Why I'm Grateful I Was Laid Off From My First Job

I’m not sure I ever sought out stability. In fact, times when I felt stable were typically when I made a change. When something felt accessible, I walked in the other direction. I moved school and country in the middle of my junior year of high school. When I got to college, chose to major in journalism, an industry who’s future was becoming less clear by the day. And when things got too comfortable there, I took off for a semester in the least comfortable place I could find, a small city in the south of India.

But when senior spring came around, without realizing it, I began to fall for the idea of stability.

I’d taken every opportunity to build my resume as college students these days are taught to do. Internships and volunteer projects and speaking events left me with a handful of reliable contacts.

Some serendipitous encounters — and what felt like a lot of good fortune for a 22 year old journalism major graduating in 2008—I landed a job close to my dreams at the time. A newsroom gig that came with flexibility to innovate, the opportunity for front page bylines, and access to top Washington political beats.

The job came with a lot of highs. Like the first time an article I proposed ended up on the front page and the chance to test out my storytelling skills with a daily video web show.

But I also learned the lessons that hit most recent graduates in their first job. Like, even the most exciting job can be dull and routine on some days. Sometimes your company makes decisions that make no sense to you.

A year in, stability started to feel more like stuck. I began to wonder if I was on the right path.

Should I push for a promotion? Move companies? Try out a different industry? Grad school?

In all of this consideration, it never crossed my mind that my next step might not be up to me.

I won’t go into all the details. Mine wasn’t the only newsroom to lay off a huge chunk of their staff suddenly and without much explanation in 2009. There were many people told to leave a desk they’d sat at for decades that lost much more than me that day.

Yet, it was still unexpected. Given the recent bloodletting of many newsrooms around the country, tragic stories of veteran reporters given less than hour to vacate their desks, I was surprised by how surprised I was that it happened to me.

Projects and plans were suddenly halted. The things that had felt so vital days before, now looked small and foreign. My identity changed over night, or at least the way I had come to believe identity was shaped.

Really, the world closed and opened in the same day. And I’m so glad it did.

Flipping through Seth Godin’s new book, “What To Do When It’s Your Turn,” I came across the line that brought me back to that moment in 2009.

“People who are promised stability rarely receive it,” — Seth Godin

Getting laid off from my first job taught me of the dangers of seeking and expecting stability.

The thing is, it’s not possible. Worse, on a search for stability, we end up making decisions based on fear instead of passion. We prioritize comfort over growth. And as it turns out, when something outside of our control occurs, comfort is the first thing to go.

Getting laid off forced me to look at the world differently. If, stability wasn’t the thing to chase, what was I working towards? I began to seek out ideas and challenges instead, and invested in relationships instead of routines.

My story isn’t a unique one among a generation that entered the workforce in the Great Recession of 2008. It’s no surprise to me, that we’re the same generation now championing fail fast entrepreneurship and demanding an attention to multiple bottom lines in business.

Since I was laid off in 2009, I’ve freelanced, worked for 4 different companies in different industries and varied functional roles, developed my own ventures and completed a grad school degree.

My world today looks anything but stable. But it looks open and I take comfort in that.

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