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Globe Journalist: 'It Wasn't You' Is No Consolation

"It wasn't you."

That's what they told me when they laid me off. It was no reflection on my work, they said. I'd written loads of memorable front-page stories. I'd be a "real loss" to the paper.

It was just that they were laying off part-timers, and I'd chosen to work part-time when I had children. In fact, I was on the playground with my kids when my editor called me on a day off.

He began with,"Unfortunately." The layoff was effective immediately. I would receive no severance pay. And I needed to set up a time with security to pack up my things from the last six years.

I know the "It wasn’t you" element was supposed to comfort me. And at first I thought it would. I joked with some colleagues that maybe they could all gather around me and chorus "It wasn’t you!"

But I should have known better. When someone dumps you, has it ever, in the history of humankind, actually helped to be told "It wasn’t you, it's me?"

Turns out it's the same with jobs. A friend of mine who's a psychiatrist commiserated that she went through the same thing, and it took her a while to figure out why it felt so bad, but she finally did: it's dehumanizing.

When people who know you and your work say your qualities and qualifications don't matter in a major decision like a layoff, all that you are is somehow negated. You're a number.

Of course, the alternative is no fun either. That somehow, maybe, it was me. This is what runs through my head lately at 3 o'clock in the morning: I must have been doing something wrong all this time, and nobody told me. How could I have become so expendable?

But it helps when my colleagues say I'm a symbol of the terrible state of the newspaper industry. Like when one said, "If they're laying off people like you, they must be in big trouble."

It helps, too, when I see people who are clearly fantastic also getting laid off. One is a supremely talented book editor who said, "You can’t look for reasons. Everyone asks, 'Why, why, why, you're so great, everyone loves you.' But there isn’t a 'why.' It has to do with lists and numbers. It has nothing to do with skills."

I don't wish the Globe ill. On the contrary, I'm sad for the paper, and terribly worried about the possibility it may actually be shut down.

I'm also grateful for the years I had there in a part-time job that let me combine meaningful work with raising my young children. But right now, the job isn't feeling like a good investment, and I wish I'd spent even more time with my kids. At least you can't lay off your mother.

This program aired on April 7, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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