Two and a half years ago, I was taking a day off from my marketing job at a San Francisco tech startup to host a friend when I got a call from the CEO. Apparently, I'd missed a pretty big day: 80 percent of the company, including the whole sales and marketing team, had been laid off. Everyone had gathered in the office to say their goodbyes, and at the CEO's suggestion, I stopped by to get my severance package. The bright orange and blue rooms where we once held company potlucks and played with employees' dogs suddenly had a somber mood.
I never really enjoyed that job. Promoting a big data platform for retailers to personalize their websites didn't exactly fill my life with meaning. Still, losing what was considered a "good job" wounded my ego. I'd prided myself on being accomplished and hardworking, and "unemployed" just didn't fit this identity. When I graduated from an Ivy League school two years prior, I definitely didn't picture myself going to an unemployment office and filling out forms to prove I was job-searching so I could collect my weekly stipend. But there I was.
The loss of community and structure hit me even harder. I'd always thrived off feeling needed, so having nobody expecting anything from me and no reason to leave my home depressed me. I'd sit in bed filling out job applications, knowing most of them would get me nowhere. This routine felt even more purposeless than choosing colors for pens to give out at conferences. At least then, I was contributing to something.
Yet amid this despair, I was secretly excited about the layoff. Just a few weeks prior, I'd gotten my first three articles published on a popular millennial site, though I didn't make any money off them. Now, I had more time to get my writing off the ground. I'd been dreaming of writing about feminism, relationships, and body image instead of databases and retail.
The week after the layoff happened to be Eating Disorder Awareness Week, so I gathered all my underutilized energy to write two pieces about my past experience with an eating disorder, research websites that published that sort of thing, and email them to editors. It felt like I was throwing darts in the dark, yet somehow, both landed — in publications that paid. As the weeks went on, more and more of my thankless job applications were interspersed with exciting publications, and after a few months, I even got some steady gigs.
The only things stopping me were mistaken beliefs: that working full-time is better than freelancing, that journalism is too tough, that you need a reason to move other than that you want to.
Still, I didn't view writing as a a substitute for a full-time job. I viewed it as a means to maintain my sanity while I looked for one. Without enough work to make a living or fill up my days, my depression persisted. But when I applied to tech jobs, I secretly hoped I wouldn't get them. In one awkward interview with Google, I responded to a question about what I was looking for by literally listing my work history. If I'd really stated what I was looking for, it would've become clear it wasn't them.
That interview was a wakeup call that instead of trying to replace my old job, I should consider the possibility that losing it served a purpose. My job applications became more and more focused on journalism, despite my little experience and all the warnings people gave me about the industry. I changed my LinkedIn title to "writer seeking full-time and freelance work," searched the site for writers who graduated my college, and invited them to coffee. As they told me about all the opportunities in New York, I grew desperate to get out of San Francisco. If only someone would offer me a job so I could move.
Then one day, I realized I didn't need permission to move or call myself a writer. I had enough gigs to support myself and occupy my time. The only things stopping me were mistaken beliefs: that working full-time is better than freelancing, that journalism is too tough, that you need a reason to move other than that you want to. Of course, it's my luck that I was offered a job in San Francisco just as I found someone to sublet my room. But by that point, I'd made up my mind.
During that first summer in New York, it became clear that writing was not a hobby to tide me over until I got a real job. It was my real job. In that sense, the day I got laid off was really the day I got hired — to work for myself. And I'm a pretty great boss. My "salary" is quadruple what I made at my old job, and my "offices" are all over the world, because now I get to be a digital nomad.
If I hadn't gotten laid off, I may have never reached this point. I probably would've stayed at my old company for several more months until I got offered another full-time job — then recreated the same unfulfilling scenario in a different office.
If you've been fired or laid off, try this mental exercise: Ask yourself how you'd approach the situation if you'd quit intentionally.
I know how annoying it is to hear that every cloud has a silver lining, but losing my job honestly wasn't even a cloud. It was a light at the end of a tunnel of unsatisfying work. So many of us stay in jobs that don't inspire us, desperate for an excuse to get out. Some of us never find that excuse and spend our lives wondering what would've happened if we aimed higher.
If you've been fired or laid off, try this mental exercise: Ask yourself how you'd approach the situation if you'd quit intentionally. What weren't you satisfied with at your old job? How can you use this opportunity to redirect your career?
You won't know how much better your career can get until you aim higher, and losing your job provides the chance to do that. Once you're employed again (and you will be), you may not have that time, so you'd better take advantage of it now.