The day it happened was like any other day at work.
I got in, threw my jacket on the back of the door, and sat down to scroll through donor emails. Had to check back in with that one from San Fran (back when I called it that), thank the other one from Chicago, and figure out a possible trip back up to Boston. I glanced over a short message from my director asking if I’d been fully reimbursed from the travel company for my upcoming trip to Tanzania, Kenya, Zanzibar, and South Africa. I shot back a quick “Yeah, I’m all set,” but still found it odd that this was now the fourth time within two weeks that he’d asked.
Little did I know that that email was the canary in the coal mine I should have paid attention to.
It happened right at nine. My director knocked on my door, a bit twitchy, and asked me if I could meet him in the large conference room. This sounded like a great idea, I thought to myself, since I wanted to discuss the upcoming donor events I had planned. He said he’d be in right behind me, just had to finish something up. I went ahead and walked into the conference room to see the VP sitting across the table, a thin maroon folder in front of him. My director came in behind me and shut the door.
So this is how it happened, huh? Not with a bang, but with a whimper?
I took a seat, adrenaline starting to flood my system. The director sat to my left, the VP across the table, the folder between the three of us, a landmine. Then they started talking, but their voices had taken on the cadence of a strobing bass in which every other phrase made it through. You are a valuable asset…changing flow of need…not a reflection of your work…read the letter…let us know…compensation…another employee...go to Africa...new priorities…someone with more experience…have to let you go.
And that was it. I remember standing up from my chair, a thousand-yard stare as I walked down an empty hallway back to my office. I packed up my things and was marched out of there as thoughI had access to the nuclear launch codes. In the cab ride back, box of desk items in the seat next to me, I was a cauldron of emotions, from abject fear and roiling anger, to black depression and acidic regret.
But that’s not what I want to say with this post. It’s not going to be a diatribe against the company that let me go, the company that supported me greatly in my early career and gave me amazing opportunities. They had their reasons for letting me go, and while I may not agree with most, if not all, of them, they were made nonetheless. What's done is done.
No, what I want to say is that that bleak day was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. And in the moment, it looked nothing like what it now does in hindsight.
Sure, the job hunt sucks. It’s a brutal, slogging affair that slowly chips away at your confidence. Oh, another phone interview? Why yes, of course I’d love to talk more about why I was let go! Wait, so I wasn’t fully qualified, yet a simple email letting me know that you’d gone with another candidate wasn’t necessary? Drag me through the coals a bit longer, please. And so it goes.
Those four months were some of the most relaxing, introspective, useful, strengthening months I’ve ever had. While I had the best support system I could have asked for in my family and friends, I ultimately had to rely on myself. I woke up every morning with November Project or the gym, followed by some job applications, then capped with my favorite part of my unemployed days: dog walking. If you can’t find your inner strength and positivity after hanging out with multiple companions per day who are so excited to see you that they can’t contain themselves (sadly sometime physically), then I have no advice for you.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that yes, being unemployed is a pretty hard punch to the gut. It really breaks you down, makes you doubt yourself, your career, your talent, your life choices, everything that’s you. But it also gives you the chance to build yourself back up, to make yourself a better person, stronger but also more sure of yourself. It wasn’t until two months into my four months of unemployment that I realized how lucky I was to have this time to myself.
So for those of you who are dealing with this stage of your life, when the shadows of doubt begin creeping in as rejection after rejection hits you, take a step back and realize how important this break in your life is. Because you probably (hopefully) won’t have one again.
Take full advantage of this and don’t regret a single, relaxing, dog-filled day.
Beer(s) I drank: All of Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp
Song I heard: Goodbye Angels by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Book I read: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay