148: Living Unbounded
A letter about the existential questions that arise from a layoff announcement and what it means to go from bounded to unbounded living.
On Friday I finished leading the second session of a six week resilience training program at Meta. It's a particularly relevant moment for resilience at the company because next week, we're beginning our next rounds of layoffs.
When he first announced the job cuts last year (CR #129), Mark Zuckerberg's face was red, his tone mournful, and he seemed truly regretful for having to make this decision, the company's first in 18 years of operation.
But in a "laugh / cry" kind of anecdote, I watched Mark Zuckerberg express an All-Hands earlier this year that he was pleased with the momentum, collaboration, and results teams across the company had delivered since the November layoffs. He had an upbeat, almost jovial tone.
The not-so-subtle message: "I thought swallowing the layoffs medicine looked distasteful, but they didn't go down so bad as I thought they would—let's have another helping!"
The topic of layoffs were on everyone's mind during my workshop. In group discussions and in breakout rooms, many people talked about how layoffs forced them to confront what they would do if they were impacted. And often that made them ask if they really wanted to work at Meta, and what they would do if they didn't—voluntarily or involuntarily.
They're staggering the layoffs this time, with one round in April targeting tech roles such as engineering, design, data science, and product management (which is my function). The second round in May will focus on business functions like marketing, sales, operations, and client services. Employees complained about a lack of notice last time so HR provided dates well in advance. However, this has led to lots of jokes in one of our internal job boards about being unable to work productively due to layoff anxiety.
Times of uncertainty and change force us to consider what really matters to us. If we had to grab one thing from a burning building, it would likely be a family member or pet and not a physical possession. And if we don't know if we're going to be employed next week, we gravitate towards the people and projects that truly mean something to us. Just as we don't get to take our accomplishments with us to the grave, we also don't get to take our titles or performance ratings with us when we leave our jobs. What's left are memories and relationships.
I joked in the session that maybe Mark really just had the best for everyone in mind—through these layoffs, he's forcing every employee confront the existential questions of their lives. As we discussed in the Khe Hy clips from a few weeks ago (CR #143), those existential questions are a fundamental part of productivity and drive to achieve.
I've heard more than one person secretly wish they would be let go in the layoffs. I've made the joke as well a few times—a big lump sum of cash and a chance to reflect and explore can sound like a glass of water to the thirsty office worker grinding through the work week. But if that's truly your secret wish, then why not make plans to release yourself, layoff or no layoff?
Maybe it's just the entrepreneur in me. I can't stand the idea of someone else being in control of my destiny. In my conversation with my exec coach Mariko, I explained how joining Meta meant putting a high floor and a low ceiling to your career—you get paid well, even if you perform only so-so, but your opportunities to climb and advance are slow. Meanwhile striking out on your own opens both ends: things can go much worse, but also much better.
My wife Amanda became a full-time artist about five years ago. In that time, she's faced rejections, high-conflict projects, impossible deadlines, last minute disasters, and many periods of fear, doubt, and despair wondering when (or if) a big opportunity might emerge. But she'd easily prefer this over five years of grinding out a few promotions at Capital One or the design agency she once worked at. To each their own.
This past week she was named to President Biden's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, alongside Gaga, Clooney, Rhimes and two dozen other artists and cultural leaders. It's an incredible honor and yet no guarantee of future success or the long-term viability of her art career.
But that's the thing isn't it? We really don't have guarantees for anything. None of us are guaranteed a job, our health, a rising economy, a comfortable retirement. We all have to make choices in an environment of great uncertainty and volatility.
Which makes taking risks less scary than we think.
Jason Shen | Cultivating Resilience Newsletter
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