July 16, 2018 ・ Written by Eric Pai

Surviving (and thriving) after a shock

How a layoff led me to the unexpected

Surviving (and thriving) after a shock

It happened. I got laid off.

My manager asked me to come in at 8:30am on a Friday. He never arrived earlier than 10am so I knew something was up.

I was immediately brought into our legal counsel’s office and the door was shut behind me.

My manager explained that the company was downsizing, my role was no longer needed, and none of this was due to performance issues. I was handed my severance package and, effective immediately, I was no longer part of the company.

I felt like the wind got knocked out of me. I had only been at the company for seven months. I was blindsided.

I had just moved into the city, enjoying the bachelor “city” lifestyle (in a closet-sized room). I had been living fairly comfortably, I knew things were going to have to change.

I was asked to pack up my stuff in a box and within 30 minutes, I was out on the streets.

…what just happened?

I was left to myself with so many feelings, thoughts, and questions. It was a huge blow to my ego.

As I stood in front of the building, I was surprised to see another colleague who was also “kicked to the curb”. We decided to grab coffee and vent for the next hour on what had gone down.

We were both shaken and our minds were in a fog, but we quickly formed a sense of camaraderie that we hadn’t had while working together. I guess it’s true when they say “nothing brings you closer together than a common enemy.”

I left that conversation feeling optimistic, but then the butterflies kicked in when I thought about breaking the news to my friends and family members.

I swallowed my pride and called my family and close friends. They began to lift my spirits up with words of encouragement and advice, and it helped. One friend told me that I should just take a break. I took his advice.

Three days later, I was off to Japan.

Fortunately I had saved up some money, so I traveled for the next few weeks. Luckily for me, I crashed with a buddy who showed me new places and where to eat on the cheap. I met amazing people, and we went backpacking together in both Japan and Korea.

I wasn’t worrying about my resume, what job to apply to, or coming to grips with reality that I was jobless. As someone who is career-oriented, I felt guilty that I wasn’t actively working towards my next job.

But in hindsight, I’m so grateful for this time of self-reflection. It helped me deeply understand myself, and to put the layoff in perspective. I find it funny and sad that college is so expensive, yet they don’t teach you how to navigate life’s inevitable setbacks. I had to learn this on my own.

Here are the three valuable lessons I learned after getting laid-off:

My job is not my identity

This was the biggest epiphany. I put so much emphasis on what my job title was and my professional life that it became my only identity. I now know that my job defines what I do, not who I am.

Your first layoff is like your first break up

Yes, it will hurt. It will hurt a lot. But you will get through it and it will make you tougher (and more secure). Knowing that I’ll land on my feet and figure it out has given me confidence in my future.

You’re not alone

Finally, I realized how many people around me have gone through a layoff. Before I had never heard my friends’ stories, because it seemed that the topic of unemployment was even more taboo than sex or religion.

By sharing my story with others, I learned that I wasn’t the only one who had gone through it. I always had my family and friends to support me when I was down and out – they helped me gain confidence when I needed it most.


Eric Pai is a second generation Korean American from the West Coast; who now, self-admittedly, is a New Yorker. Eric has worked in various CPG companies like Unilever, Vita Coco, and KIND and holds an MBA from NYU. After his recent layoff, he started blogging about self-improvement, faith, and education with the intent to uplift others. He also likes to travel, do obstacle races and jiu-jitsu, and is starting a nonprofit around youth mentorship.

This post was originally published on June 2, 2018 on ericpai.com. Eric got a job after 5 months of unemployment, but is still looking for opportunities in the education space.