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I got Laid on Halloween

Some of you are still virgins and wondering when your time will come.

Doing what we do for a living, with its volatility and bottom lines, most likely you’ll get laid one of these days.

I got laid off for the second time in my short creative career last Monday.

Halloween. Axed on Halloween.

I can’t say it was a total surprise either. When you’ve been through it once already, you recognize all the signs. Suddenly you realize your coworkers have gradually eased into working around you. It usually isn’t until hours before the big moment that deep down you sense something is wrong.

And then the cryptic message to “go to the conference room,” or “come into my office.” There will be a closed door. There will be the pall bearers looks. There will be someone you know well in the room. There will also be someone you vaguely recognize in the room; a surprise guest—usually the person who does the books.

I see my fate once I step into the room. Wading through a conference room of dangling plastic vampire bats. I then begin to wish they had more of a sense of humor about this and dressed up: An executioner, Death, Dracula, Donald Trump. No. They are wearing what they always wear. I should have known there was something up when they announced our company Halloween “dress up day” would be on Friday, not Monday. It was a humane thing to do. I only wish I wore my “Astro-Not” costume that day, the motorcycle helmet that said “AWESOME” in bright letters and the duct-tape suit. Instead I just sat there. Smiling in blue jeans.

“You’re not going to axe me on Halloween, are you?”

Yes they are. Me and four others. Three of which had six, nine and ten years of service at the firm, respectively. In our industry, that’s a long time. Not very awesome.

I immediately begin talking to the inflatable skeleton bobbing in the corner. I want an answer. Why?


Restructuring. The amiable enemy of creativity. There is no cure for restructuring. You can make fixes to color palettes, line widths and headlines. There is no fixing the bottom line. The Agency must be saved. God save the agency.

They are prepared for the worst. There are tissues in the room. There are mournful looks.

Then it all fades away. The guy who does the books is talking. Severance. COBRA. Sorry. Your keys. Sorry.

You go about awkwardly cleaning out your cubicle. If you are a designer, likely this means taking down all the ridiculous shit you’ve lined your “creative zone” with. All the Bruce Lee pictures, vinyl toys, and paper company tchotchkes. All swept into a box. Then the pictures of your pets, or significant other. Your ten commandment tablet-sized design books. Your music files. Fonts. All while you are doing this, the natural rhythm of the studio is broken. Those around you notice something is out of order. There is a slight stir of anxiety as everyone begins to wonder of their own fate. Once they make sure they are safe, they converge with looks of relief and sorrow.

Goodbye. Take care. We will meet again. Drinks on Thursday, the bastards.

Soon you are at your own funeral. People will say the things you’d never thought you’d hear. They are nice things. But now, as you are passing to the other side, they are spoken.

“You’re the most talented here.”

“What the hell are the thinking?”

“I can’t believe it.”

Smile and nod. Sheepishly grin. You take a small portion of your stuff, but they’ll send the rest. Hand off the keys and you are gone. Someone will see the opportunity for a good karma smoke break, and they will escort you out.

It is never good to leave alone.

The subway on a weekday at 2:30 is not very full. Likely every day there is someone like me; sitting on an off-hour train carrying a small box and some folders. A little bit glazed over. A bit tired maybe. Just got laid, man. Just got some freedom. Just don’t know what I am going to do tomorrow, man. Just don’t know how many galleries I am going to visit this week, or how many old friends will be hearing from me, man. Maybe I will take a trip. Or maybe start all those paintings I thought about right before bed, man. Or maybe its time I started working for myself…

Before you know it you’re a little bit drunk eating mexican food. And then you are waking up and starting over, buying some coffee and take your first cautious steps on your laptop.

And then the afterglow.

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PUBLISHED ON Nov.05.2005 BY Jimm Lasser
divya’s comment is:

You never know what is good till you lose it. I guess thats precisely how those who fired you should be feeling soon.

I have been gawking at ur works for more than two years now, and needless to say you are one of my inspirations!

On Nov.05.2005 at 09:13 PM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Man, that is exactly what happened to me last November (so true about the warning signs), except I had ten minutes to clear out my things, which is not nearly long enough to remove everything from my "creative zone." I wound up walking around and chatting with everyone and saying my goodbyes. I'd been there longer than most everyone else and they sure as hell weren't going to strong-arm me out of there. Yeah I took my time but it still wasn't longer than twenty minutes to make the rounds.

I can't believe it's been a year already...

For what it's worth Jimmy, I started doing freelance after that and have been real happy doing it. Oh yeah, and those guys are one of my clients now too. We're all actually on very good terms and have a healthy working relationship (and I still go to most of the happy hours).

On Nov.05.2005 at 11:34 PM
Elizabeth Martin’s comment is:

It's funny how life works in circles. I only started reading your blog a few weeks ago, and was also laid two weeks ago.

Wow... almost made me cry there. Good luck, I'm sure you'll do wonderful with whatever it is you choose to move on to.

On Nov.06.2005 at 02:50 AM
Dan Saffer’s comment is:

We've all been there, especially those of us who were working during the dot.bomb years. Brings back some painful memories. But my life did go on and yours will too, Jimm (and Elizabeth).

On Nov.06.2005 at 11:35 AM
pk’s comment is:

this industry is turning into a community of floating heads -- large agencies with very few permanent staff. this is happening everywhere in chicago.

i don't know if clientele know about it yet, but i wonder how they'd feel knowing that the highly skilled work for is created by a revolving cast of artisans. i think there might be a case there to talk about waste of budget, if you're constantly in a cycle of teaching your staff about your accounts.

On Nov.06.2005 at 03:24 PM
Danny’s comment is:

I've been wondering about this.

I'm young and very inexpensive to employ. I feel like I have a lot of job security. It worries me to think about the future when I get older - while I'll be more experienced, a better designer, more efficient, I'll certainly be more expensive to keep around.

Do you think that's it? Maybe it's obvious.

Would you take a lesser salary and fewer responsibilities for more security?

On Nov.06.2005 at 04:12 PM
JJeffryes’s comment is:

The industry is moving to small teams. The big agencies just don't work any more. I see a lot of this in St. Louis, all the best work is done by small teams of 5-10 people. These mini agencies are very stable, have very low overhead, pay better than larger agencies, have more creative freedom and usually specialize in something. When a job is too big, or needs different specialties, the mini-agencies team up, and create a temporary virtual agency for just that project.

As this happens more and more, there will be pressure to take less pay in return for lies about security. You won't get any security, you'll just get lower pay. Wise up and either go freelance or join/create a small agency now, rather than stay on the sinking ship and hope it somehow stays afloat.

On Nov.06.2005 at 05:21 PM
gregor’s comment is:

LOL: nice post. I was laid off on Xmas eve once. Honestly though, it was a gift from the heavens and not a set back save a couple weeks scrambling to get some new clients and get rolling again.

On Nov.06.2005 at 11:38 PM
Brady J. Frey’s comment is:

I know the feeling, but it isn't forever; and design firms are much more personal. When they lose you, they lose more than a body.

It reminds you that in many ways, why we took this type of job. Most of us are too smart to be under some suit -- dig your own path. If anything, know that you have much talent, and know that many people have felt the same way. If you're ever in SF, stop by and give us a shout if you're looking.

On Nov.07.2005 at 01:20 AM
timm’s comment is:

i didn't get it quite as bad as gregor (xmas eve?) but i did get it the week before christmas one year. i was contracting/freelancing at an ad firm in boston, and my creative director had promised me two weeks' notice if they decided to go in another direction. i even had keys to the office and was sometimes the last to leave!

4:50pm on tuesday (i think xmas was the following monday) and she strolls over, "oh by the way we won't be needing you anymore, thanks for the help" and that was it. out the door, on the street and right down the block to start drinking margaritas.

On Nov.07.2005 at 04:51 AM
george’s comment is:

I feel your pain, man.

I was working part-time along with another designer when the company hit a slow patch one winter - long story short, we were laid off 2 weeks before christmas. The real kicker is that i was set to pick up an engagement ring after work that day.

"Hi honey, will you marry me, even though i'm recently unemployed?"

Everything works out though; i've been back with the company from which i was laid off for about 4 years now, and happily married for 3.

Time to start calling up every contact you've ever considered working for and firing up the ol' freelance motor until you figure out your next step. Best of luck.

On Nov.07.2005 at 08:56 AM
Zoelle’s comment is:

My �walk of shame’ came once after I had returned from Christmas break. I remember filling my cardboard box and having a supervisor watch me remove files from the computer. The bottom line was the culprit for me as well. Seeing my boss cry a little when she was walking me back from my meeting �with the Bobs’ helped.

I drove home feeling tingly and odd. At the time I had just gotten married. My wife was still in bed so I slept on the futon in my office until she woke up. I delicately broke the news to her waiting for an emotional response. “Good!” she said. Good? I was stunned. She was confident that I would find another job soon and that we would be better off for it. That made phone calls and interviews much easier for me and lead me to my next job — which paid better and had better benefits.

You’ll be fine. You’re talented and you live in one of the, if not the biggest, pond in the US.

On Nov.07.2005 at 10:15 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Getting laid off is a good thing*. It's a forced vacation. Enjoy it for what it is.

(* though your family may disagree...)

On Nov.07.2005 at 10:22 AM
Joe Arcuri’s comment is:

That sucks man, just think of it as a chance for a new beginning.

Good luck man.

On Nov.07.2005 at 11:11 AM
sgj’s comment is:

pk’s comment is:

... this is happening everywhere in chicago.

when i was in school, and even first starting out as a young professional, the rules were (or as they were passed down to me, anyway...):

- get a job somewhere and stay there two years. build a book then start looking for what's next.

- you can't put a place on your resume unless you were there longer than 6months.

- don't be the guy that has more employers than years experience.

now it seems the rules have changed... if not been thrown out all together. Especially in Chicago, it seems that if you are with an agency for 6 months, you are one of the seniors. I have had a creative director actually tell me during an interview "Wow, you were at _________ for 11 months!?! That is huge."

It is beginning to seem like designers are far more interchangable in the past few years. That it is normal for a designer to move quickly from one agency to another. That our average life expectancy within a single firm has dropped to 4-6 months... and anything beyond that is a shock and surprise.

My own "meeting with the Bobs" came a mere two weeks after a raise and promotion, and completely out of nowhere. (This being my first time... I didn't know i was getting laid until too late). As i cleaned out my office... both new fish and old timers alike came by, trying to feel out their own job security, each one saying, "i can't believe they let YOU go!!! The other two guys make sense... but not YOU! You've been here forever." —forever being just under a year.

On Nov.07.2005 at 12:02 PM
Rob’s comment is:

An all to frequent story in the corporate world. Always rememeber, for the most part, there is no such things as loyalty when it comes to working. Longevity ususally means a bigger severance package and not a lifejacket when the ship begins throwing over what they percieve as the extra baggage.

I was given the proverbial boot in January and have been freelancing, babysitting (we have two kids) and doing whatever I can to make sure the bills are paid. Essentially, you take away what you can and move on to the next big thing. Whatever and whenever that comes.

On Nov.07.2005 at 12:10 PM
helenjane’s comment is:

After my ride home with the Bruce Lee box, I took a job at a hot dog cart on the corner in front of the Levi's store in Union Square.

I've gotten more interesting work because of that experience than I ever would have without.

On Nov.07.2005 at 01:23 PM
Leighton Hubbell’s comment is:

I, myself have had that experience twice. One, was right after a Christmas break (just splurged on some nice stuff, too.). I was working pretty solid, two weeks later. The second, almost five years ago. I've been on my own and loving it ever since.

Although it is hard to take at first, many times it isn't about you. Management has to make choices to keep the business afloat. Letting people go can't be easy for them. The important thing to remember is to take it well and not burn bridges. You never know who may call you later down the road. Most of my business comes from referrals of former co-workers and clients of mine.

The big agency thing is definitely changing. Lots of clients are trying to be savvy about how their money is spent, and don't necessarily want to pay for the swanky lobby anymore. With your experience, you can offer the same level of work with less overhead. Think about it.

On Nov.07.2005 at 01:48 PM
Tan’s comment is:

You know, everyone who's ever succeeded in business has been unemployed at least once in their career. And many have faced bankruptcy in the eye and lived to tell the story. I have no doubts you'll be fine, Jim.

Having said that — some advice.

The lesson that's toughest to learn in the business is how to make yourself indispensable. It's not about being the best designer or even being the best employee. It's about learning to play an important role in the company business. How?

Find a way to manage the anchor client. Gain experience and become an expert on a particular facet of the business that they can't manage without. It's about carving yourself into the support structure of the company so that if you have to pack a box — then the company is in real trouble. Sure, it sounds like common sense, but I'm amazed at how many people are blind to this.

It's about understanding how the machine works, not just being a cog and showing up 9 to 5 and working hard. Cause being a hard worker isn't enough — sorry.

It ain't easy. It takes perseverance, smarts, and drive.

The toughest part about being let go is the feeling that things are out of your control. That uncertainty about why it happened and the unexpected shock is the biggest contributor to the stress that people feel. Most people just get pissed off and blame it on the idiots running the company. That may be true, but those idiots are still employed for some reason. Learn to look at your situation a little differently.

Friends will tell you that it's not your fault. They'll tell you that the industry is to blame. More freelancers, less salaried positions, etc. But the truth is — the majority of positions out there are still salaried positions. There are people who manage to hang on to secure jobs from place to place, and there are people who always seem to be the first to get axed. That's not chance, and it has nothing to do with how talented you are. Well maybe a little for some people — but it's never the primary contributor to the situation.

Learn from your loss.

My 2 cents and tough love, Jim.

On Nov.07.2005 at 02:18 PM
Tom Michlig’s comment is:

In all honesty, congratulations on your new opportunity. Not "sorry", or "those bastards", but "congratulations". It might sting right now, but you will have a completely new take on your career because of it. And for the better. The large agency is becoming a thing of the past, thankfully.

Any agency/firm/studio who makes "personnel moves" based on "restructuring" or "revenue stream" have gotten too big, and have likely forgotten why they are in this business in the first place.

On Nov.07.2005 at 02:20 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

When I was trying to get into the radio business (you think design is competitive?) the rule of thumb was:

You’re not �in the business’ until you’ve been fired—

three times

(I was fortunate to see enough of that industry to run and never look back)

On Nov.07.2005 at 02:39 PM
beto’s comment is:

You go about awkwardly cleaning out your cubicle. If you are a designer, likely this means taking down all the ridiculous shit you’ve lined your “creative zone” with.

This is the very reason I'm not fond of having "shit" around to personalize my work space. I like beige, after all.

After ten years and about half that number in layoffs and job quittings (okay, I've had the "luxury" of being fired off once; all the rest have been voluntary quittings) you learn to take nothing for granted or "forever"... which, after all, must be the way of things in life anyhow.

On Nov.07.2005 at 03:34 PM
pk’s comment is:

actually, most of this is echoing what i almost wrote: you're better of on your own. when i first got laid off in 2001, i was terrified -- but it ended up being a great experience for me and su. we now do what we want, for whom, and when. it's much better than spending most of your time at a rented desk on someone else's dime. i now know how to get a client, how to maintain a client, and when to get rid of a client.

On Nov.07.2005 at 05:40 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Getting laid-off doesn't always mean that it's an opportune time to go out on your own.

Sometimes it just means that it's time to find a better job. The system still works. There are great jobs out there at great firms run by great people who aren't out to screw you.

Lots of people have families, responsibilities, mortgages, not to mention careers to consider. And while giving the middle finger to the system and going out on your own may feel like you're blazing a path to glory — just remember that reality can be a bitch.

On Nov.07.2005 at 06:57 PM
pk’s comment is:

...and what tan said.

On Nov.07.2005 at 07:03 PM
RandomBoy’s comment is:

Emotional is how I feel. So cruel, an industry seems to have de-evolved. (What do you expect when new blood is bled dry. When a bottom line means profit not potential.)

Good luck to you. The future seems confused and struggling. Your opportunity will set you in new directions. Your tale humble us all. Your victory inspire us more.



On Nov.07.2005 at 07:11 PM
Dom’s comment is:

I'm liking what Tan said. I am experiencing that first hand, actually. I've been at my agency for (hold on to something) three years and I've continued to get really good raises and one of the best offices in the joint. Without even knowing it, I have carved out a place for myself that is going to be really tough for them to try and replace if they ever decide to let me go.

Find something that you do very well and let that be your niche in the company that is going to be difficult to replace. It's scary that being the “best designer” may not be enough -- even being the “best employee” (I would think that is speaking of attitude?) may not do it. You've got to find something that makes you a pillar to the firm/agency that will withstand the trials and tribulations that a business goes through.

Think about what strenghts you can offer and maybe try and look for a studio that is missing something there? I wish you success!

On Nov.07.2005 at 11:51 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> Sometimes it just means that it's time to find a better job. The system still works.

I'm glad Tan said this. And not because I don't encourage designers to carve their own business but because there are good design firms that need good designers. I have always had to have a full-time job in a (profitable, established for more than three years) design firm to stay in the US (not forcefully anymore, 'cause now I have a geen card, which ain't green by the way) and in the six years that I have been working there have always been plenty of good job openings (sometimes more sometimes less) that value a good designer — from junior to senior positions. I've been through pay cuts (up to 40% of my salary) and I was part of marchFIRST as it literally closed the office doors and ushered us all out with no severance pay at all. Both these cases were a reflection of the decreasing economy and never a case of The Man going out of its way to screw me and my career over. You can take it personal or you can understand that it's business.

Being on one's own can be fulfilling, but finding the right full-time job(s) can be as well.

On Nov.08.2005 at 08:29 AM
mazzei’s comment is:

My last job at an agency... they stole everyone's 401K money..it's taken years for me to get it back. That was after they told everyone their jobs were "okay" for months and then locked the doors one morning...from that I learned one thing: look at you portfolio as a parachute always have it ready to go..even if you love your job take those weekends with nothing to do and maintain it..the worst is when you get the boot and you don't have access to all the good tools to get your work together to interview quickly.

it's great what everyone is saying but it still sucks...remember there is always work for good people.

On Nov.08.2005 at 12:02 PM
Bradley’s comment is:


Consider this: become a writer. I'd kill to have your writing ability around here.

Of course, I'm partially just kidding because I know that your abilities as a designer are pretty phenomenal...but still, its worth considering maybe.

On Nov.09.2005 at 11:48 AM
marc english’s comment is:

enough great feedback here for anyone in this spot. lessee...laid off after 6 months on first job at fortune 500 boutique that took a YEAR to find after getting out of school. and i wasn't the worst designer on the block. laid off again when small (3 of us) shop had no work. then company of 14 laid off all but three. THEN got job for 3 weeks before i was laid off ('we're paying you design salary to do production work'. luckily i HATED that job. three weeks later, had a gig that last 4 years till i quit to start my own thing.

and to reiterate what others have said about starting your own gig: it ain't for everyone. make your mistakes on someone else's dime. and more important than that, if you work with others you'll ususally have someone better than you to learn from.

it was april 2001 when i had to lay off my first employee. all around the country i saw firms being decimated. felt lucky that i hadn't had to let anyone go. but the economy didn't turn around and had to let a good friend go. subsequently carried two other folks for another six months, again hoping things would turn around. carrying them that time is still costing me. my bookkeeper advised against it, and i didn't listen, as they were MY people. just gotta keep the faith.

On Nov.09.2005 at 12:33 PM
Michael Holdren’s comment is:

Tan said:

The lesson that's toughest to learn in the business is how to make yourself indispensable. It's not about being the best designer or even being the best employee. It's about learning to play an important role in the company business...

... not just being a cog and showing up 9 to 5 and working hard. Cause being a hard worker isn't enough — sorry.

The problem is that some of us thought that being a darn good designer and showing up 9 to 5 and working hard was being indispensable.

As illustrated by several of the posts here, you make a valid point Tan. Thanks for the advice, as always you put things in perspective.

On Nov.11.2005 at 11:58 AM