On Friday, Jan 20, 2023, I (Vivek) woke up at 5 a.m. I had a 6:30 meeting with a program manager based in France. I scrolled through emails on my Google Pixel Watch (that I was testing) while lying in bed.
There was an email from Sundar Pichai announcing 12,000 layoffs.
The next email from Google’s People-Ops team said I was one of them.
My adrenaline shot up. I tried logging in to the corporate network, but my sudden lack of access only confirmed that none of this was my imagination.
My first thought was: I have no way of notifying the guy in France. Heck, I didn’t even remember his name. I had only had an email exchange with him, but now I didn’t have access to that either.
I was supposed to meet another colleague later in the day to discuss a new project. We had worked very closely for a number of years on a previous team, so I happened to have his cell number. I let him know that I wouldn’t make the meeting because I had been laid off. We exchanged a series of thoughtful texts on how to navigate this abrupt news.
Next, I texted my former manager. I had asked him to be my reference for an internal job transfer just the previous week. Fifteen minutes later, he texted back saying he had been laid off too. He had tried to enter an office building, and his badge didn’t work. It was a rough way to find out.
Another colleague told me that he broke down when he realized he was one of the 12,000. It was his first time getting laid off.
Being in the tech industry, I have been laid off on multiple occasions. Each experience taught me something new.
As a man, I strongly identified with the responsibility I felt to provide for my family. When I was laid off during the 2008 recession, I was devastated. For four months, I struggled daily with anxiety, sadness, anger, and frustration.
I was ashamed to speak to others. I was afraid of being judged. The shame of unemployment is real. And research shows employment has a protective impact on our mental health.
There was one thing I loved to do above anything else: volunteering to teach meditation. I stopped. I thought that without a job, I was not good enough to do even that.
I suffered silently while my wife patiently stuck with me.
It was only much later, after a lot of reflection, that I was able to recognize that my thought patterns were destructive and untrue. My job is not a reflection of my worth, and neither is yours. You are not your job or your earning potential. Your worth is intrinsic. The situation that you find yourself in is not a judgment on who you are as a person. And who knows, it might be a transition to something much better. It probably is. And with that in mind, you owe it to yourself to look after yourself first.
I don’t know how long it will be before I land my next gig.
In 2008, it was four long, painful months. Amid everything I felt, the one thing I learned from that experience is the importance of self-care. Here are some ways to focus on yourself when you’re overwhelmed with the news.
Keep a daily routine.
For those of us who have family responsibilities, there’s a schedule that doesn’t stop: kids need to be dropped off at school, picked up, and more. It creates structure that can keep us focused when we become untethered.
For others, creating structure needs to be more intentional. It is way too easy to stay up late working on a spreadsheet of job listings, fine-tuning your resume, or binging on Netflix. Try signing up for a class or an event — possibly in-person — whether it’s a skill you’re trying to develop or that CrossFit class that’s been on your New Year’s resolution list. This will create more structure for the coming days by engaging you in activities that build your confidence and capabilities, or that are just for fun.
Be intentional about your physical and mental well-being.
Searching for a job is a job in itself. You want to show up for this job at your best — not exhausted.
As for me, I meditate daily and do breathing practices. I go to the gym. This is an investment in myself, and the ROI is worth it: I sleep better and am more energized and happier. Breathing exercises can make you more resilient by decreasing anxiety and stress while improving well-being. The data also show that meditation improves focus and concentration as well as improves sleep. Successful CEOs make time for it. Physical exercise also helps with overall health and mental health.
Shift your focus from yourself to others.
This is one of the things I’ve learned about myself: The moment I start thinking about “What will happen to me? What about me?” my energy goes down, and I start to get depressed. If I can find a way to help someone else, I notice an instant shift in my energy and mood.
If you find yourself down or overwhelmed, take a break, and see if you can help someone else — even if it is just reaching out to someone to ask how they’re doing.
Shifting your focus to “Who can I serve?” can be an almost magical experience. When you’re taking good care of yourself, your cup is full, and you have the energy to engage in service to others. The meaning and joy derived from supporting others is in itself energizing. Research also shows that people who tend to volunteer have not only improved mental health and better physical health, but better chances of finding employment.
In the busyness of life, I lost touch with so many people over the years. As the news of the layoff spread, many of them contacted me to see if I was okay.
I reached out to a few and it felt so nourishing. I have a WhatsApp chat with my friends from undergrad. When I shared with them that I was looking for a job thanks to the Google layoffs, one of them joked about the kind of odd jobs I could take. I can always count on that set of friends to make a heavy situation lighter and humorous.
It’s easy to forget that you’re not alone. Over the years, you’ve built relationships and been there for people. In a time when there’s sudden flexibility in your schedule, it’s worth it to renew and revive these relationships. Social connection, the data shows, is key to mental health, physical health, and even longevity.
Notice Who You’re Blaming
When faced with a difficult situation, it’s normal to point fingers. Either you blame someone else — the CEO, the investors, office politics — or you blame yourself — I should’ve seen this coming, I missed the signs, maybe I’m not good enough, and so on.
It is important to honor the negative emotions that might come up, like anger, frustration, resentment, and fear. Research shows that suppressing them makes things worse. But it is critical not to let them take over.
You’re allowed to resent all of the above for the layoff. But you may find that neither self-blame nor blaming others is helpful in the long run. Introspection has value and can help you learn what you can do differently going forward, but beyond that, ruminating is a waste of emotional and mental energy. It is actually impossible to even pinpoint the exact cause of any event; it’s usually a number of things coming together.
The only practical question worth asking is not who to blame but rather: “Okay, that happened. Now what? How do I move on?”
It’s easy to lose trust — in organizations and yourself — when you’re laid off. But that’s often because you can’t see the bigger picture.
The first time I got laid off in 2007, I found a job in a niche field one week later. When I got laid off again in the middle of the 2008 disaster, I found a job four months later in that same niche. The pay was better, and the role was better.
Of course, variability in severance packages and financial instability can make it even harder to see what the future holds. There’s uncertainty that can also come from other factors. What if the next job requires a cross-country move and uprooting the entire family — kids, schools, social circles — or more travel and time away from them?
But if it were not for the layoffs, I wouldn’t even have widened my horizons to look for something else. I know some people are more agile and proactive about their careers, but I hadn’t been. I stuck to my comfort zone. Yet life nudged me to stretch thanks to the layoffs. And it was worth it. Amid a host of unpredictable stressors, cultivate what you can place trust in.
You’ve faced tough situations, but come out on the other side smarter for it and wiser. This trust, this faith that you’ve handled challenges in the past, can bring relief and strength. Research on post-traumatic growth suggests that difficult situations can lead to positive changes and learnings.
Trust in the goodness of others.
Research from Stanford University shows that other people want to help. All you have to do is ask, as University of Michigan Professor Wayne Baker has researched and written about.
Reach out to your network. No sooner had the layoffs been announced than I started getting messages from people wanting to help out.
You’ll be surprised at how unexpected support can be. The owner of the gym I go to is connecting me to a client of his who works at a software company. He said, “Look, man, I don’t know anything about what you guys do, but it might be worth a conversation.”
Focus on What You Really Want
In the day-to-day of life, it’s common to get so busy that you forget the bigger context of your life. You forget to ask yourself important questions like “What do I really want?”
In this forced break from work, I’m asking myself what kind of work I want to do next. What role will let me more fully express myself? I’m realizing that sitting behind a computer and writing code is fun, but what actually makes me come alive is interfacing with people. Having only done the individual code contributor role for most of my career, I’m asking myself if maybe it’s time for a change.
Perhaps you can do the same. Is it time to revisit a dream that you brushed off earlier in a different field? Do you want your next job to have more work-life balance? What drains you, and what makes you come alive?
Understandably, some of us may not have the luxury of time. Loans, mortgages, visa status, and other factors may require us to find a job fairly quickly, even if it is not an ideal gig. Yet, the pause and learning afforded by your current situation can generate fruitful reflections.
Shifting your perspective of a layoff to see it as an opportunity — for change, for something new, for growth, for learning — requires some effort. And that effort comes easier if you take care of our own emotional and mental well-being in the process.
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