Lessons from a Layoff

lessons from a layoff

How joblessness changed one woman’s life – for the better.

By Cynthia Good

For Angela Raub, the worst moment of being laid off came when the single mom had to tell her teenage daughter what happened. “But mom,” 17-year-old Chandler replied, “we worked so hard for them.”

The moment came when her employer eliminated her division along with her job as director of corporate relations for the College. That she had just received her own EMBA didn’t help. Raub leans in when she tells me how her esteem and sense of self were totally tied up in her job and career. “It was everything,” she said.

Despite a dim economic outlook, at the height of the Great Recession, Raub summed up the courage to ignore the cynics and look for a new job anyway – while taking a closer look at her own attitudes about work, life and personal validation.

She threw herself into her search. “I read everything about getting a job.” She woke up every morning at 5:30 just like she did while employed full-time. “I started running five to six miles a day instead of my usual three.” She searched for opportunities in a wide range of fields, from healthcare to finance. As it turns out – the firing was no match for Raub’s determination. Though, it wasn’t easy.

She describes second guessing herself every day at home, questioning her worthwhile-ness as a person – then going on job interviews and mustering up every ounce of confidence she could. “At night, I thought, ‘I’m nothing.’ I questioned who I was, but during the day I had to sell myself.” One business owner she interviewed with chastised her, even called her “bragadacious,” for suggesting she receive a salary that happened to be comparable to his. Feeling beat up and defeated, “I got back into my car. And sat there. And cried.”

But Raub took a deep breath and continued on, filling out only three online job applications, contacting literally everyone she knew, even students who had gone through the university’s program as well as networking and professional organizations. She solicited help via her Facebook and LinkedIn pages. She asked a smart, successful woman who gave a talk she attended to be her mentor and a male executive coach to advise her. “I built my own support team that no one could control but me. I created ‘Corporation Angie.'” To stay positive she stopped watching the evening news. And she held fast to advice her mother and father gave her years ago. “Work hard. Keep your word. Be kind to all people and you will never go wrong.”

There were bright spots and instances of painful levity – like the day she gassed up her car on her way to a fourth job interview. “A woman at the gas station told me my skirt was split all the way up the backside; showing skin!” On another appointment the security officer asked what she was doing there. “I was applying for the VP of business development position.” A few minutes later she overhead the security workers gossiping: “Girl – that lady is much too young to get that kinda job.”

Nevertheless, in 13 weeks Raub had contacted nearly 2,000 people, received close to 700 responses, set up 141 appointments and job interviews. Sometimes her efforts clicked; like when a chance meeting of a stranger at a Starbucks resulted in her resume being passed along to a company president – who later offered her a job. Another opportunity came through a networking event. A third resulted from an interview for a job that didn’t exist at the time. Nine meetings later – with that same company – Raub was hired as director of business development for Brightworth, a private wealth management firm. She was happy to have the offer, but she still wanted to consider her decision carefully. “My current employer was surprised that I asked for a week to think about it.”

Raub wasn’t surprised. In the process of her ordeal she had changed the way she thought about her work and her life, and altered many long held beliefs. She learned to think things through carefully. She resolved not to let her critics be her validators. “They don’t see who I am.” She discovered the importance of keeping business and home life separate. She even questioned the woman’s movement that “made women define success in the same terms men always have – based on their job and how much they earn.” She began to resent the pressure on women to “always be smart and look good.”

She also found out fast who her real friends and supporters were. “The parents of one of my students offered to write me a check. They told me I had made a difference for their family and they wanted to help.” CEOs agreed to meet with her just because they once had been laid off too. “They told me ‘I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. It’s not you.'” These, Raub says, were “moments of sweet validation.” She found solace and support from friends and acquaintances who continued to check in on her and encourage her.  And she discovered that sometimes life has a way of giving back what you put into it.

Through all this, Raub became increasingly marketable. In 13 weeks she had built a reputation as an undefeatable spirit with a golden Rolodex. Opportunities are still streaming in. She’s begun coaching half a dozen women who are trying to improve their careers too. She’s writing a book about being a “single mom in the city.” And for the first time in her adult life, her infectious confidence and optimism aren’t tied to a job under somebody else’s control.

Raub’s odyssey showed her that not only could she get a job, but she could get a better life. And it reminded her of a few things she had lost sight of. “Remember you are you. You are not your job. And through all adversity, if you have a plan and work it, you can get what you need.”

Remaining grounded through it all, she sits in my office and, with pride, pulls out the blue index card she still carries in her wallet. On it, she has penned in the number of appointments she set up week by week from the beginning. “It’s a reminder,” says Raub. “Remember from where you came.”

Raub now knows something about her own character and what she is capable of, separate from her career. “In retrospect, ultimately, it was the best experience of my life. I got back to being me.”

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