Last year I started what I thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was exactly what I wanted. The job description was practically written for me and the salary was too good to pass up. When I set foot in the building for the first time, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A shiny, beautiful, hi-tech space, delicious food and snacks available all day, young, fashionable people, and a team who would surely appreciate the wealth of experience that I brought. It was magical. Until it wasn’t...
It turns out that the company was going through some major growing pains, no longer a scrappy startup, but not yet fully mature. Leadership was under pressure to turn the ship around and focus on growing revenue. It should have come as no surprise that restructuring was on the horizon, and before I could say “rightsize,” I, along with hundreds of others, were called in to meet with HR.
No matter the circumstances, losing a job is always a traumatic experience. Aside from a bruised ego, it was terrifying to lose an entire salary in the blink of an eye. In those few moments that the HR representative was reading me my rights, all I could think about was my mortgage, how I’d tell my family, and how quickly I needed to find another job, especially as a “woman of a certain age.” It was a rough couple of days following that, as I sunk into a miserable period.
It’s now been a year since the day I lost my job and I’ve never felt better. In fact, losing my job was the best thing to happen to me at that time. Here’s why:
It taught me that it’s ok to ask for help. Throughout my career I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into fostering a strong personal and professional network. I’ve met many talented people along the way and enjoy connecting friends and colleagues to one another. Now I was the one in need of a connection, so I bit the bullet and reached out to my entire network of colleagues, professional acquaintances, former professors, and friends. I was honest about my circumstances, and very clear about what I was asking for, whether it was a job lead, some advice, resume feedback, or a freelance project. I am grateful to the many people who replied, eager to help, and to those who took time out of their schedules to meet with me and share their experiences and insight. There were many coffee meetings, and many of them led to more connections, some career coaching, a couple of speaking opportunities, some freelance work, and most importantly, the reassurance that yes, people do want to help. You just have to be willing to ask.
It showed me what I’m capable of. It took less than two minutes to suddenly become unemployed. Less than two minutes to process that I didn’t have a job to come to the next day. All I wanted to do was go home, crawl under the covers, and never come out, but I knew that I couldn’t wallow in self pity forever. I had no choice but to pull myself together and figure out my next move. After investing in a thorough review of my resume and having some very honest conversations with friends and colleagues, I realized that I needed to do a better job of building my personal brand. Up until then, I was getting by on the merits of my resume and the great companies that I had worked for, but a brand is more than all the jobs I’ve had in my life. I had to think deeply and articulate what I stand for, what I’m passionate about, and how I can bring value to organizations wanting to better connect with their employees. I started writing my thoughts down and connecting them to my own experiences. That became my blog, which turned into a larger website, which helped me market myself to clients and professional networks. From there, I started down the path of solopreneurship, applying the resume tips I learned from my outplacement career counselor to help others with their own brand building efforts.
It allowed me to put myself first. Despite the shock and impending doom that I felt leaving that office for the last time, I also felt a sense of relief, like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The months leading up to that day had been very stressful. People at work could sense that things weren’t right and paranoia set in across the company, leading to many late nights, poor decisions, mistrust, and strained relationships. If there was ever a good time to regroup and recharge, it was now, but I had committed to make finding a job my new job. I’d wake up early every morning and start scouring the job boards at 9:00am. I felt guilty if I ever missed a day of searching or following up on resumes that I had submitted. However, the more I talked to friends and colleagues, the more I heard how many of them had experienced the same thing. It seemed as if getting laid off was some cruel rite of passage that everyone had experienced. They advised me not to keep beating myself up, but to make the most of this newfound free time. So I began to carve out a couple hours each day to take a break from job hunting and enjoy a long walk in the park, catch up with friends, volunteer at my daughter’s school, or head to the beach. I even picked up a new hobby, kayaking, which I have stuck with since. These small opportunities for self reflection and self care took my mind off of things for a little while and kept me motivated to figure out my next move.
Most importantly, it helped me realize what success is really about. Since I was 15 years old, I’ve always worked. I had steady babysitting gigs around my neighborhood, an after school job as a cashier at the local grocery store, and I worked my way through college, with a job lined up after graduation. I took pride in the independence that working offered me. I enjoyed being productive and getting things done. I signed up for new projects, volunteered for committees, and never hesitated to work late hours or travel for a meeting. In other words, I measured my self worth by the accomplishments and recognition I received at work. When I wasn’t working, I felt worthless, as if nobody could see me anymore. The truth is, I’m more than a good employee. I’m a daughter, wife, a sister, a friend, and most importantly, a mother. These special titles are unconditional and I'll have them long after the next big opportunity comes and goes.
This past year could have turned out a lot worse if I spent it feeling sorry for myself. But it ended up being the kick in the butt I needed to realize what’s really important in life, as well as the confidence booster that helped me take a chance on some new things. Here’s to a better and brighter 2018!
Mira Sleilati is an internal communications and engagement professional who has worked with organizations large and small, across industries and sectors. Learn more at www.mirasleilati.com.