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Friday, August 11, 2017

Layoff Lessons

I was laid off in late June, along with a large number of colleagues.  It came as a complete surprise to me, and, I believe, everyone else at my place of work.  I would give serious props to the powers that be for carrying off such a surprise, except that I think planned surprises should always be pleasant.  If you're going to ruin someone's day (and possibly the weeks to come), it's just good manners to throw a few clues their way beforehand.

I didn't feel like writing about this until now, which was a struggle, since it was really the major event of my summer.  But I have a part-time job now, and circumstances seem a little brighter, so I thought I'd share my layoff lessons.  This was my first layoff, and I keep thinking it will officially grant me adult status or something.


  • The first couple of weeks will be taken up writing awkward emails.  I have been truly touched by the number of people who have helped me during this time.  Every single person I've told about my layoff has been sympathetic.  Many friends and colleagues have investigated leads and put in good words for me, and I have been very grateful.  One way in which people have helped has been to give me people to contact about various leads.  So, for the first couple of weeks, I wrote a lot of very awkward emails that I feared came off something like this:  "Hi, You barely know me (or don't know me at all), but how would you like to review my resume/keep me in mind if a job opens up/hire me for a consultancy down the line?"  But, having written a good number of these emails, I believe it is absolutely worth doing.  Everyone I have contacted has been very kind.  One of these emails even led to my current part-time job!
  • Annoyances at home will become more annoying.  Unless you are financially secure enough to take a vacation with no income, you will suddenly be spending a lot of time at home.  Irritations that were once the domain of evenings and weekends will become the bane of your existence all day every day.  Our broken toilet reached nearly apocalyptic proportions in my mind by the time it was fixed.  Even more disturbingly, it was starting to seem like a metaphor for my life.
  • You can never completely prepare yourself for how you'll feel.  Even though the timing of my layoff was surprising, my job never seemed super stable.  At some point, I decided that I was going to stay there as long as I could anyway, and that if I lost my job, I would deal with it then.  But giving myself that pep talk ahead of time didn't spare me from feeling sad and disoriented in the aftermath.
  • Always have a plan for the next thing.  My job had some built-in instability that not every job has.  But I'm not sure how many truly stable jobs there are anymore.  I had decided while I was still working to explore some new career options, and I've written some about the evening classes I've been taking.  I am so glad now that I started taking those classes because in the short term, they've given me something concrete to focus on, and in the long term, they're part of a plan to hopefully have more professional stability.  But it was key that I started those classes while I was still working because I think it would have been much harder to switch focus and come up with a plan right after being laid off.
  • People can help you, but nobody can make it "all better" for you.  My first instinct, upon opening my layoff letter, was to start crying on the nearest person's shoulder.  I think this would have seriously unnerved the person who was sitting closest to me at the time, so it's a good thing I didn't.  But I realized later that what I really wanted was for someone to make everything better for me, but that nobody could.  It's great to reach out to people for help (and to help your fellow laid off colleagues if you can), but in the end you have to make sure you keep moving forward and don't get too caught up in shock or sadness.

Wishing everyone stability in jobs they like!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Read This! The Home That Was Our Country, By Alia Malek

I've never written a real book review before, and I see no reason to start now, but I do want to pass on a wonderful book recommendation for anyone looking for something to read:  The Home That Was Our Country, by Alia Malek.

Alia Malek is the daughter of Syrian immigrants to the US.  In 2011, as the Arab Spring began, she moved to Damascus to reclaim and restore her beloved grandmother's apartment.  Her book combines her own personal experiences and family history with considerable historical and political background on Syria.  This made it an easy, enjoyable read.  I don't want to criticize books on history or politics that lack personal stories, exactly, but those sometimes require concentration that I just don't have with everything else going on in my life.  I was able to mostly read this book on buses and trains, and it made my time in transit seem to go much faster!

Of course, one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that I spent a year in Syria.  I loved reading about some of the places I'd been and the cultural practices that I'd observed.  But I think anyone who has been following the current situation in Syria would find this book valuable.  It demonstrates very charming aspects of Syria, without glossing over the terrible things that have happened there (Alia Malek even provides details about how her own extended family was affected by the human rights abuses there long before 2011).  She also provides a insights about both contributing factors to the current situation and trajectories the country may be on.  Best of all, Malek tells stories of Syrians who have tried, often at great risk to themselves, to improve the situation in their country.  For a variety of reasons, such stories are not often covered in the mainstream news, but I think it's very important that people know about them.