By Mark Spoor, as told to Jennifer Clopton
As a journalist and lifelong sports fan, my job as a sports writer and editor was a dream come true.
I wrote a NASCAR column and covered motorsports, golf, the NBA, the NCAA, and more. It was thrilling to play a significant role in shaping how a major organization covered sports. My work was valued, I was contributing in ways that mattered, and my co-workers felt like family.
I was at the company for 14 years, and I thought I would be there until I retired.
I never saw my layoff coming.
One seemingly normal workday, I got a message that my boss’s boss wanted to see me. I didn’t recognize the name of the room where he wanted to meet and had to ask his assistant for directions to get there. I still didn’t really catch on to what was happening until I found the room and saw a company security guard standing outside. Minutes later, I became one of about 500 who were let go that day in a round of layoffs that ended up being triple that size.
When your job is suddenly taken from you, it’s shocking. Although physically I was in the meeting where they explained it all, I really wasn’t there. I vaguely remember hearing them talk about my last day and a severance package, but I was in such a trance and daze, it really is all a blur.
The grief that followed also took me by surprise.
I just didn’t anticipate that losing my job would hit me so hard. I figured it would be a very business-like thing: It’s just a job -- lose one and you can get another, especially when you have a strong resume and tons of good contacts, which I did. But I soon discovered it’s not that way at all.
I do remember feeling relief at first that I had some severance checks coming and thinking, "I’ll just take a little time off and find a new job. It will all be all right." I didn’t realize it at the time, but now that I look back, I can see that I then began working my way through the stages of grief. It was a process that took many months.
First came denial. I felt OK in those beginning weeks as I decompressed. Lots of people reached out to take me to lunch, tell me how sorry they were and offer to help -- and I was very fortunate to have that. But after a few weeks, the calls and lunch invites stopped. People got back to their own lives, and once I was left with my own thoughts, I started to feel very alone.
First I got mad and wondered, Why me? I did so much for them. Why did they do this to me? In my head I knew it was a numbers game, but it still felt very personal because I had been there so long. I was so invested in my work. I thought I had made a bigger impact than I had. It felt like I had lost part of my identity. Part of my support system drifted away, too. I had thought of my co-workers as family, but when the job went away, many of them did, too.
Once I worked through the anger, I started to get sad. Time off no longer felt like a vacation. It became the new normal, and that’s when my battle with negative internal messages began. The occasional freelance work I got was great, but most of the time, I still felt like I was alone on an island. I started to think I was a fraud. My mood was often bad, and since I was in my house almost all day, food was always around and I gained weight. It was a bad cycle.
Fear was the final stage of grief for me. It set in as my severance began to run out and I still didn’t have a new job. My biggest worry was that after spending more than a decade doing work I loved, I was going to be forced by financial circumstances to take any job that came along, and that led to more feelings of despair.
Eventually though, I’m happy to say I worked my way to acceptance. It came in part with time and in part as I began to get a chance to freelance on bigger projects. Those opportunities got me back into an office environment a few days a week and boosted my self-confidence as I realized I was as smart, hard working, and respected as I had thought.
In all, I sent out more than 100 resumes and was out of full-time work nearly a year before I got my next (and current) job, which I love.
Since it happened to me, I’ve seen a handful of friends go through job loss too. In fact, I even know a couple of people going through it right now, and I just don’t want them to feel alone in their grief. So now when I hear that a friend has lost their job, I call them up, take them to lunch, ask them how they are feeling, try to help keep their spirits up, and tell them it will be OK. Because I’ve learned that in time, it really will be.
Mark Spoor is a Senior Health Editor at WebMD. Before joining WebMD, he was a freelance writer and editor for companies like UP Entertainment, PrimeSport, and USA Golf and spent 14 years working on a variety of digital sports properties for a major network. Originally from upstate New York, he’s a longtime Yankees fan. But now, during baseball, football, and basketball seasons, he watches for fun. Most weekends, you can also find him cheering on his daughter Hailey’s softball team. You can follow him on Twitter.