Why getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to me (well, OK, not the best but not too bad)

Six months ago around this time, I got laid off from my job.

Somebody from an unfamiliar branch of the org tree invited me to a conference call. This higher-up wanted to talk to me, my boss, and somebody out-of-state I didn’t know too well.

I tried to blow if off, as the e-mail for the one o’clock phone call came around ten that morning, and I already had a standing “doctor’s appointment” at just that time (the bi-weekly basketball game I had going in MPLS, which precariously balanced improving my cardio-vascular health with avoiding my permanent physical injury).

But she said it was an important meeting, so I stayed, hoping to join the game late. Even with that red flag, I still thought I was going to a meeting where they’d pile new tasks on the three of us to make up for some other laid off people. There had been a lot of that going around.

The HR higher-up didn’t even say it straight. “The company is closing the X and Y brands, and this brand closure is affecting your jobs.”

Silence. I was trying to lace up my basketball shoes and cradle the phone on my ear at the same time. Wait a minute. “Are you saying we’re fired?” Like our jobs are negatively affected by these brand closures? Like they got so affected they disappeared?

The answer was yes. The company closed two business-to-business magazines and laid off about 12 people, including my boss, the publisher, the salesmen, and the people who hired me in Minneapolis.

There was a denial stage, like the grieving process. I thought, “Well, there’s still another brand I do work for that’s open.” Surely this was more about those brands closing, but I still have my job? That kind of a thing?

I had actually been considering quitting this job, where I worked from home, and going into an office somewhere again. Getting up before 9 AM again. I can’t imagine what the stages of grief would have felt like if I had loved my job.

But that led to another cliche. Later, I looked in the mirror, and thought, “Did I lose weight?” (I hadn’t really, so don’t try this at home. Losing your job doesn’t actually help you shed pounds; at least not in the first 18 hours, while your refrigerator remains well stocked.)

But I felt lighter. I looked skinnier in the mirror due to that powerful, proverbial weight-off-the-shoulders thing. Experiencing that cliche made me understand how it became a cliche in the first place. I clicked off 137 red-flagged e-mails in Outlook. Then deleted them all, giddy. Let out a sigh like a death rattle.

And getting laid off turned out to be, as another cliche goes, the best thing that ever happened to me.

Well, no. Many, many better things have happened to me. And not just meeting and marrying the love of my life. Or sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Even yesterday, getting a sweet deal on red peppers was a smidge better (39 cents a pound). But getting fired did kick-start my freelance Web design business.

Being a freelance Web designer was my dream for escaping the job I hated. I just thought I needed another year — to learn more, to build my portfolio more, to figure out how the hell you get clients (Pulao and I were discussing my Web designer dreams in a Vietnamese restaurant once and I asked, suddenly, “How do you get clients, I wonder?” an unforseen flaw in my plan) — but without the old job to do, I found myself with much more time and not much choice other than to go ahead and be a freelance Web designer.

And that’s a whole nother story, involving bong shop owners and fake windows that play videos, but the shortest answer to the where-the-hell-do-you-get-clients question is Craigslist. At least to start. And the transition was a success — as in, I’ve built Websites, I’ve been paid.

We’re only broke ’til September, by the way, when Pulao starts her faculty position at Columbia College, Chicago (which kept an apparent cosmic job bank in balance, as we heard about her job three days before I lost mine). And my old magazine that folded reopened in June, under new management, and hired me part-time, at my freelance rate. This helps, also, the broke-ness.

This isn’t the story you’re going to hear a lot nowadays. You’ll hear the losing the job part. You’ll be hearing that, or have heard that already, from a lot of friends, friends of friends, and family.

But finding new work right away, and having one good job per family, doesn’t happen as much. We’re lucky.

I’m working with an employee of a Web client of mine who, on the phone to me, thanked God for her job, just matter of factly, as an aside between other bits of business, and I thought, this means something to her that it doesn’t mean to me.

Like I said before: don’t try this at home. If you can help it.

5 Responses to Why getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to me (well, OK, not the best but not too bad)

  1. Pulao says:

    The 39c/lb on red peppers was a good find, wasn’t it?

    Thanks for the post, Kris; funny and sweet.

  2. Aakaash says:

    In the patented Kris style, for sure, but still inspirational. That client remark of your reminds me of how in American Splendor Harvey wakes up in the night, terrified, then sighs with relief “I have a job” before going back to sleep.

    On another note, I think the only way you can make people even more jealous of you is to go from a I-work-from-home situation to I-work-my-dream-job-on-my-own-terms situation. Bastard.

  3. krystal says:

    Haven’t been here in a while. Since I started my new job, I’ve had very little free time. I was laid off too – or, really, the company I worked for dissolved. But I hated that job and organization, and it was a great relief. I know how sweet it can be to become involuntary unencumbered. You don’t have the guilt of “quitting.’

    I have hit gold with my new position with a great architectural firm with impeccable design aesthetic, as well as a commitment to community. Cha ching.

    Thanks, Kris, for the great narrative.

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