I remember the morning of November 30, 2012, like it was yesterday. I went through my usual routine – coffee, morning news, a shower – and checked my work email to get a jump on the day before going to the office. At first, I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary among the replies to messages I’d sent earlier that week, industry-related emails and spam.
Then an invite for a “quick sync” with my director for 2 p.m. that afternoon caught my eye. I accepted the invite, closed my laptop and said to my son as I left: “I’m pretty sure I’m getting laid off today.”
About six months before, after some very public speculation in the press and among industry insiders, the company I worked for was sold to a private equity firm. As is usually the case in these situations, speculation about lay-offs was rampant. I stayed calm. That’s because there was a part of me that already sensed what my fate would be. This wasn’t a case of assuming the worst. I’d been transferred to a team to work on a project driven by a contract with a very specific end date. Once the contract ended, I applied my skills to fill a void on the team. But the future of my role remained undefined for months. For me, that was surely the proverbial “handwriting on the wall.”
And so when I walked into my director’s office on that fateful Friday and found the HR director there too, my earlier premonition was confirmed and my 6.25-year tenure ended.
I called my son as I left the parking garage and told him the news. He was waiting for me in our driveway with a huge hug, a pint of beer and these words: “Now you can do whatever the [heck] you want to do.” He did not say heck.
My son was in his mid-20s — old enough to understand the impact of the situation, but young enough to still find hope even in the worst of circumstances. His words planted a seed and helped to change the entire trajectory of my career. They helped me to take the steps I needed to regain the confidence to get “out there” again and to create my ideal work adventure.
With the benefit of hindsight, when I consider the career I’ve built since being laid off, I can clearly see the ways I regained my confidence:
Loss is unpredictable and completely out of our control. I had an inkling that the layoff was coming. I thought I had a grip on handling it, and even tried to plan my response to it. I held it together for a bit — until I didn’t. Allowing myself to grieve the loss of my job cleared space for me to process all of the emotions that would eventually become roadblocks to moving on if not handled.
I had an idyllic notion of what having a steady job “should” look like. And then the job was gone. Adding to my stress was my status as a divorced single mom, and having a mortgage, credit card and student loan debt. After grieving, I had to let go of what I thought I should have to create space for what could be. In doing that, the seeds of hope were planted.
At first, I found it was easier for me to make a professional ask than a personal one. I asked former colleagues to endorse my skills on networking sites. Then, as I scoured job sites and revamped my resume, I asked about contract and freelance opportunities.
Then it got personal. For me, that meant swallowing my pride and exploring programs to help me keep my home. It was hard, but I quickly learned that being vulnerable was a superpower. Asking for — and receiving — help allowed me to keep my home and pay bills for a year.
I got very serious — and brutally honest — about my skills and about what I was truly passionate about. I had experience in writing, digital strategy, product management and user research. I honed in on job descriptions, got a boost from listing my strengths and accomplishments, and ultimately reinvented myself as a content strategist. I got crystal clear on what I wanted to do and, more importantly, what I didn’t.
It was hard to leave behind projects I’d worked hard on and memories made with people I grew to care about. But as I got comfortable with uncertainty, I realized even while being shown the door, the peace I felt wasn’t attached to some smug assurance in my qualifications or credentials. That peace was something I’d cultivated by being grateful for who I’d become — not my job, not my title, not my things — but the whole of who I am.
I don’t want to give the impression that everything was all epiphanies and "a-ha!" moments during the year I was unemployed. Some days I loathed the endless job searches. There were a lot of “what if’s,” a good bit of ugly crying, and so many, many interviews that ended with rejection.
Still, through it all, I found not only my confidence, but I found myself. And I like who I have become very much.