I Do Declare: Jazzing up the blues is the only way to deal with a RIF

Yep, I caught it.

No, not Covid-19. I caught the RIF – the dreaded Reduction-in-Force – when I got The Call one morning along with about 1/5 of my employer’s workforce.

And I’m here to tell you that no matter how well-worded the notice or how compassionate the delivery, the RIF call is definitely a wind-sucked-out-of-the-sails moment.

Some of my colleagues reached out with condolences and encouragement, which were comforting. There were also a few platitudes – among them: “it’s not personal, it’s business,” which makes me roll my eyes so far back into my head I can see my brain. Because it is absolutely personal to me.

I didn’t hold that against them, though. Really, what can you say to someone who’s just been labeled “professionally nonessential” in the most public way?

To be honest, I barely registered any of their words. Instead, I was hearing something my grandmother said years ago when I’d met with a huge disappointment. She told me, “It’s easy to feel powerless right now. But you get to choose what you do with this. And that gives you a lot more power than you think.”

Right she was – then and now. With her words echoing inside me, I sat myself down, dusted myself off, and did some serious brainstorming on the topic of Choosing What To Do With This.

Here’s my list, hopefully free of platitudes, offered up for those who may be going through the same bout of introspection:

  • Resist the urge to wallow. There’s a difference between honest introspection and pathetic navel-gazing. Learn that difference. Take stock of your assets; you’ll probably find there are many. Above all, remember that RIF is not stamped on your forehead. You are still valuable, and – this is fabulous news to many companies out there – you’re now immediately available.
  • If you absolutely must wallow, set a limit on it. Yes, it does suck. No, you didn’t deserve this. Yes, you did give 110% and hardly ever complained and were the best company cheerleader. Ok, fine. Take some time – I recommend three hours; if that doesn’t do it, then no more than one full day – to beat your chest and wail and whine and cry and whatever else you need to do to get back to your best self. You cannot set the world on fire when you’re pouting. Fact.
  • Leave like a boss. Be professional. Chin up. If you need to wallow (see bullet above), do it solo or in the company of a trusted friend. No social media rants or one-finger salutes as you’re exiting. Speak well of the company and the coworkers you’re leaving. Because – guess what? You are a boss now. You’re the boss of you, and you will be throughout the job search and/or your entrepreneurial launch. Act like it.
  • Take care of business. It’s time to face facts about your money, your health, your housing situation. Be realistic and practical, but also remember to face forward. Don’t look back and compare how things were. Live in the now and do whatever is needed to create a safe and secure future. If your severance package included assistance with these areas, take advantage of them.
  • Make yourself a priority. Do you have a few weeks of medical or dental insurance left? Schedule some appointments and use it up. Get yourself in shape. Start exercising and finding healthy recipes. (Let’s be honest, you have the time now.) Find inspiration where you can. Feed your mind and soul with books and museums and culture. (Even in our current Covid-restricted world, you can access these things online, so there’s no excuse.) Get to work on your bucket list. If you don’t have a bucket list, start one.
  • Remember, you’re still on the clock. It just happens to be your clock. Whatever your next steps are – and yes, you do get to choose those steps, just like my grandmother said – you need to work hard at it. Spend the bulk of your day learning everything you can about the companies you’re applying to or those you’ll be competing against. On the flip side, be sure to schedule some down time (your own version of PTO) to recharge. Do not neglect this detail. I’m serious – get it on your to-do list.

After I compiled this list, I realized something. My colleagues were right when they tossed out the “business-not-personal” platitude. Dealing with a RIF actually is business … but it’s the business of managing your personal prospects.

And where to from here? Why, to hear some encouragement from Nina Simone, of course. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. And I’m feeeeeeling good!

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