About 1,000 journalists across the U.S. were laid off last week, including me. After seven and a half years in the same job (an eternity in internet years), I was blindsided by the news. I frantically texted and called my family and close friends to let them know. They wanted more than anything to comfort me, and I appreciated that. But so many of the responses I got came across as the canned kind, like something Gmail would’ve generated as a reply at the bottom of the screen. Losing a job is a lot like getting dumped by a partner you thought you had a real future with (and they demand you give back your laptop containing your life’s work on top of everything else). You are hurting — and hearing generic advice can just make you feel worse.
If you happen to meet up with a newly unemployed journalist, try to avoid saying any of the following:
“It’s a blessing in disguise.”
Even if this tired cliché is true, and it often is, no one wants to hear this. Literally no one. When you’ve just had a door slammed in your face, you don’t want to start crawling around on the floor or peering under furniture to find some hidden bright spot. Either there’s a blessing in front of your face, or there isn’t. Since there probably won’t be, you likely just want to commiserate and have something concrete to distract you, like pizza.
“What are you going to do next?
This is like asking someone who just got thrown to the ground and has a black eye and skinned knees how they plan on getting up. Most people who get laid off are caught off guard and have no emergency exit plan in place.
“Let’s go grab a drink.”
Telling someone who is feeling down to kick back with a cocktail can be lousy advice. Alcohol is a depressant and can make an already despondent person feel even worse.
“Don’t drink too much.”
Telling someone who is feeling down to watch their alcohol intake can be lousy advice. Sure alcohol is a depressant, but they’re likely already in a bad mood anyway.
“At least your spouse can support you.”
Do you know how much kids cost? I do! It’s around $233,000 to raise one child these days. We have two. In the U.S., in about half of families, both husband and wife work, which makes sense. My family won’t starve without my paycheck, but we relied on it and the generous health benefits, which were cheaper and better than the ones we’d otherwise get through my husband’s job. Also I’m not about to trade a stressful job for the hardest job in the world.
“When I was laid off…”
Unless you were dropped from the same company or have some legal advice to share, don’t say this. Layoff stories are rarely even that interesting the first time around. Just let your struggling friend hog the mic.
“Get a manicure!”
I know self-care is hot right now. But suggesting going out and spending money and time on a spa treatment isn’t helpful. When you learn you’re suddenly out of a job, and are waiting to hear about severance or unemployment benefits, you have to worry about how you’re going to fund the crucial expenses, like rent, healthcare, and Netflix — not indulgent beauty services.
Plus, you need to have your hands accessible in this harried moment. Losing a job is like unexpectedly getting evicted. You have to clear out your desk, forward important emails, collect contact information, submit expense reports and grab your last ever stale office snack all before 5 PM. Plus afterwards, you’ll need your digits handy to send rage texts to friends.
“Now you’ll have time to write a book.”
I’m trying really hard to think of a reason as to why this is terrible advice. Mostly because I’d like to continue procrastinating writing a book. This isn’t actually bad advice.
“Ax falls quickly at BuzzFeed and HuffPost!…
Fake News and bad journalism have caused
a big downturn. Sadly many others will follow.
The people want the truth!”
So this wasn’t technically said by a friend or family member. It was a tweet from the President of the United States of America. Still, in most cases, I’d hope POTUS would empathize with citizens who recently lost their jobs.
“Learn to code.”
Plenty of people have now opened up to me about how they really feel about the news outlets that have been undergoing mass layoffs and the journalism industry altogether. Some have gone so far as to suggest I get out of the “dead end” field. Heck, an entire throng of internet trolls banded together to spam unemployed journalists with the same message: Learn to code. I’m 36, an old millennial. I’m not about to pick up an entirely new technological skill. Plus, most journalists enjoy some level of suffering and won’t quit the field they love unless they have no other choice.
“The job market is great right now!”
The unemployment rate hit a historic low last year, but major disparities still remain. If you’re black, for example, you’re facing an unemployment rate that’s nearly twice as high as the rate among white workers. Right now, there’s ample opportunity for positions in finance, sales, construction, and manufacturing, among others. But not every industry is booming. If you’re an out of work journalist, you’re now competing with 1,000 other people (and likely more to come) in an industry that was already cutthroat to begin with.
“Come over to my place and we can talk about it.”
It’s considerate to invite someone to your house. But after I was laid off, I could barely muster the energy to put on pants to go out and buy diapers at CVS. Instead, offer to go to your friend’s place. Show up with a bottle of wine, chocolates, and a big hug. Say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks.” And then, just listen.