How I approach the job search

If you were working in tech circa 2023, there’s a good chance you were laid off like me. Getting laid off is terrifying at first glance, but there are a couple of reasons that a disruption like this can actually be very welcome.

I’ve been laid off a few times in the past. I never invited it into my life, and it was never something I hoped would happen. With every time it did happen though, it became clearer to me that losing a job gives us experiences and emotions that are otherwise hard to come by.

For most people with day jobs, our identity is intimately bound up with what we do for work. This is both because we spend the majority of our waking hours at work and because our professional careers are typically our benchmark for our worth as human beings. Losing our jobs then leads to a sudden surplus of time, and no obvious idea for what best to do with it. We are adrift in limbo, anxious and uncomfortable.

The initial period of figuring out what direction to move in can be pretty stressful, especially if money is an issue. But once we’ve processed the loss, settled on a goal, and started to gain some momentum, we can’t help but realize - something profound is happening if we choose to pay attention.

Layoffs put us in a liminal space outside the typical rhythms that govern our lives. We’re not on vacation or sabbatical or summer break and it’s not a weekend, it’s something else entirely. We get to decide what to do with that time. And unlike during periods of employment, there is no guarantee that tomorrow will be anything like today. Who knows what will happen?

We always have a choice, but now it’s easier to choose not to live on autopilot. The effects of our actions today become much more significant and can potentially alter the course of the rest of our lives. Our days acquire a thrill, a sense of adventure, a sense of mystery. Almost reminiscent of what it’s like to be a kid.

While this perspective shift is internal, a welcome external component of being laid off is the tangle of conversations that happen while we search for what to do next. Whether it’s friends, recruiters, interviewers, or complete strangers, we find ourselves drawn into conversations one after another that just didn’t happen before. Conversations also develop an intensity and charge that they otherwise wouldn’t have. You have some skin in the game. Often, all parties must determine from a 30-60 minute conversation whether to invest financially and emotionally in each other.

Now we’re forced to (re)learn to weave a narrative about our professional lives, speak about our values and interests, consider who we are as people, what we’ve achieved, and what we want out of life. And beyond that, we get to learn these things about other people as well.

The more introverted among us may find all this to be more of an ordeal than an adventure. But in my experience people respond to positivity and curiosity. If you can muster genuine interest in other people and the problems they face, that conversation can be rewarding for everyone involved. As we talk to others and learn about what they do and what they may be looking for in an employee or a colleague, it helps us understand more about ourselves and our own abilities and preferences.

The best thing we can do is embrace the novelty of our situation and recognize the blessings it brings as we move forward - there is much to be grateful for. Terence McKenna had a great formulation of this sentiment:

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”

© 2023. Ilya Meerovich