By Nelson Vinod Moses
In 1997, after I joined the job market as a fresh graduate, I swapped my Converse shoes for black leather shoes and my Levis 501s for a pair of tailored black formal trousers, and instead of letting my tee shirt hang out of my jeans, I wore a formal shirt tucked into my trousers. The heady rush of a paycheck made it worthwhile. Buoyed by my now expected monthly cash flow, I bought the double cassette deck Philips Powerhouse on EMIs, picked up formal clothes, ate Chinese food at Rice Bowl (the once iconic Bangalore eatery) and applied for a credit card.
Knowing that job security is temporary gave me a mindset of, "If not this, then what?" This helped me evaluate alternative job options and also helped me brave career transitions.
I was selling timeshares at an environmentally friendly green resort, located enroute to the Bengaluru International airport, boasting of open air showers and horse-drawn carriages in a no-motor vehicle zone. In 1997, the year I stepped into the job market, both the Bengaluru International airport and the resort existed only on paper. Customers who had earlier lost money on dubious fly-by-night timeshare operators were not keen to invest on an empty plot of land and a glossy brochure. Three months after I began my professional career I was laid off. The British NRI promoters decided to pull the plug after full page colour newspaper advertisements produced some leads but translated to zero conversions.
I spent a good three-four months on the sidelines, attending interviews and waiting for a callback that never came. Luckily I finally got a break to sell print advertisements for The Times of India.
My first layoff taught me some valuable lessons.
1) Job security is fleeting
Job security is transient. I felt like a passenger in a train, who was ready to be deboarded anytime, in any station. This made me think and realise that my job could disappear at any moment. I applied this philosophy to all aspects of my life and that has helped me realise the futility of holding on to something thinking it is going to last forever.
2) When one door closes, another opens
After getting laid off, I was disappointed and distraught, wondering what I would do next. This was in the late 1990s, when jobs were scarce, and being an Arts graduate my options were limited. Most of the jobs available at that time for a non-engineer were in sales and business development. I eventually landed a media sales job with The Times of India that paid almost double of what I was getting and also gave me a good brand to put on my resume.
3) Getting laid off sets you up for less hurt in the future
I've been laid off once after when my entire division at Hughes Software Systems was shut following the telecom bust of the early 2000s and the aftermath of September 11. But this time it did not hurt as much, and I was actually less anxious, and more relaxed during the time that I spent looking for a job.
4) The corporation is a cold, unfeeling entity
One of the biggest lessons that the layoff thought me was that the corporation is built for one reason only—for profit maximisation, and employees are cannon fodder to fire up margins. When employees say they love their companies, what they are really referring to is loving their colleagues, and not the corporation. Hiring happens when there is potential for growth, and firing happens when growth stops, or you don't contribute to the growth of the company. Keeping it neutral means it hurts less when the axe drops.
5) Getting laid off was not my fault, but taking responsibility was
I worked hard on my first job and put in a full shift every day, trying to sell my company's offering. But I was unable to succeed. It wasn't just me, even my other two colleagues were unsuccessful sales-wise.
If I had wallowed in pain and self-pity, it would have taken longer to find a job and I would've found a subpar one at that.
When we got laid off, I felt ashamed, guilty and disappointed. It was only later that I realised that it wasn't my shortcomings that led to the layoff but a product offering that was ahead of its times. However, I had to take responsibility for signing up for the job, and I had to pull up my socks and take responsibility to find a new one. If I hadn't done that, and wallowed in pain and self-pity, it would have taken longer to find a job and I would've found a subpar one at that.
6) The importance of having a Plan B
Knowing that job security is temporary gave me a mindset of, "If not this, then what?" This helped me evaluate alternative job options and also helped me brave career transitions. After six years of a fairly successful sales career, I took a year off and studied journalism, and spent five years as a journalist. I've had other career transitions post that as an intrapreneur-in-residence, community manager and freelance writer.
Nelson Vinod Moses is a freelance journalist and writing fellow at YourDOST. He writes on mental health and social entrepreneurship. Given his interest in mental health, he recently attended a year-long counselling course. His writing has appeared in Fortune, The Times of India, Quartz, FactorDaily, Yahoo, Businessworld and Business Standard.