Mind the Work Gap

What is MY GAP YEAR AT 47? It’s about the opportunity I’ve had to enjoy life and think about the possibilities for my next career move following a layoff after 17 years with a company. This blog is geared towards people in their 40s-50s who have been laid off from a longterm job and want to enjoy life before getting back into the workforce.

Here’s how my layoff happened:

The company was laying off about 300 employees and each building had an axing day that week. I was called down to my bosses office at high noon on a Tuesday. I knew what was happening. I actually felt bad for my boss when I entered his office. He looked scared and in pain…maybe he thought I’d flip out. He was sitting with our HR rep. As I opened the door I said ‘Heyyy’ in a singsongy way.

He started by telling me how fabulous I am and that this was a hard decision…after that I didn’t hear too much. The HR rep took over explaining my severance and benefits packages. She said I would be paid through the end of my contract (2 months later) and I could stay until then if I wanted. I laughed out loud and asked, “Why would I do that? How about my last day is this Friday?” It broke the tension and I only choked up once when saying that I had had a great time and was able to do so much. My boss choked up as well.

As I walked out of his office, I felt a thousand pounds of bricks fall from my shoulders. It was exhilarating. Over the next few days, colleagues and friends called and stopped by my office as I cleaned it out (Note to self: don’t keep so much crap that you’ll have to move later!). I was even given a cocktail party at a nearby bar. As I walked out of the office for the last time, I never looked back. Whether or not I wanted this change, it was handed to me and I had to run with it.

So the question was, What do I do next? Mind the Work Gap…

Create a Schedule

First I needed to make a schedule for myself. While working I knew all of the meetings I needed to attend each week…you know the ones where you can actually feel your brain being sucked out your left eye? Thankfully, you don’t have to attend them anymore, but you should outline your day. Think about the things you’ve always wanted to try, but work always stood in the way. Is there a course you are interested in? Or an exercise routine you’ve wanted to start? For me it was yoga. Coincidentally it started the morning of the day I was laid off, so the timing was perfect. Originally my teacher would start at 7AM, but as soon as I was laid off, we moved it to 8AM (woohoo, extra sleep!). I practiced yoga privately 3 days a week for about 3 months. It gave me structure and the meditation continues to amaze me how relaxed and peaceful I feel.

Create a Budget

Think about taxes you’ll have to pay, mortgage payments, repairs on your home or car, and figure out how long you can last without a regular check. I was prepared for the layoff. When everyone said to have at least six months salary saved in case you lose your job, I had a year and a half banked. Then I was given a lump sum severance payout and when I Leaned In (thank you Sheryl Sandberg) they gave me an additional 3 months including medical benefits. I am doing just fine but I have a clear idea of how long I can manage to live without a regular paycheck.

So if you’re prepared for this Work Gap and want to make your money last or for those on a tighter budget, a friend of mine who was unemployed for quite a long time created two budget games for herself: The $5 bill game and the $20 a day game. Any $5 bill was put aside and saved in a stash that would be used to treat herself — a manicure, vanilla latte or a movie (1/2 price matinee of course!). She budgeted herself $20 a day (not easy in NYC) and if she went under the $20 the balance would carry over to the next day. So if at the end of the day she had $3, then tomorrow she would have $23 to “play” with — maybe cookies from Trader Joe’s or a 711 Slurpee? The point is to really understand where your money goes and what your spending. Do you really, really need another cashmere sweater? No, you really, really don’t.

Travel

I booked several trips after the layoff. My work included lots of travel, so for me, it felt comfortable to plan a few itineraries. Also, I have a ton of frequent flier mileage so I went back to New York a few times to visit family and friends then to The Bahamas, Washington DC and San Francisco all for free. A few months later I booked a yoga trip to Turkey with my friend Mary Ann. What an incredible time we had in an amazing country. The balloon photos on my blog page are from that trip. I slowly learned not to check emails a hundred times a day or worry whether or not my phone had a signal — all things I used to do when I was supposed to be on vacation! I now enjoy the moments. Travel opens yourself up to new people, places and experiences all of which are good for the soul and could lead to a new job.

Stay in Touch with the Good and Release the Bad

Have a few breakfasts, lunches or dinners planned throughout the week to meet with friends and former colleagues. There are two benefits to this: It keeps you relevant helping you get to your next career move AND you’ll soon find out who your real friends are. I’ve always had a small circle of very good friends. People I can trust with my life. There were some work friends who, let’s say, I never felt had my back. You know the ones…They would push you under a bus if they had the chance. Or the ones that when someone walked out of a room, they’d begin to mimic or make fun of that person. If they did it to someone else, they were doing it to you as well. They are insincere, false and the toxic who need to be released. Fortunately, I knew who those people would be and never felt bad or upset when they didn’t call to see how I was or return emails.

Volunteer

I have always donated money to organizations that have special meaning for me. St. Vincent’s Meals on Wheels has been one of those charities that I truly feel is doing so much for the elderly and infirm who are homebound and can’t get a decent meal for themselves. Now I volunteer once a week to pack meals and deliver to my route of 10 customers. For many of my clients, I might be the only face they see in a day, so I chat and smile and ask how they are. Giving is very gratifying. These folks don’t realize how truly happy I am to see them. Log onto Volunteer Match to help you find the charity best suited for your skills http://www.volunteermatch.org.

Nap

Remember Nap Time in kindergarten? I loved it and was saddened that napping didn’t continue when I moved up to elementary school. Siesta is good for you, just ask the Spanish. After taking a 20-30 minute nap a day I feel great and I don’t feel guilty whatsoever. Recharge your batteries while you can! The National Sleep Foundation has great tips on how to nap http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping. I knew a guy that could nap in a meeting with his eyes open…now that’s an enviable talent!

The bottom line is to make good use of your time off enjoying life and helping others. I’ve been working since I was 15 years old. That’s 32 years at the grind and I’m going to enjoy this well needed break. I may not have this time to myself again for another 20 years when I’m 67 and who knows what ailments I may be dealing with then.

Let me know what your Time Off To-Do’s are!

Next Week’s Blog Post: In Transition and Cleaning Closets

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3 thoughts on “Mind the Work Gap

  1. I worried about you when you got laid off, but you assured me that you were fine. I would now say you are MORE than fine. I love your optimism…your outlook, your total good sense of making lemonade from those sour lemons you were served.
    You write beautifully.. So, just maybe, writing might have something to do with your career choice????
    Good luck with this blog, but something tells me… you know how to “find” & use your luck…

    Like

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