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  • Writer's pictureVernita Brown

3 Questions to Ask Yourself When You’ve Been Laid Off (From a CEO who’s been there)

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

The last year has been a whirlwind for me.

I’m sure in many ways, what I’m experiencing is just like everyone else. Working from home. Navigating school closures. Supply chain issues. Political disappointments. The tiredness that comes with adjusting to a new phase of pandemic life, stretching my brain and heart to understand the impacts of that, personally and professionally…day after day after day.

But this past week, there were layoffs. There were increased layoffs happening across the country including in healthcare-- the industry in which I now work. Thousands of people logged in to work last week and aren’t logging in this week. They went to bed Friday evening without the job they once depended on for their livelihood. It brought me back to a really humble and critical time in my own life. Before starting Natalist, before becoming one of the few Black women CEOs in healthcare, and before bringing Natalist through a historic acquisition. Many years before these events, I was laid off too.

I'd gone in to work on a Thursday, to-do list in hand, dressed to the nines, and walked out with a letter outlining the severance package I’d receive. That same weekend, I had a beach vacation planned with my family for my sibling’s birthdays. I will never forget the heaviness I felt during that very celebratory time.

Given the outward success I’ve had in helping build Natalist, it would be easy to pass over that time in my life like it never happened, like the road to where I am now has been easy. But the truth of the matter is it's been bumpy, littered with rocks, hard lessons, hurt, and even loss. And if you’re sitting with a job loss right now, I’m writing this for you. Because you can and will make it.

When I got let go, one of the first things I did was secure a career/executive coach. After having watched my husband, one of the steadiest guys I know, struggle to re-anchor himself after losing his job in the ‘08 recession, I knew I could benefit from the accountability and encouragement a coach could offer. The work I did with my coach over the months that followed, led me to these three questions that perhaps might be enlightening to you or helpful in this chapter of your journey.

What do I have?
What do I want?
What can I do?

What do I have?

When you get laid off, it is easy and natural to focus on what you’ve lost–a regular paycheck, work friends, healthcare benefits, access to technology. But one of the questions I focused on after losing my job was, “What do I have?” Challenging yourself to do the work of flipping the script playing in your mind is game changing.

In my case, I had an education, a decent professional network of relationships, a sweet baby girl, an employed spouse, a loving and resilient marriage, reliable friends, drive, and a willingness to learn. I also had a notebook of tattered recipes, handed down from my mother, who had been our family baker throughout my childhood.

I decided to take these recipes and monetize them. With my newborn baby on my hip, I whipped up multiple cakes a day and sold them out of my home. People loved the idea of supporting me and they loved the cakes even more. I made thousands of dollars over the course of a few short months, kept myself busy, and helped my family maintain our financial commitments. Focusing on my assets instead of what I’d lost allowed me to continue living joyfully as well as bring joy to those around me.

What do I want?

After working in a certain job or field for several years, there are things to which you simply become accustomed, even those realities that are less than ideal. In this period of being without formal work, I realized that I’d stopped asking myself what I wanted out of my professional life. I was showing up for work, and yes, I’ve always felt a sense of purpose in what I do, but I took this as an opportunity to focus on whether my work was serving me well in return. What I realized was that I’d reached a point in my life and career where I wanted my work to align with my values. I wanted more freedom to truly lean in to who I was and what I brought, without censorship. I wanted to be a part of something that would celebrate and honor who I was as a Black woman, as a millenial, as a mother. I wanted to be a part of an organization who saw me as valuable, just as I was, where I could show up as myself. Answering this question and pursuing that, led me to startup life and consulting, worlds in which I’ve not only been able to be my full self, but also encourage others to do the same.

I wanted to be a part of an organization who saw me as valuable, just as I was, where I could show up as myself.

What can I do?

Being laid off is a huge blow to your self esteem. On my worst days I thought about how little value I must have brought in order to have been let go. Pity party, party of one. On my better days, though, I knew that the decision to eliminate my position had nothing to do with my intrinsic value or abilities.

Instead of fixating on the hundreds of reasons that could have possibly led to that decision, I chose to partner with my coach to dig deeper into my unique background, skillset, and leadership style. What I found was that I operate in a hospitable style of leadership and that I have what David Epstein calls “range.” Both of these feed into my superpower of talent management and resource deployment that gets results. Being firmly rooted in the distinctive value I bring to a workplace has been incredibly empowering these last few years and will continue to carry me forward in the years ahead.

Maybe you’re in a season of shock or searching for your next opportunity. Maybe you’re frustrated or scared. If that’s you, I would encourage you to take note of the questions that are haunting you: “Why did this happen to me?” “What am I going to do?” Then flip it: “What opportunities lie ahead that I wasn’t able to seize while doing my previous work?” or “What should I do, given this opportunity to pivot?” “What can I learn from what feels like a failure?” In changing the questions you ask and answer for yourself, you’ll develop the grit, perseverance, and faith to carry you through. And you’ll be better off for it. I promise.


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