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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:
1. I grieved.
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.
2. I let go.
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.
3. I just asked.
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.
4. I assessed and appreciated.
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.
5. I was grateful.
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.