On Tuesday morning, October 30, I walked into a meeting with my new manager and was told my position and almost my entire seven-person department had been eliminated, due to a business decision to outsource the meeting planning function.

Walking back to my desk and saying goodbye to my shocked employees was a devastating experience. It was my very first layoff in 20 years of corporate work, and I was caught completely off guard. So that you won't be, here's some advice about how to prepare for that unthinkable layoff — and how to survive it.

Since that morning, I have gone through several emotional phases, as with any other loss. The first phase was “shock and anger.” I spent a couple of weeks feeling stunned and outraged. I became an e-mail junkie obsessed with telling everyone what had happened to me. The next phase was “sad and thoughtful.” I reached out to my network and received an outpouring of encouragement and support. I began letting go of my anger. I also spent lots of time alone — reading, sleeping, and thinking. Phase three was the “be open/take action” phase. Besides doing active research, I began expanding my range of job possibilities.

So, how did I resist the urge to sit in front of “Oprah” and feel sorry for myself? There were lots of things that helped me during that first month. On the first day, I bought a new red cell phone so I could feel as if I was still working. It was something I could control, and it felt good. I took a friend's advice and printed business cards with my new contact information. That turned out to be very empowering. Reaching out to people and getting out and networking were key motivating factors. Thank God for my network! Making lists of things to do every single day helped me stay upbeat. I took time for things I never had time for before, like shoe repairs, dental work, letter writing, and lunches with long-lost friends. I treated myself to little weekend trips. Getting away helped a lot. Most of all, allowing myself to go through the process and experience the full range of emotions was, in itself, healing.

Many of you may be worried about your own positions. My advice is that being prepared will help cushion the blow and give you some sense of control. Here are some things you can do — and that I wish I'd done:

  • Update your resume.
  • Save money — enough to survive 4 to 10 months.
  • Cut expenses and pay down your balances on credit cards.
  • Refinance loans when interest rates are low.
  • Get your personal contact lists and e-mail messages off your computer at work and keep back-up files at home.
  • Buy your own PDA and/or cell phone and load all your contact information on it.
  • Clean your desk at work.


The ultimate lesson is: I am not my job. I'm a seasoned professional with lots of transferable skills and a large network to draw on. I'm not there yet, but phase four must be: peace of mind. I am comforted by the knowledge that, for me, the best is yet to come.

Jan Hennessey, CMP, CMM, formerly director, meetings and travel management, Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., is based in San Francisco. Reach her at Jannessey@aol.com.