The recent wave of layoffs is a wake-up call for you to realize that you are not your job. Your identity is not the company you work for—no matter how cool and prestigious it is. You are also not your net worth, the neighborhood you live in or the Lamborghini you drive.
Upon meeting someone, the first question you typically ask is, “What do you do?” The answer is intuitively interpreted as a request to provide your job title, the company you work for and what you do at the office or virtually at home. It’s not, “I’m a husband, father of two kids and the pet dad of two adopted cats and dogs.”
The reason for this knee-jerk response is that, in American culture, identity is inextricably tied to your job and career. It becomes a defining character, identity and personality. You’re known as the lawyer, investment banker, accountant, doctor or startup founder. These identifiers indicate your social status and allude to how much money you make.
The Wake-Up Call
When you’re wrapped up in your job and company, getting let go is devastating. The loss of income is difficult, and you worry about making ends meet. While money is essential, the existential dread and thoughts over who you are now are emotionally and mentally painful. It took the downsizing to realize just how much you are your job.
Those who’ve devoted everything to their careers have now woken up to the fact that they’ve fallen out of touch with family and friends. Since you were so busy cultivating your professional life, you put your family, friends, hobbies and social events on the back burner. On top of the stress of looking for a new job, you feel isolated and adrift, not sure who you are anymore.
In what is being deemed a white-collar recession, nearly 160,000 and 56,570 jobs were lost in 2022 and 2023 respectively in the tech sector alone, according to Layoffs.fyi. Several other industries, including Wall Street and the media, are also undergoing downsizing.
If you spend time on LinkedIn, you’ll see a constant flow of posts from people formerly working at big companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Stripe and Meta, announcing that they’ve lost their jobs. Most people offer a stiff upper lip, speak fondly of their work experiences, appreciate the time spent at the organization and love the folks they’ve worked with. On TikTok, you’ll see younger workers revealing their raw emotions, many crying and expressing heartfelt messages about being downsized.
What To Do Next
The dot-com boom and bust in the late 1990s, downsizings during the financial crisis in 2008 to 2010, job losses in the pandemic’s early months and the current tidal wave of layoffs clearly show that there are no guarantees of job security.
Think deeply about what you truly want to do and achieve in your career. Try to avoid following the herd and the well-trodden path you instinctively believe you’re supposed to be on because of the expectations of your family, friends and society.
Ask yourself what you are passionate about and good at that can offer a compensation that you’re comfortable with. Seek out opportunities that provide meaning, fulfillment and purpose. Don’t make a decision based primarily upon the marquee name brand of the corporation that will impress your old college buddies, but could make you miserable. If you find something that makes you happy and affords a better quality of life and work balance, go for it. It’s okay not to be a startup founder of a multibillion-dollar unicorn company.
Find friends outside of your office and profession. Get involved with activities that have nothing to do with your job. Cultivate new hobbies and passion projects that make you more multidimensional, not just a work drone. Use your paid time off to take vacations to decompress, explore the world and open yourself up to new vistas. These and other nonwork events and activities will make you more well-rounded, and your identity will culminate in more than your corporate job title.
The big takeaway lesson from the wave of layoffs is that you can lose your job at any time. Given the precarious nature of work, make sure you don’t sacrifice your time, energy and life—your whole self—for a company that will just fire you via email to cut costs and make shareholders more money on the stock holdings.