One gray, cold February day, I was getting ready for work as usual when my boss texted me to ask what time I’d be there. He and the CEO were in the office and wanted to meet with me ASAP. My heart started beating very fast, and a feeling of dread filled my stomach. I knew exactly what that meant — I was going to lose my job that day.
Three years before, I was thrilled to receive a job offer from one of the coolest food brands in my city. At the time, working in food marketing was my dream. I had worked hard to make this career change, even taking an unpaid internship while I worked full time in a restaurant.
I started my exciting new job in food marketing as a part-time administrative assistant and social media coordinator. Eventually, the job grew into a full-time role, and I became responsible for managing all the brand’s marketing projects. It took a lot of hard work and self-development to keep up with the company’s needs, and the job became a huge part of my life.
When I was laid off, it completely uprooted my view of myself. I was someone who had always had a job, and I had never been fired or let go before. I suddenly felt that I was no longer in control of my choices or my finances, and that was a very scary place to be. Despite that fear, I knew I needed to start looking for another job. Being unemployed was one of the hardest periods of my life, but it was also an incredible learning experience that taught me a lot about who I am and what I want to do with my life. Here’s what I learned along the way.
1. It’s an emotional roller coaster, and that’s okay
When I first got the news that I was being laid off, it was followed immediately with assurances that the decision was purely financial and was not a reflection of my work. I also received a severance package, which was totally unexpected. I was so relieved that I wasn’t being fired, and to have this financial buffer, that it was a day or two before I realized how upset I was. I had worked very hard for this company and it broke my heart that this was how the relationship would end. It’s a lot like being dumped: even if the other person says, “It’s not you, it’s me,” it still hurts.
When I first told friends and family what had happened I was pretty upbeat, so it was hard to go back to them a few days later and confess how sad and discouraged I was. I went through this cycle of feeling positive and then miserable multiple times. Once I realized that this experience was going to be a roller coaster, it became much easier to deal with the ups and downs. When I started to feel angry or scared or hopeless, I knew I just had to ride it out.
2. Budgeting 101
I hate to admit this, but I haven’t always been great with money. I was pretty good at budgeting for my rent and other fixed costs, but when it came to spending money, funds seemed to fly out of my bank account. I knew that if I had any hope of surviving unemployment, I had to be careful not to overspend. I did some long-term planning to look at what I needed to cover rent, utilities, etc. I gave myself the same amount of money to spend every week, and started using a Google Sheet to keep track of it. If I wanted to do something special, like a dinner out with friends, I would “save” by spending less the weeks before and after. I also learned that apps like Mint are great for managing a budget. This system has worked so well for me that I’ve stuck to it religiously, even after I started working again. Not only did this help me get through unemployment, but it’s also given me a ton of confidence in managing my finances.
3. How to be a self-care ninja
When I lost my job, one of my mentors told me, “Don’t forget to take care of yourself,” and I took this advice to heart. Up until that point, self-care was just one of many things I seemed never to have time for. Since I suddenly had a lot more time, I made every Monday night my “Spa Night,” and started a weekly ritual of exfoliating my skin and deep conditioning my hair — two things I’d been meaning to make a habit of. I also set aside time during spa night to research other forms of self-care — I scoured Pinterest for articles on mindfulness, and read up on affordable acupuncture in my city. During this weekly ritual, I always felt a little better about myself. Slowly, I started to feel calmer, happier and more capable of accomplishing my self-care goals.
4. The stress of multiple life changes is no joke
Around the same time that I lost my job, a developer purchased my apartment building and started all kinds of improvement projects. Suddenly I was living in a noisy construction zone, and the new owner hinted that he would be drastically increasing the rent. That situation would have been stressful enough, but I was also unemployed and pinching every penny I had. I was desperate to move, but because I had no income, that seemed impossible. I felt trapped in a situation that was making me very unhappy. At times, I thought the stress of it all was going to break me. The only way not to break, I learned, was to get better at embracing uncertainty. I also had to acknowledge that I can’t solve every problem in my life. Sometimes, you just have to wait until the storm passes.
5. It really is an opportunity to reinvent yourself…
At my old job, I was doing a wide variety of things that fell under the umbrella of marketing. I knew that picking a specialty could be a good move for me, so I made a list of marketing jobs I was interested in and started reaching out to people for informational interviews. (One of the major perks of unemployment: it’s so easy to set up these appointments when you have a totally open schedule!) I talked to project managers for large marketing agencies, people who worked in politics, and even asked someone out for coffee because I overheard at a party that they worked for a company I admired. I learned a lot during this time about what I did want — and didn’t want — in my next career.
6. … but, beware the elusive “dream job.”
Even with all this information-gathering, I had a hard time narrowing down my search. Friends and family would try to help by asking, “What do you really want to do? What would make you the happiest?” There are all kind of articles and stories out there about “how to find your dream job,” and people always say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Who wouldn’t want that?! For me, being unemployed, that was too much pressure. When I was hunting for a dream job, I got frustrated very fast. That is, until I stumbled across this bit of wisdom in a Medium article: “Everything is work… There is only finding a job that suits you enough that the work doesn’t feel excruciating. There is only finding what you are skilled at, and then learning to be thankful.”
When a friend asked me if I’d be interested in doing some freelance content writing work for her company, I soon found that I was really good at it. Did it still feel like work? Yes, absolutely. But I soon fell in love with the autonomy I had as a freelancer, and was grateful to be making money again.
I was unemployed for close to six months, and by the end of that time I had a much clearer idea of what was important to me and what kind of work I should be doing. Freelancing is great for me — I have a flexible schedule, and I get to decide how I spend my days. I never would have learned that about myself if I hadn’t been let go.
Yes, losing my job felt like an enormous setback in my career. But it also taught me that knowing who you are and what drives you is far more important than checking off every box on your five-year plan. In my case, I learned new things that have helped me make a new plan. And if I get knocked down again, now I know how to handle it even better than before.