the sparkly life: This Is What It Feels Like To Get Fired

Monday, July 9, 2018

This Is What It Feels Like To Get Fired

alyssa hertzig

This post has been almost three years in the making. First, I was too shell-shocked to write it. Then, I was too embarrassed. Then, there was a period of time when I worried that if I gave details like this, I'd have trouble being hired in the magazine industry again. But now time has passed. I'm not embarrassed or even upset, at all. (90 percent of the beauty editors I was working with at the time have since lost their jobs, as well, so I'm hardly alone.) And the magazine business that was struggling then, is on its last legs now. There really isn't another magazine industry job to get anyway. It seems like as good a time as any to finally tell my story.

Two and a half years ago, I was fired from my job as the beauty director of a major magazine. 

Well, "laid off" is the technical term. And while that might not carry the same stigma as being fired for cause, at the end of the day, it's really the same thing. I came into my office one morning with a job, and I left it that afternoon without one.

That morning was typical. I was in the office, at my desk working. Looking back, I do remember my managing editor emailing me to ask for some contact for a big project I had been working on for the magazine. This struck me as a little odd, but not enough to sound alarm bells. (I had been working with a big cosmetics company on a co-branded collection of polishes between the brand and the magazine. I had been the sole negotiator on this and it was a big "win" for the magazine. In hindsight, I see that they wanted to make sure the deal didn't fall through since I was soon to be out the door.)

And a little background: Although there wasn't anything blatantly different about the day, magazine people were certainly nervous around this time. Many magazines in my company had already been laying off people over the past month or two. The longtime editor of the magazine I had worked at previously had just been let go. It was a tense time. And though I was nervous, I also felt comforted by the belief that, in my industry, beauty directors didn't tend to get fired. Our department was the one that brought in a huge portion of revenue through beauty advertising. They needed us, right? (Sigh.) 

I also didn't make a huge salary. I mean, it was certainly decent, but nothing like some of the other beauty directors. (I had taken a big pay cut when I had accepted this job, but it had been worth it to me because I only had to work three days a week. I had Mondays and Fridays completely off. For a mom with two little kids, it was a dream.) So all of this to say that I--like everyone else--was always a bit nervous about the state of the industry, but I wasn't that nervous. 

Eventually lunchtime rolled around. Now, usually, 95 percent of my lunches were spent as working lunches. I was either out at a lunch event learning about a new product, having a lunch meeting with a PR representative, or (most often) I was eating at my desk, editing a story and catching up on emails between bites of cafeteria salad. But on The Day, I was actually meeting friends for lunch at a restaurant a few blocks away. Four of my mom friends from Hoboken had come into the city to meet me for a fun pre-holiday-craziness lunch. I remember feeling a little stressed and guilty as I headed back to the office since I had been gone over an hour.

Soon after I got to my desk, my phone buzzed. It was my editor-in-chief's assistant. "Alyssa?" she said. "---- was wondering if you could come to her office for a minute." Now let me preface this by saying that this was a completely ordinary thing. My editor often had me pop in to discuss a story or a potential idea. As I always did, I grabbed my pen and a pad of paper and headed over.

The fancy offices at my company were constructed entirely of clear, floor-to-ceiling glass (imagine fishbowls), so as I walked up, I noticed there was someone else seated in one of the chairs across from my editor. She looked familar but I couldn't place her at first. "Who is that?" I wondered. "Was it someone from advertising?" As I pushed the glass door open to walk inside, it hit me: The woman was from HR.

And at that moment, I knew.

alyssa hertzig

I sunk into the empty seat opposite from my editor-in-chief feeling a bit out of my body. She immediately launched into a speech that had clearly been given the HR edit. This was a time when magazines needed to make difficult choices. This so hard for everyone involved. This had nothing to do with performance. Blah blah blah. She then got up and walked out of her office, leaving the HR woman to deal with the specifics.

She started talking logistics and dates--when I would receive my last paycheck, when COBRA would start, etc etc. (Side note: Why do they even bother? I was in a daze at that moment and remembered none of it later. Thank god it was all on paper.) When what sounded like the Charlie Brown teacher voice stopped, I asked if I was allowed to go back to my desk. She said "Of course!" I would be able to go to my desk to get whatever I needed to get and do whatever I needed to do. (I was/am grateful for this). I just needed to be gone by the end of the day. 

I walked to my corner of the office imagining all eyes were on me. (They weren't--no one knew anything at that point.) I fired off a text to my husband and two of my friends letting them know I'd been laid off, then I asked my team (an associate editor and an assistant--both amazing) to join me in the beauty closet. (This was our only private space on our "collaborative," cubicle-filled floor.) I told them the news--even though it hadn't yet sunk in to me. They were upset. I told them not to tell anyone until I was out of the office. I was desperate about this. I hadn't cried yet and I knew that I would if people started parading over to my desk to say goodbye. 

I went back to my computer and started emailing everything from my work account to my personal one. I forwarded emails and contacts and stories I'd written. There was just so much. This took hours. I then looked around at my desk. Beauty editors receive a literal constant flow of beauty products and gifts and bottles of wine and swag--it was all piled on, under, and all around my desk. I grabbed a carry-on suitcase that I had received at a recent Ulta event and started stuffing it. (Who knew beauty editor freebies come in handy when you're canned?! The sleek white suitcase was definitely way more chic than the stereotypical open-topped cardboard box.) I filled it with some of my more important office stuff (framed photos of my kids, my makeup bag, the tape recorder I used for interviews), then I asked my assistant to pack up the rest the next day and have it sent to me. Turns out, the remaining stuff filled seven huge boxes that arrived on my doorstep later that week. (Seven boxes that I couldn't face opening for over a year.) 

While I was packing, the executive editor of the magazine came over to talk to me (she was the one who had hired me in the first place and who I worked most closely with on a day-to-day basis). We snuck away to the beauty closet and had a heart-to-heart. Soon after that, my managing editor came by and we did the same thing. And this, surprisingly, was the first and only time I cried. I don't know what it was, but something about my managing editor--who I liked and respected but hadn't ever had a particularly close relationship with--being so kind and friendly to me, just really made it feel...over.

I also found out then that only two of us had been laid off. Our staff was so small that letting go of two higher-level people had been enough to satisfy the budget issues. And the other person was currently on leave, which meant I was the only one in the office being laid off that day. (This makes it worse, by the way. Years before I had been a part of a magazine closing. And though that was extremely sad, as well, there is a huge amount of camaraderie when it's literally every single person on staff leaving. But when it's just you, it's just you.) 

Around 5pm, I turned off my computer, grabbed my suitcase of shame, and left the office for the last time. I was supposed to head to a beauty event that night, but I skipped it. (It was actually the launch of hairstylist Jen Atkin's new-at-the-time haircare line Ouai.) I was so sad, because I considered Jen a friend (this was before her meteoric social media rise; she used to cut my hair in her hotel room!), but I couldn't face going and telling all of my beauty editor and PR friends the news. I also couldn't face going and pretending everything was still normal. So I went home, hugged my son and daughter, and went straight up to my bedroom. (If our nanny wondered why I was coming home a little early--and with a suitcase--she didn't say.) 

alyssa hertzig

I logged onto my work email (it was still active, and, inexplicably, would be for about another week) and emailed the magazine's staff to say goodbye. I then emailed every PR contact I had to tell them the news, let them know I'd be freelancing, and share my personal email address. 

And though everyone in the beauty industry knew within hours (it's a small world and we're a gossip-y bunch!), I didn't tell most of my non-work friends for weeks. And though I quietly edited the info from my social media and internet bios, I never explicitly shared the news on the blog here.

Because I was embarrassed. That's one of the emotions that comes with being fired. There are many. There is anger.  There is fear. There is sadness. And there is confusion. I had been a beauty editor for the past 12 years, but could I still call myself a "beauty editor" now? Was I a beauty editor if I was no longer editing beauty for a magazine? Is an accountant still an accountant if he is laid off from his accounting job? I didn't know.

The truth is, there were so many things about that job that I hadn't liked. It wasn't the perfect place for me. I was getting bored writing only about the very narrow topics that the magazine covered. I was frustrated that we didn't have the budget to shoot our own stories. I was annoyed by things a lot. But there were also so many things that I did like. I loved my part-time schedule. I loved my team. I loved the work we were able to produce with very little resources. And I loved the closeness I felt with the editors at other magazines who I saw several times a week at various events. In truth, I had thought many times about leaving my job, but that didn't soften the blow. No matter how you feel about a job, if you're going to leave it, you want to leave it on your terms. And when that choice is taken from you, it can be crushing.

It turns out, I started a trend. Two months later, the majority of editors at my former magazine (the one I worked at before the one I had been fired from--it's confusing, I know) were let go when the new editor in chief cleaned house. And over the next year, my beauty-editor friends at other magazines began to peel off, too. Some magazines closed, others were laid off for budget reasons. It was a trickle and then a flood. When I go to beauty events now (and I do still go), I sometimes barely know anyone. There are fewer and fewer magazines and smaller and smaller staffs. It is truly the end of an era. And as someone who dreamt of working for magazines since I was a teen, that feels very sad. 

But I'm doing okay! Great, actually! I've been lucky--and busy. Once news got out that I had been laid off, so many of my editor friends reached out with assignments, and for that I will be forever thankful. I also started writing for brands and doing some consulting (which I love). And I worked on the blog, of course. (Though not nearly as much as I wanted to. Both fortunately and not-so-fortunately, I was busy enough with assignments that I couldn't focus on the blog as much I would have liked.) 

And yes, I still consider myself a beauty editor! I still write about beauty. I still cover the market. I still edit sometimes, too. I'm a beauty editor. (And you laid-off accountants, you're still accountants, too, dammit!)

There are very few magazine jobs left, but even if one opened up, I would find it very hard to go back to that life. I like the freedom and the flexibility I have now. I work from home, which means I can go to a fancy beauty product launch in New York City--and then go straight to pick up my kids from school. I don't miss school plays or presentations, and I still get to work in this industry. And though I certainly wasn't happy that December day two and a half years ago, it now feels very much like the best of both worlds.

So I'll leave you with a little advice: If you get the dreaded call to HR: Stay calm. Don't say anything you could regret. Don't sign anything that day. (Go home and digest the paperwork first. If you want to argue about severance or anything, there will be time later.) Try to get back to your computer so you can email yourself everything. 

And consider keeping a rolling suitcase under your desk. It beats a cardboard box any day.

Have you ever been laid off? Or fired outright? I'd be so curious to hear your story! Thanks so much for listening to mine. 


Ellen Seidman said...

Bravo for this! So many of us have been there, this sums it up so well. You are way better off!

candy said...

Wow I have never experienced anything like this before and can't imagine the turmoil your brain was going through. You survived and sounds like your doing great.

Lauren // Pink on the Cheek said...

UGH that is so rough. I had been let go before and it was the pits. The blow was soften by the entire department being let go, but I was a mess. It's a part of life but man, I hated that day.

Jenni LeBaron said...

Thanks for sharing this. I was fired once after taking a job that just really wasn't a good fit for me and I felt the same brain fog upon being told the news, but it really turned out for the best.

Starry_Night said...

Look at you being so brave. Thanks so much for sharing this imeven though you didn’t have to. Bravo!


Jennifer Keene said...

This is so good. I appreciate you sharing. When I was 27 I got laid off. I had the same identity struggle as you and my emotions were all over the place. I can laugh about it now but one of the most embarrassing parts was having it happen before my annual beach trip with a family group. Having to face everyone? Ugh! But life absolutely goes on. We are the lucky ones with soft places to land.

Unknown said...

Best thing in the world that ever happened to me. I launched my agency the same day.

CT said...

Beautiful journey! Thanks for sharing!

Micole said...

This is wonderful. Yes, been there. And also have quit a job where the owner gave me a big F you, you don't belong here anyway. When I think back on that stifling/boring place, I guess she was right! I don't believe things happen for a reason, but there are many lessons to be learned when things don't go your way. I mourn the magazine heyday too, but try to embrace the new world and the boundless opportunities in our future. Brava for having the nerve to put this out into the universe!

Jay said...

I was with the same company for 25 years right out of college working my way up from an administrative secretary to a senior manager, when my boss was let go (for cause). I was told not to worry, it wouldn't reflect on me at all. They hired a replacement for her (I was given no consideration for the position) who was an absolute terror, but I sucked it up and took everything she threw at me. Less than a year later, she reorganized the whole department (and by reorganized I mean she only eliminated my position, and not for budgetary reasons). I was frog marched out of the building with nothing but some paperwork and a check to pay out my unused vacation.

Needless to say, finding yourself without any work obligations for the first time in nearly a quarter century is both liberating and terrifying. It took years to shake off the trauma, but I eventually got a new job and am no longer shell-shocked.

Dani said...

Wow, this speaks to me on such a deep level. I was just laid off in early June for the THIRD time. You read it right. THIRD time. Same deal - budget cuts. All three times. I work in PR so of course Comms is always the first thing to go. Before that I was laid off from two agencies in the city because they lost too many large clients. In a previous life, I worked in magazines because, I too, dreamt about it as a teen. I specifically wanted to work in beauty and had a brief chance to do it right before the first wave of digital swept in and sucked the magazines and their people dry. Since I’ve had three layoffs I’ve discovered that I need to do some deep soul searching to see if a career change is in order. The trauma is there, highlighting feelings of self-doubt, worth, rejection and embarrassment. But I thank you for putting in words - and on your timeframe! - the rawness of being laid off.

Unknown said...

The blessing here is your survival. And the fact that you have a well-employed husband, a healthy family, and a nanny. Lots of us with equally impressive work résumés don’t have those advantages when freelance beauty writing work is sparse and we’re more focused on, like, paying the rent and eating food.

bridezilla said...

Thank you for your comment, Gigi. You’re right—and I didn’t acknowledge that enough in my piece. I WAS lucky that my husband was working and that I still had childcare (though there was a thought for a bit that we might not be able to continue that). If this had happened to me as a single woman, the balance of emotions would surely have shifted way more to fear instead of focusing almost exclusively on self-doubt and sadness. I DID still have financial worries though, because I had expenses I just didn’t have before I was married (mortgage, nanny, the kids themselves—ha!), but you’re right in that I fortunately never had the fear that my job loss would mean that we would starve or that we would lose our home. Ultimately, my job loss meant some belt-tightening, but not a disaster. Getting fired is never fun, and I certainly didn’t feel lucky that day, but I know that I absolutely was lucky that it wasn’t worse for me financially.

MrsPollo said...

Thanks for sharing Alyssa, been there, done that! I just like to remind myself that what "doesn't kill us makes us stronger." It seems you've parlayed your misfortune into an excellent consulting, work-from-home gig any mom would be envious of. Good for you!

arethabusby said...

Thanks for sharing this; you are and always have been an awesome editor! Onward & upward love!

Anonymous said...

Very brave to share this unflattering life experience. We should all do this rather than treating it like skeletons in our closet. Your way is more beneficial and I thank you for sharing your experience.

I too have a your fired story. So, from experience, I agree with your parting advice. My end was immediate and I was unable to access my desk or email. My recommendation, is to hold your head up and know that however devastating it feels, that there will be brighter days ahead. You will work again. You will meet new people professionally that you never would have, had this not happened. You will grow. You will learn. You will be okay.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting and best hopes for the future.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. About two years ago I too was completed blind-sided as a media sales person. I was doing extremely well and hitting all goals but my boss resented my success and figured out a way to "eliminate my position". The shock and shame is brutal and brought me to my knee's. I got another great job within two months so nothing will take away the sting and shock. I too rarely if ever talk about it. Not sure why it's so painful but I think a lot of our self worth is rolled into our career despite have a loving, healthly family life. Thanks for your honesty.

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