I got laid off yesterday. I wish I could remove the word “off” from that sentence—I'd end it with an exclamation point—but that's not the kind of news I'm here to report. Though if you did remove “off,” and replaced “laid” with a synonymous Anglo Saxon expletive, you'd have a pretty good idea how I felt when I got the news.

Which is to say, I didn't take it well. I'd been with the company for several years. Just a few days before the ax fell, I went online to select my five-year service award. Whew! Close one. Can't wait for those binoculars to arrive.

You have to understand, though, that I thought it was just happening to me. I was summoned alone to a conference room to hear the bad news delivered in a brief but not unsympathetic statement, then immediately ushered into another conference room to meet with a representative of an outplacement firm. She meant well, but our relationship could still be measured in seconds rather than minutes when she said she planned to call me at home that night, just to make sure everything was all right. I assured her I had friends and loved ones and a dog who all took an interest in these matters and that they could handle that end of things. To myself, I thought: I've just lost my job in the worst economic downturn since the invention of loose change—how does she define “all right?”

(Memo to HR professionals: outplacement assistance is important, but when someone loses their job, the last thing they want is to be “handled.” Instead of solicitous outplacement reps, put them in a room with some crockery and other breakables for a few therapeutic minutes of smashing things against a wall.)

Still convinced I was the lone man in front of the firing squad—despite being told otherwise—I trudged back to my (former) desk, where I got my first glimpse of the scale of the cuts. A friend was waiting to give me a hug and tell me how it was playing out. Many of my colleagues were affected—some older than I am, some much younger and just starting their careers; some who had been with the company much longer than I had, who held higher positions, or who, for whatever reasons, probably faced a tougher road ahead than I do. I got over my anger, and myself, pretty quickly. There were some tears, and some laughs, too, a quick exchange of contact information, a few personal effects thrown into a box, and out the door for the last time.

On the way home, I tried to take a broader view. Someone, maybe Harry Truman, said, “Recession is when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose yours.” It's a matter of perspective. All corners of the publishing industry have been contracting and shedding personnel for months, so it was hardly surprising that my number finally came up. With the economy looking more like a Texas sinkhole every day, I never really imagined that my employer, or I, would be immune. I understand that in difficult times, companies have a responsibility to make tough decisions. I do believe that this measure was a last resort. And I know it wasn't personal (though when you have to call your spouse to break the news, or go home and tell your kids, it gets pretty personal pretty fast).

Today I'm trying to do what the song says—accentuate the positive. Financially we'll get by, for a little while. I've received expressions of affection and support from authors, agents, contacts and co-workers that are genuinely touching. I'll be more involved in my son's life—that's good. No more commuting. Maybe I'll get some writing done—I've put that off far too long. I'm looking forward to many rewarding one-sided conversations with my Wheaton terrier. When she starts talking back, that's when I'll worry. Yes, I've lost my job, but with it go a thousand pressures and nagging details that are someone else's problem now. (Layoffs aren't easy on the survivors, either.) There's an undeniable sense of a weight being lifted—soon to be replaced by others, no doubt. I'm sure there are some tough times ahead, but for now I'm okay, and I hope I speak for all my friends, colleagues and peers who have also been terminated when I quote the Terminator: I'll be back.

Author Information
Until recently, Laurence Hughes worked for a big publishing company. Ironically, he was the publicist for Bulletproof Your Job. He can be contacted at LHCommun@comcast.net.