I GRADUATED UNIVERSITY with a BA in English. No Honors, no Masters, just a bachelor’s degree. I was all prepped to take a teaching position in South Korea, when a local company offered me me a job as a technical writer. Hell, yeah.
I was damn proud of getting a job in my field. After battling the negativity that comes with doing an arts program (“What are you going to do with that, anyway? Teach?”), I now found telling people my profession a treat. Something to be proud about.
About a year later, I began realizing the job was not for me. I’d sit at my desk, open some technical guides or a binder of documentation, and I’d feel sick. They contained meaningless words, dull material and absolutely no creativity. I’d stay awake later in the evenings in an attempt to delay the arrival of morning.
I had developed such a rigid routine for myself, I could pinpoint the exact minute something would happen. My alarm went off at 8 a.m., by 8:04 I was digging through my closet. I’d appear at my desk at 9:06. At 5:11 I’d head to the gym, and I’d be on the treadmill by 5:25.
Then two weeks ago I was called into the boardroom where I was told they were letting me go. They were apologetic, while I sat there being surprised but not really surprised. I had wanted to leave forever, and here they were handing me my freedom. I collected my things while my boss accompanied me to my computer, giving me a moment to save any personal documents. I thought, “Screw this,” and left.
I took two days to mourn the loss of my job. I suddenly missed the tiny details of my day, the routine I had abhorred. The thought of my coworkers wiping my desk clean like I had never worked there made me cry. Regardless of how much I hated the job, it was an essential part of my life. I spent more time with my coworkers on a daily basis than I did with my own family and friends.
But the same morning I was laid off, my roommate Matt made me breakfast and we started to talk ideas. For the first time in my life since I started working 9-5 and freelancing in the evenings, I had time to spare.
Ultimately, my company did me a favor. I was terrified of quitting, and I felt guilty for hating my workload with the company who gave me a head start. I had formed strong bonds with my coworkers, and most contacted me with support when I left. I’m attending the lead writer’s wedding tomorrow. If I had quit abruptly, the story might have been different.
I took almost two weeks to enjoy some careless freedom, to wrap my head around everything. I went home for my town’s Come Home Year celebration: barbecues with relatives I hadn’t seen in years, beach parties with friends, hiking and fishing trips with Dad. Reconnecting with people outside the office made me realize I’d be okay.
People keep telling me to beware the unemployment depression trap, sitting around in my underwear watching daytime soaps. I had a day where I sat around in a Disney princess inflatable pool drinking beer, but hey, some of us deal with things differently. It’s okay to mope, but not for long.
As soon as I knew I was unemployed, I’d let people know. I tweeted about it, and then I wrote a blog post. The support I received from the connections I’ve made over the past year (and from absolute strangers!) was absolutely overwhelming. Friends even started showing up at my door armed with coffee, cake, and hugs. Every single person who contacted me had the same words of comfort: “This is the best thing that could have happened to you. Now do what you want to do.”
I took care of the painful stuff, applying for repayment assistance with my student loans and filing for Employment Insurance. I realized my debt payments would have to be put on hold. Then I started exploring my options: reviewing job banks, career websites and talking to people about freelance work.
I decided I needed to establish a routine. Having time to sleep in was absolute bliss, but when one evening I set my alarm clock for the first time in over a week, and felt a little pang of surprise, I knew I had to start setting some rules. Staying out late and eating garlic fingers for breakfast is not cool for long, especially when you discover you’ve been wearing your pants inside out all morning.
Figuring out a new life plan is tricky, and the uncertainty can be terrifying. I still don’t necessarily know what I want, but it doesn’t involve sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day. It does involve travel, writing, and being my own boss.
I’m obviously no expert in the unemployment world, but I’m fortunate to have learned a really important lesson so early in the game: corporations offer amazing benefits, great experience and solid income, but there is no such thing as job security.
Keep that in mind when you’re more concerned about the welfare of your company than your own personal happiness.