No matter who you are or how you feel about your job, let’s be real: Getting laid off sucks. It’s especially hard when you’re the only one getting chopped, which happened to me at one of my old companies when there just wasn’t any work left for me anymore. I’d been at that company for four years, and my fellow employees had become like my family during the time I did my part in contributing to the business’ growth – we’d been based out of an apartment when I started, and were in a pretty nicely situated office building in downtown Orlando when I left. They are in an even nicer building now, and are a well-respected technology company in the city. And I was one of the originals.
But suddenly, not only was I not part of this family anymore – I felt like I’d failed on my career path, which was something I’d worked toward my entire life. And not only because I’d gotten laid off, but because the job wasn’t making me happy. And they knew that because, like I said, we were family.
That was three years ago now. Since then, I’ve worked at a few companies where I’ve been able to still make a technical writer’s salary doing the job of both a technical writer and other completely separate jobs, like marketing writer and business analyst. But when that company let me go, I did something I always do when I feel thrown off of my path: I explored other avenues, and asked, “What do I really want, and whom do I actually want to be?” But I still stayed in technical-writer jobs in a full-time capacity, for one (legitimate) reason and one reason only: to pay the bills.
And in no way is working for money a bad thing. That is why we work – let’s be honest, it’s the only reason we work. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t eat pizza, take naps, and watch Netflix for a living if it paid a decent salary. But when you start to do a job for money and realize the issue is the career and not the company, two things happen: 1. You accept that it’s just a job, and 2. You carve out a space in your life that you can fill with things that will actually give you the sense of purpose you’re looking for.
So that’s what I did. After I was laid off three years ago, I got into other similar jobs, but I also started branching out into different types of work in my spare time. And slowly, I realized that I had a professional worth outside of technical writing. People were reading the things I wrote. They were telling me I had a great voice for editorial writing, and that my words resonated with them. They started asking me to look over their content, from technical to creative. And to my surprise, they started paying me. With some real effort and networking and hard work, I got published at two of my favorite publications: here at HelloGiggles and, recently, at PEOPLE.com – somewhere I never thought would even look at my work, let alone consider my writing good enough to put on their site. These signs have told me I’m making the right decisions for my career, regardless of my job title or cube-dwelling status.
So when my last company was acquired by a larger one two weeks ago and I was laid off along with 67 of my coworkers, it was a lot easier for me. In fact, when it was my turn to be called into one of the offices to be handed a folder and be told whether I still had a job or not, I wasn’t shaking with nerves this time – in fact, I felt myself hoping the woman behind my former boss’ desk who worked for the bigger company would look me in the eye and tell me, “I’m sorry, Jennifer, but you’re one of the ones whose position overlaps with something we already have.” So when those words left her mouth, I surprised even myself when I felt relief. And when I made the rounds to comfort my tearful coworkers and ensure those staying on that I would be OK, I meant it. Because I’ve reached the point in my life where I don’t need a specific position or salary to tell me my worth. I’ve carved that out for myself.
Today, I know that I don’t have to let what I’m doing for work define who I am, and that gives me a lot of comfort since I don’t really know what I’ll be doing tomorrow let alone a year or 10 years from now. But I do know that when I tell someone what I do for a living and can produce clips of writing for publications and about topics that I truly believe in, I feel a million times prouder than I did when my career consisted solely of writing software documentation. And while writing software documentation is nothing to sneeze at and I have many friends who do it and love it, the fact that I know I don’t have to do it to make a difference for myself and others, or pay my bills, is worth all the pink slips in the world.
(Image via New Line Cinemas)