5 min read

I got laid off from my startup job – here’s what I learned

Grateful to be working in a cafe in Manila in the middle of the day, surrounded by books
Grateful to be working in a cafe in Manila in the middle of the day, surrounded by books

#1 Laying you off is one of the most difficult things your employer wishes he never has to do.

I cried when Kevin and I talked about it.

But his face told me he didn’t sleep much the night before. And it’s obvious from the way he talked: he spent a lot of time thinking about how to tell me. Laying me off was harder for him than it was for me.

They were going to build All Aboard! inside Intercom. The work will entail a lot of development, but not much marketing. I don’t code. It didn’t make sense to pay me to do nothing. That’s a risk I knowingly took when I joined a bootstrapped startup.

Despite our tendency to find someone to blame for every bad thing that happens to us, most things are nobody’s fault. Don’t take it personally. Think about how this feels for the other person and know that it’s hard for them too.

#2 Empathy is the answer to man’s search for meaning.

Our feelings are a result of our interpretation of events, not the events themselves.

I could have thought of the lay off as a personal attack against me. Instead, I saw it as an opportunity to comfort Kevin. A few hours after he told me I don’t have a job anymore, I sent him a private message on Slack not to worry, that he handled it really well… Crazy, right? He should be comforting me (and he did), but it made me feel good to be comforting him. Heh.

When we feel bad, we’re always told to “think of it this way…” That advice has always been hard for me to follow.

Empathy is the solution.

Reinterpreting the event doesn’t mean kidding yourself that this is an opportunity to explore when what you’re really thinking is I am going to die!!! When you truly understand what the other person is thinking and feeling – when you empathize – you understand it’s nobody’s fault. Nobody wanted it to happen, it just had to.

Like when one plus one equals two, zero doesn’t feel bad that it wasn’t part of the equation. It just accepts it and moves on.

#3 Shortcut to learning empathy: read what your stakeholders read.

As a practice, I read what my customers read. What my boss reads. The people my mom learned from. Etc. Etc. I do this to understand how people see the world and think of me.

As an employee – and not CEO – The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers contained nothing that could make me better at my job. But that’s where I learned how hard it was for CEOs to fire people or lay them off.

#4 Working for someone else makes me complacent and entitled.

When I worked for myself the year before, I adopted the mindset that everything is my fault. Even if the cause isn’t my fault, it was now my problem. So I took responsibility for everything.

I started working for Kevin with this entrepreneurial mindset, but eventually I settled into employee habits of making excuses and rationalizing failures.

The comfort of a regular paycheck has a way of doing that.

#5 Stay for momentum, not inertia.

When you’re comfortable, you stop reaching. Even when you sense that you’re not proud of what you do anymore, you rationalize that the situation is really not that bad.

A few months before I got laid off, I intuited that keeping the job wasn’t serving my goals anymore.

But what am I going to do next? Wasn’t I being disloyal? What exactly is my problem?

I already quit a cushy job once, I should know this already!

Moreover, it’s hard to figure out what the right thing is. If you move on, does that mean you are chasing shiny, new objects, or are you taking on a new challenge? If you stay, does that mean you are making the most of what you have, or does that mean satisficing?

Why do you stay? Is it from momentum or inertia?

I don’t like that I had to get laid off for me to move on, but I’m grateful it happened.

#6 I am not the center of the universe.

When I got laid off, the first thing I did… Is sulk for a few hours.

Then I made a list of people I’ve worked with and who’ve expressed interest in working with me. I emailed them. I didn’t have an agenda; just updated them about my life and my new projects.

The result? I’m not anxious about what’s next. Instead, what I have are friends excited to hear I’m available again. Lots of prospects. Lots of potential project partners.

You are not the center of the universe. Don’t scoff. Most people are not aware of this fact. I was shocked to learn it when I became an entrepreneur. I opened the virtual doors to my copywriting business, i.e. I became available for hire as a copywriter. Without doing much (except set up a website) to tell people about it, I expected to get emails inquiring about my services. Of course, no such thing happened. I took this as a sign that I sucked and nobody wanted to work with me.

This is nonsense. The people I wanted to work with didn’t hate me – they just didn’t know who I am, what I’m up to, or that I can help them.

So I now give people a chance to think I suck, and not just assume it! Otherwise:

  • People won’t know to work with me, hire me, or refer me: They don’t know what my skills and interests are. How will they? I didn’t tell them.
  • Even if they do, there’s something like a 98% chance they’re not ready to buy. Unless I keep in touch, by the time they are ready, they’ve already forgotten about me.

Entrepreneurs know this, because, marketing! It’s recognizing that people are (1) not aware of what you sell and (2) likely not ready to buy now. But if you let them know about what you’re up to and stay in touch – if you market – they’ll know who to call when the time comes that they need what you sell.

When we get deep into our projects, it’s too easy to get lots in the grind and disappear. So it’s something that’s always helpful to be reminded of: I am not the center of the universe.

Be willing to tell people about your projects. Stay in touch. Always.

#7 It’s super exciting be out on my own again!

In the next post, I’ll talk about my newest project: http://growingeast.tech/.