From Our Readers
August 06, 2015 8:00 am

I lost my job in April. I was an attorney at a big, prestigious law firm making the Big Bucks for three and a half years, and then, suddenly, I wasn’t. It was an enormous leaning experience. Here’s why.

My job defined me more than I thought

I always thought that I was fairly disassociated with the Big Law culture, compared to some of my peers who seemed to have their jobs totally define them. Even though many former attorneys warned me this would happen, I was still taken aback by the fact that I felt somehow a lesser person when I couldn’t introduce myself as a litigator at X Law Firm anymore.  I had grown more accustomed to the looks of mild approval at cocktail parties in response to the “what do you do” question in my husband’s upper-class hometown than I thought. Worse yet, I realized that subconsciously I had begun feeling a little sorry for people who didn’t have (what I perceived as) high powered and high paying jobs.  It has been a good lesson in humility, and a reminder that high pay doesn’t equal high importance or have anything to do with one’s self-worth.

Feeling guilty doesn’t help anything

Guilt about losing my job; guilt about doing anything “unproductive”; guilt about spending any money:  I felt all of these things after being laid-off, but they are counterproductive.  Like most people who are laid-off, there’s really nothing I could have done to keep my job, and there’s no use in Monday-morning quarterbacking.  Worse than that, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t being more productive—defined by me as either job-hunting, exercising, or house-cleaning.  If anything, the latter two seemed even more difficult than when I was working because I had no set schedule.  But I realized that one doesn’t magically change into someone who loves scrubbing floors and doing burpees just because they aren’t working.  Allowing myself to indulge in some Netflix binging without guilt made me feel happy, which in turn made me more “productive” in other arenas.

Finally, and this is a big one, I felt like I shouldn’t be spending a dime over the cost of basic living for the first couple weeks I was unemployed, to the point where I fretted about going out for drinks with my husband (who is gainfully employed).  While I wouldn’t advocate for reckless spending, being a total penny-pincher won’t work what you need more than ever is to remain social for your own sanity (and networking!).

Learning new things is great, and so is reconnecting with yourself

After I got over the not-spending-money thing, I signed up for tennis and sailing lessons, which I always wanted to do but never had time for.  What I learned from those is that, even with unlimited time, I’m not going to become athletic or a sporty person, but I’m glad I tried.  But there are tons of fun things to learn, especially with the ubiquity of youtube.  For example, I can now apply eyeshadow semi-decently.  I rediscovered my love of TV and curling up with a good book, things I neglected for years.  It’s a blast getting to know yourself after years of primarily being focused on your career.

When it comes to networking, showing up is half the battle

“Networking” is the buzzword that most terrified me when I finally faced the fact that I needed to throw myself headfirst into a job search.  I landed my law firm job right out of law school without needing to go beyond campus, so I had no idea where to start.  But, “networking” really isn’t as scary as it seems.  Like the New Girl concept of “Bidening” (i.e., just “being there,”) networking is all about showing up to as many coffee dates, informational office visits, and phone calls as you can, and getting an ever-expanding lists of contacts from those you’ve already spoken with.  In fact, I got my second job simply by virtue of that fact that I really hit it off with a woman during one of my informational chats—no application required!

Losing my job was the kick in the butt I needed to find my “dream job” 

Even since law school, I thought that someday I might want to be a career counselor at a university.  I love working with students and always found volunteer work in that arena fun and rewarding.  But without a background in higher education, it took a lot of time to find the right position—more time than I possibly would have had had I been working full-time.  Even though it took a few months (almost to the point of giving up,) I’m so glad I stuck it out and finally landed two part-time positions that will give me the tools I need (knock on wood) to fully make the transition from the law to higher education.

Sarah Jane Solomon is a Boston based attorney turned soon-to-be career guru (hopefully).  She enjoys Netflix binging, movies where nothing happens, the New York Yankees, and evening walks past restaurant patios so she can eye what folks are eating.  You can follow her newly-created Twitter account @SarahJSolomon.
[Image via AMC]
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