I rolled over in bed and thought, what time is it? The sound machine had turned off, that means I have between 0 and 15 minutes until my alarm goes off and it’s time to start my Monday.
I’d had a really nice weekend, one of the best in a while. Saturday was a hygge day, it was filled with baking bread, cooking, and playing co-op games with my wife. On Sunday, I wrote Savings Report #65 and we hiked for 2 hours to a lonesome lake on top of a trail. We talked about our future in the United States.
“I really do love it here,” she said. “I love the mountains, and the snow, and the trees!”
I responded, “I love it here, too. We’re only a few months away from getting to the point in our green card process where we’re not reliant on my employer to stay, we can buy a big house then, and finally get some chickens.”
We had been working toward this dream, a remote mountain life, for as long as I could remember. Now it seemed we were finally starting to believe that we’d made it here and it would become our permanent life.
Our finances had also skyrocketed since living in the United States. Another couple of years with our current savings and I was sure that money worries would be far behind us as the compound interest train really got going. Maybe retiring at 35 wasn’t such a wild dream?
I smiled as I grabbed my phone from under the pillow to start my usual morning routine of reading my work Slack messages and emails to prepare for the day. Sweden had already been working for 4 hours, so it wasn’t unusual to have a phone full of dozens of notifications waiting for me.
Opening Slack I saw a message from a senior executive on a general channel, “Today is a very hard day for all of us, emails have gone out to affected employees…”
I could feel my pulse begin to quicken as my skin prickling with heat.
Is it happening again?
Last January there had been a layoff, 6% of the total workforce had been let go in the hope of gaining profitability by being efficient. It was a harrowing time which took my org a long time to recover from.
I scrolled down to view my notifications again, I had one from HR with the subject, “IMPORTANT: Please prio…”
My heartbeat was now pulsing at a sickening rate. Was I affected? No, I can’t be, I had done such good work this year, I even covered my boss for his 6 months of paternity leave, I was delivery lead for a 25 team critical initiative which was going so well!
Usually these emails also go out to Engineering Managers who have someone on their team affected as well, it must be that, I thought.
I nervously opened the email and started reading. “We are laying off 17% of the company, unfortunately you are also affected…”
My heart almost stopped… Fuck.
I turned to my still sleeping wife. “Baby, I’ve been laid off.” “What?” she said. “I’ve lost my job.” She abruptly sat up, and looked at me, “What do you mean??”
I had 2 hours until my meeting with HR when I would be cut off from company systems and my laptop and phone would be locked. What followed was a daze of confusion, sadness, and messaging colleagues.
My manager had no idea, he was also angry, “I’d rather lose half of the other people than you,” he said.
It turned out that our area was quipped by senior execs to be more work around the work than work itself. Our org lead had been told to reduce costs by 50%. He made the decision to cut the whole of the US workforce, 30% of the staff, making it a Sweden-only org. USA personnel were expensive, costing more than double that of their Swedish counterparts. It made sense, but it didn’t make it any less shocking.
Some of the most brilliant and hard working engineers that I’ve ever known were let go that day, while some of the worst stayed. This alone kept the thoughts of worthlessness at bay as I battled the emotions that came in the proceeding days.
We found out we had no chance of staying in the USA, even if I found another job, it was like we were never here. To stay, I would need to find another sponsoring employer and I’d have to go through the H1B lottery with a 10% chance of getting it. Or I’d need to work for an international employer for a year out of the country first and come over on an L1, the same route I had taken to be here now.
We were definitely leaving.
We spent December planning our exit, listing things for sale, and trying to organize the logistical nightmare of moving across the continent with our belongings and cat.
I thought I had made it, a high paying job that I loved which was fully remote in a country I had been trying to move to for my whole life. Now it was back to the drawing board.
I had to study again, algorithms, system design, behavioral, if I wanted to get back into a top tier company, with more competition due to the economy, I had months of hell to look forward to.
I had the anxiety of joining a new company again and going through the first 6 months of feeling self-conscious with imposter syndrome before I finally settled in.
We had choices to make for what we wanted to do with our lives; move to Europe? Move back to the UK? Keep trying to get back to the USA or not? Move back to London or find remote work? A big burden of choice that we thought we wouldn’t have to make again.
Being laid off is a terrible experience, getting laid off while on a work visa is even worse, the worst experience of our lives to date.
You feel real grief.
Grief for the dream job that you were once so excited to join.
Grief for the friends that you worked with every day that have been ripped away without a real goodbye.
Grief for the disposable income that you have gotten used to.
Grief for the country that you have fallen in love with.
Grief for the life that you could have lived.
I’ll leave you with a link from a post I wrote almost 4 years ago, when I found out that I’d gotten my dream job and we were moving to Sweden, Something Happened .
I know we’re going to be fine, we’re in the best place financially that we’ve ever been, and my CV is looking stronger than ever, but it’s still hard not to be sad.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out over the past couple of weeks, it means the world to me.
We move back to the UK in April, that’s where we’ll plan our next move.
See you in the Winchester!