These last couple of weeks were pretty intense. Ever since my managing editor at TIME announced an open invitation for buyout volunteers, I’ve been a whirling dervish of pre-unemployment. What do I mean by that? I mean that no one in the history of buyouts has more thoroughly considered and weighed and analyzed and lost sleep over her decision.
You may be in a similar predicament. Not that I want anyone to agonize as I did — I don’t actually think anyone is capable — but having arrived at my current Zen state, I thought you might want to know how I got from there to here. Here’s what I did.
- I collected information. As soon as the meeting ended, I called HR and asked what my package would look like. In retrospect, I should have read the union document that gave me the same information rather than tipped my hand to HR. Had I decided to stay, I would have erred by giving management the impression I was weighing an exit.
- I did the math. Our union had negotiated severance of two weeks for every year worked. For me, that worked out to about six months of pay and health insurance. Not enough to throw away a good job.
- I made phone calls. Lots of them. To mentors, colleagues, former colleagues, friends. I learned something from each call: a friend coached me on negotiating tactics. One mentor warned me of the depression that follows the elation of leaving a longtime job. Another told me about possible legal moves. About half the people I called said I should make the leap; the other half urged me to stay.
- I negotiated. Though one colleague had suggested I do so through HR, I instead set up a meeting with my boss. Which got canceled. Then another, which got postponed. I kept pestering his assistant until he finally made the time. I was frank: though I still loved the institution and still felt excited about my job, I understood the realities and would entertain a package — if it suited my needs. I asked for the moon, and got a crescent. But it was better than the original offer, which made me feel like an old Japanese lady haggling successfully for a 10-yen discount at the fish market: victorious.
Throughout this process, I talked (and talked, and talked) to my husband. If you don’t have one of these, I strongly suggest you get one before making a major life decision like quitting your job. Or at least a cardboard cutout of a sympathetic face with a giant ear.