I really appreciate it.

        I am now being entirely supported by my generous and loving wife. She convinced me to quit the job I found in 2009. It was in a call center with terrific benefits, competitive pay – and it was run by glass bowls.

  76. Former Producer*

    I’m so sorry! Getting laid off is really tough. I was technically laid off twice in 2018 — the first time my 2-year contract with my employer ended but I didn’t have another job lined up so I was unemployed for about 4 months — and then I was laid off from that job six months later when the company restructured and let go of almost everyone. I really loved that second job in particular and was upset that I had finally found a job I enjoyed and was laid off.

    Even though my identity wasn’t wholly wrapped up in my career, it’s hard not to feel “less than” when everyone around you is seemingly in jobs that they love, and you just got laid off. I’m also single with no kids, and had to move in with my parents when I became unemployed, so my self-confidence definitely took a hit there because I didn’t feel like I was a typical 20-something with a relationship and steady job and living independently.

    What helped for me was just having a routine. I applied for jobs most days of the week, but I didn’t spend the entire day doing that. Being active and spending time outside is very important to me, so I embraced having more time to go for a run or walk and playing outside with my dog. I had to remind myself daily that my situation was temporary, even if I didn’t feel like it was. And after the first lay-off, I really had time to evaluate what I did and didn’t want in my next job, and ultimately, I ended up changing industries because of the layoff and I don’t regret that at all because I enjoy what I do now more. So that might be something to consider too, if your current industry isn’t doing much hiring or you’ve ever been curious about trying something new.

    I hope you find an amazing new job and that this period of unemployment and job searching doesn’t get you down.

  77. Dasein9*

    Oh, OP, I’m sorry! This is tough, but speaking as someone who has also lost a job that is also an identity, I can promise you it’s not all bleak. You may stop being Chief Llama Groomer, but you don’t just stop being. You start being something else right away.

    While I was still looking for work (a year, since I gave academia another shot), when people asked what I did, I started to reply, “I’m a deadbeat.” The chance to laugh together at my unexpected answer provided the opportunity for connection that helped push the conversation forward.

    I have found my way into a job that pays pretty well and is mostly fine. It’s not fulfilling the way my identity-profession is, and I am waiting until I’ve been here for a bit before seeking something more mission-driven. The framing that works for me is reminding myself that as a fairly uptight Gen X-er, I never really got my fair share of a slacking phase as a kid, so I’m taking it now. It’s surprisingly effective and helps with anxiety a lot.

    Counseling can help with re-framing experiences like this so we can get ourselves up and engaged again.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Yeah, I’ve long used a lot of self-deprecating humor. “What jobs HAVEN’T I had?” is one line I like, since my work history is so scattered and all over the place.

  78. The Prettiest Curse*

    Your situation sounds very similar to mine back when I got laid off a few years ago. You sound awesome and the range of skills you have will put you in the running for many different types of job.
    The #1 piece of advice I have is to ask if you have access to career coaching as part of your severance package (if you haven’t finished negotiating your package, ask to have it included) and make sure you use it to the maximum possible extent. I had a month’s worth of free coaching as part of my package. I waited till the dust had settled a bit to start the program, as they didn’t restrict when the 30 days started. I’m glad I waited, because I was more focused and less of an emotional wreck than immediately after my layoff.
    I met in-person with a coach twice. She reviewed and improved my resume, suggested many possible roles and employers that I hadn’t considered and bought me tissues when I cried. (Don’t feel bad about crying, people who work with the laid off are totally used to this!) She answered my emails and stayed in touch even after the 30 days had ended. I also had access to webinars and in-person training
    as part of the package, which allowed for some networking.
    If you don’t have access to coaching as part of your package, you may be able to find it via community organizations in your area. Ask around for recommendations. And try to work on your skills so you don’t stagnate. You can get free access to 30 days of online skills courses through LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/learning
    I will keep my fingers crossed for you!

  79. Gaia*

    When I was laid off, this was absolutely the hardest part for me. I was lucky enough to have sufficient savings and severance that, combined with unemployment, I knew I’d be financially safe for more than a year. What I didn’t know was who I was anymore. If I wasn’t Gaia who works at Company A as a Manager in charge of XYZ Data…what was I?

    What helped me was finding new purpose that felt like work…but wasn’t. I volunteered at an organization I was passionate about doing work that was helpful and that I was good at. And I did it about 20 hours a week.

    When I found my new role, I kept volunteering (but far fewer hours) and it really helped stabilize me during that time. It has also helped me see myself beyond my work. Now when asked about myself, I talk about my hobbies, where I’ve been recently (pre COVID), my volunteering, oh and I work doing data stuff.

  80. lilsheba*

    Make sure to phrase it correctly, you’re not being “let go” that’s being fired. You’re being laid off, there is a total difference. It is hard, at least you’re getting 2 months notice! When I got laid off at my job of 12 years, it was very sudden. Come into work, told I was being laid off and sent right back home with no warning and no chance to pack up or do anything.

  81. Teapot Fairy*

    You can think in general of what your career path is education, medicine, healthcare, construction. That’s how you identify yourself.
    Also loosing your job you will lose some friendships and support. Think about reaching out to your support circle in the next stage of life.

  82. CastIrony*

    I also strongly identify myself like this, because I don’t really socialize otherwise.

    I recently quit a job without notice, and because I was there for seven years, my identity was so shaken that I cried all that day and didn’t really leave my bed.

    All I can say is that it’s one baby step at a time. There are better places out there, but it’s hard.

  83. Wendy Darling*

    I had a long stretch of unemployment a few years ago and had issues with feeling like I had value without a job. I had also been saying for years that I wanted to start playing an instrument again — something I’d done for basically my entire childhood but stopped when I went to college.

    So I bought a cheap digital piano and signed myself up for piano lessons. It gave me something to do that felt productive and like I was learning and improving myself. It kept my brain busy. I actually enjoyed it. And it gave me something to talk about with people who asked what I did that wasn’t “I’m unemployed and looking for a job and it REALLY REALLY SUCKS”. I started saying “Well I’m looking for a job right now, but also I recently started taking piano lessons again–” It turns out people are actually really interested. SO MANY people said they wished they had the time/guts to learn an instrument as an adult, so I have been running around urging everyone to take up an instrument for the last several years.

    I got a job but kept up with the piano lessons.

    1. A Little Bit Alexis*

      I love this answer! I bought a keyboard about 2 months before the pandemic hit my area, and had just started lessons. We moved them to FaceTime which has challenges, but it’s been soothing to have something non-politics, non-tech, non-pandemic to put my energy into. Plus having the recurring scheduled lesson each week keeps me in something of a regular routine (as much as I can).

  84. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

    The first time I got laid off, I struggled with it too, even though I was only few years into my career. I was venting to a friend and his response was “The first time is the hardest.” Seemed weird to me. I got laid of a second time a decade later. Turned out he was right, the second one didn’t really phase me.

  85. Cassidy*

    I earned a Ph.D. in 2012, and, by that time, my field had shrunk considerably (think university and budget cuts). I managed to find two different year-long temporary stints but then became unemployed for almost a whole year.

    It was devastating. I began to question all my choices. I was in my late 40s and living at home. My parents could not have been more loving, kind, understanding, and financially helpful, but I really wanted my own place, with a job in my field, and otherwise to be able to live life on my terms.

    Things are very different for me now, but I do want you to know that so many people can relate to what you’re going through. There is light at the end of this tunnel. It just hasn’t revealed itself yet. But it is there.

  86. KT*

    What hobbies do you have? Are there things you are passionate about that could comprise your identity? Could you link your identity to your career path or aspirations rather than a specific, present job?

    I am similar to you – unmarried and childless – but I also feel that family ties is a tired way to identify oneself (e.g. as just a husband or “dad of two”). I guess family connections would only be a small part of most people’s identities anyway.

    I work full time but I don’t consider my current job to be the majority of my identity – a component, sure, but not even a huge component.

    Instead I add other components to my identity such as my passion for gourmet food (and my small but beautiful blog following which is entirely my own passion project and nothing to do with career), my volunteering and leadership roles at not for profits (such as Toastmasters), my appointment with the board of directors at another not for profit, and my past career in corporate plus my future aspiration towards social work (whereas my current job is more as a case worker).

    I think with rich hobbies, passions and volunteering, plus your professional past and future, you can craft a great sense of identity beyond your present job. Add your values and beliefs in there (e.g. whether it’s environmentalism, believing in animal rights, etc.) and there is a full identity!

  87. Kate*

    This is going to sound a bit weird but I got made redundant this year and for the two months it took me to find another job I got into the gym and eating healthy and lost 10kg and that was really great and its turned into a hobby I love now. I made an instagram account and joined an 8 week challenge and found another community of people to talk with in that time.

  88. NH*

    I was severely underemployed for several years, and I had a similar crisis. I had put all of my energy and time pouring my life into my chosen career, only for it not to work out.

    As many people say, “You are not your job.” But you are a culmination of all the really great skills, talents, abilities, and attitudes that helped you succeed at your job.

    For me, it helped me to think of myself not as A Chef but someone who is good at cooking. I wasn’t A Bus Driver; I was someone who liked helping people go the distance safely and inexpensively. I was not A Lawyer, but I was someone who is good at advocacy and analysis of the law.

  89. JSPA*

    Break it down:

    I’m a Teapot Analyst by training, but I moved through llama analysis to Dragon analysis with a side of Dragon Grooming. I just finished up ten excellent years in that position. I’m now deciding whether I want to again thread my career through the needle of that very specialized path, or reactivate some of my underused pottery and llama skills.

    You’re not “a [job description]” first and foremost. You’re a person who has done [job description]–done it excellently and with enjoyment, to be sure–but you’d be you if you’d done [other job description], too.

  90. Quadra*

    OP – my heart goes out to you. I was laid off in 2012 from a job that I was disproportionately in. I very rapidly went through all the stages of grief, as I’m sure you’re feeling now. It honestly felt like I’d lost gravity, since I’m so career-oriented. However, it was a much needed breath of fresh air for me. I got to take the time to seriously inwardly reflect. Is this industry right for me? Is this the path I want to be on, or just the path I’ve happened to be on? Do I want to make a meaningful life change?

    One of the most profound effects on my life was also a very healthy level of distance between self and employment that stays with me even today, even as I continue to climb the corporate ladder. I am not my job. I work to live.

  91. Underemployed Erin*

    I think it was the documentary “Born Rich” where one of the rich people pointed out that it is rude to ask “What Do You Do?” because he had never been employed in all of his life. He liked to collect rotary telephones, old versions of Encyclopedia Britannica, and give his tailor a hard time.

    After an almost ten-year career, I became a stay-at-home parent. I dreaded this question so much because apparently I was unworthy of being spoken to by people who were incompetent at small-talk. After the dreaded question, the folks who are terrible at small talk like to condescendingly tell stay-at-home parents that it is the most important job as they do nothing to show that they value stay-at-home parents in any way.

    So “what do you do?”

    You judge people who are bad at small talk and ask rude questions. You sing to your houseplants. You read interesting books. You pick up an interesting hobby. Right now with things moving online, you can attend all sorts of events or classes virtually. There is a lot of interesting stuff happening in the world.

  92. Kelly*

    I struggled to find the right position after finishing my degree. It was difficult to encounter so much rejection after being successful in school. My approach after a few months of this was to study for a certification exam. Essentially, I needed to work on a project that would be challenging and where I knew I would be successful. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I wasn’t getting anymore, and it depended only on me, not any of the companies I was applying to.

    This might look different for you: hobby, volunteer position, craft, finally reading that list of books. It really helped me to have a self-driven project that I found personally fulfilling. I look back on that time now and remember how proud I am of that accomplishment, not just the months of struggle.

  93. SeluciaMD*

    I absolutely feel you on this. But I do think it’s important that as a society we learn to internalize the idea that who we are is not what we do. If you asked your friends and family what it is that they like (or love) about you, why you are important to them, why they value your place in their lives, I’d be willing to bet anything that not a one would say it’s because you are a really good llama groomer or teapot designer. They might talk about some of the skills or traits you have that make you really good at your job, but it’s what you BRING to the job that has value – not the job itself. And if you reverse the scenario and ask yourself what you value about the other people in your life, I’d bet anything that you wouldn’t call out their job either.

    So many other commenters have offered other great suggestions for how to reframe this. I hope some of them resonate with you and help give you some comfort and strength during this difficult time. Hang in there – and good luck!

  94. Rebecca*

    I’ve been laid off three times (2x due to economic downturn and once due to the company being acquired), and it’s never easy. After the second layoff I did a career change, or at least a career readjustment, from magazine journalism to marketing. It felt very strange to be in a new world after nearly 10 years.
    The thing was…I found it very freeing. It wasn’t easy being unemployed, of course, but once I let myself look for jobs outside my old world, it opened up many new possibilities. (I’m still in marketing.)
    In addition to working my contacts and updating my resume/LinkedIn profiles, I also did some volunteer work. That’s not as easy in our current situation, but it meant I was occupied and productive, which was worth a lot. Good luck to you!

  95. Sarah*

    I feel this. I still have my job, but working from home headaches + project budget cuts have been rough and it’s made me rethink a bit whether this career is worthwhile long term. I had a period where I absolutely could not separate myself from the job and the time I put into this career path, and couldn’t ever imagine doing something else. But then, over the next month or two, it became a little easier. I saw a listing for something in another field that is unlikely to pan out at this at this time but kind of opened my mind to appreciating my crossover skills, something I would have the option to pursue if I was laid off or left. I have a “passion” industry job but it has honestly become a little less passion, a little more job over time. I’m also single, and my friends and I joke about how we don’t have “hobbies” because work overlap doesn’t count. But once I freed myself a little from my connection to my job as a person (still in progress!), I realized that I came to enjoy that thing as a free-time passion again. So, anyway, I’m sorry that you are being forced to do this, not on your own schedule. But there is a real possibility that you will both find something new and appreciate the balance of not being as attached to your job as part of who you are.

  96. Rebecca*

    I was furloughed in early July, supposedly through the end of the year. I’ve been laid off outright before but it’s the first time I’ve been in the limbo of furlough, which honestly feels like a lay-off in disguise.

    Nonetheless I have and continue to experience bouts of anger and sadness, especially when in-person activities like networking and going to the library are nil. On a good note, I have found a good place therapist who has been giving me activities to evaluate my thoughts and emotions. I definitely recommend that if possible as others have here. I also have been participating in a myriad of virtual career development workshops, virtual book readings, classes, and election activities. These have given me purpose and have allowed me to stop thinking about being unemployed momentarily. I also signed up for a virtual counseling group with others who are unemployed as a result of the pandemic. It is a service available for free to New Yorkers. If you aren’t in New York, I am sure other states are offering similar services and would look into that too.

    Just know, though, that you are not defined by the job you have or don’t have. Being unemployed, especially now, is nothing to be ashamed of.

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