I’ve been laid off (or straight up fired)
four FIVE times. It’s always worked out for the best.
The first time I was fired I was 22 years old. I had recently graduated from college on the east coast and moved out to the Bay Area for big adventure and a change of scenery. I pretty quickly landed a job as an assistant to the executive director of Pocket Opera – a tiny non-profit theater company in San Francisco. My job was to answer phones, order supplies, maintain various databases, stuff envelopes, and, my favorite task, organize the costume closet. (I’m being 100% serious. I love organizing. I even made a side business for professional organizing back in the day.)
I remember one assignment that had me especially jazzed. I was to create a program for an upcoming performance using software I had never used before. I don’t remember if I admitted I had never used it before, but I do remember forging ahead, relishing in the opportunity to do something creative. I’m certain the program was awful. And I’m also pretty certain I was slacking on my other duties while getting lost in this much more interesting creative pursuit.
The details here are a bit fuzzy, but around this time, the executive director called me into her office and told me to pack up my stuff and get out – immediately. She must have said some other stuff to me about why she was letting me go, but all I really remember is her saying that my final check would come in the mail within two weeks. There was no real discussion, no severance. Just LEAVE. As my dad would say –
“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.”
I was shocked and pretty devastated. I had always been a good student, even a teacher’s pet. I wasn’t someone who could get FIRED!? I gathered my things and left – and ran to call my parents (on a pay phone – ha!) to tell them about the injustice that had just been done to me. They were supportive, as they always are in a crisis, and assured me this was not the last job I would ever have. They told me it just wasn’t a good fit and that I would be ok.
What followed was a year or so of temp work at various San Francisco offices until I landed a waitressing job at a new Italian restaurant in the Castro. I had never waitressed before, but I cobbled together a (mostly fake) resume saying that stocking shelves and helping out in the bakery at my parents’ fancy hometown supermarket was, in fact, a waitressing gig. They bought it. And after just a couple days of training, the restaurant opened and I took my first shifts.
I loved this job. It was social, the days (and nights) flew by, the schedule suited my night-owl tendencies. The chef cooked tasty family meals for the waitstaff before our shifts, the tips were great, and I adored my colleagues. And despite my lack of experience, I actually turned out to be a pretty good waitress.
BUT, what I didn’t know at 23 years old was how volatile the restaurant industry is. The flood of excitement around the new restaurant started to wear off and patronage dwindled. The executive chef turned his attention to another restaurant he was opening and left the sous chefs to execute his dishes in his absence. (They weren’t as good.) The wait staff was let go one by one, until the only one left was the cousin of the owner. And that was not me.
The difficulty of losing this job was different from the last time because it wasn’t only my bank account that was taking a hit – it was my social life. My colleagues had become good friends and we hung out together almost every night. But the only thing we really had in common was this job, so we quickly lost touch. I was sad and lonely, and I hadn’t saved up much money at all (mostly just wads of cash tips I stored in my dresser.)
I went back to temping and eventually decided to apply to grad school, which provided a long stretch of stability (and a whole lot of debt.)
The third time I was let go was in 2006. After getting my master’s degree and then struggling to find a foothold in public radio (I’ll share that story another time), I took a full-time job as an audio producer on the creative team at a Silicon Valley start up called Tellme Networks. It wasn’t journalistic by any means, but it paid well ($60K/year which to me was a fortune) and, like I said, I had a lot of debt. The first couple years were great. I saved a ton of money, paid off my debts, made a lot of new work friends, learned a whole new industry, got really fast at Pro-tools, and generally enjoyed getting to know this strange world of Silicon Valley startups. (Read this if you want to get a sense of what it was like.) But as time passed, I started to get antsy.
Due to ongoing restructuring, my manager changed three times in a year – from the best boss I ever had, to a boss who didn’t want to be a boss, to a boss I straight up clashed with. (I get along with most people so this was notable.) I got tired of the CEO’s constant promises to go public and make us all rich, and the constant pivoting as the industry shifted, causing the powers-that-be to change their priorities. (Sound familiar?) I got tired of making products I didn’t use and didn’t care about. But how could I walk away from such a good salary? Instead I started to be a bad direct report.
I did my job, but I complained too much, I stopped being a team player, and I was, essentially, insubordinate with my manager. He would try (poorly) to communicate with me and get to the bottom of my dissatisfaction. He tried to find assignments for me that would both help the bottom line and hold my interest. None of it worked, and after three and half years, he fired me.
I don’t remember the details of the conversation we had about it. I think he technically called it a layoff because I never had a bad review and I was the only female producer on the team and they wanted to avoid any hint of wrongdoing. I was given two weeks to clear out and two months of severance. I was a little surprised that they actually let me go, but I couldn’t really blame them under the circumstances. And once I had a chance to process what had happened, I recognized that they had released me from my golden handcuffs.
The last time I was laid off was in 2018. I was part of a story you might have heard bits and pieces of in the hilarious (and true) podcast, Shameless Acquisition Target. Here’s the short version. The podcast company I was working for somewhat suddenly decided they no longer wanted to make podcasts. Instead they wanted to focus on podcast distribution and ad sales. So they laid off me and about 15 of my content-focused colleagues. There had been a lot of speculation after many business pivots and a general lack of clarity around the direction of the company. But it was still a shock. Again I don’t remember the details of our exit (this seems to be a pattern with me). I do remember very quickly being offered a new opportunity with what was to become Pushkin, and starting the whole process all over again. Another ride on the podcast industry roller coaster.
I admit that willingly exiting that Pushkin ride about six months ago was in part a desire to control my own destiny. I didn’t want my future to be determined by any boss other than myself, or to be at the whim of other people’s business decisions. But I also saw the writing on the wall. Not that I knew the layoffs would happen – I truly didn’t think they would. But I could see a repeating pattern, both at the company (a lack of clarity of vision, shifting and conflicting priorities, lots of closed-door meetings) and in myself (an awareness that I wasn’t doing my best work, an antsy feeling, a sense of exhaustion and ongoing frustration with things as they are, and a hopelessness that they’ll ever improve.) I felt a classic case of burnout. So I left, before they asked me to leave.
Note: I left with the privilege of being on my husband’s health insurance… not to mention the privilege of being white and middle class.
Now, as I reflect on all the jobs I’ve left – or been asked to leave – I realize I don’t have a single regret. Each of these jobs served a specific purpose at a specific place and time. Each of them taught me something (often something about what I didn’t want). And each of them came to an end at exactly the right time, even if I didn’t realize it then.
Of course I don’t want to make light of the very real and very scary loss of income and stability and health insurance and camaraderie and so many other things that come with losing a job, especially not by choice. I just want to offer up the possibility that in the grand scheme of things, it’s for the best. Businesses that do layoffs (especially big layoffs) have made big mistakes. They reek of tension and stress that permeates to the whole staff. If you’ve been laid off or fired, that organization doesn’t know how to use your talents. It’s Not. A. Good. Fit. And while I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights after losing a job when I felt like I’d never work again, that I’d somehow failed at my last great opportunity, I know in my heart that isn’t true. So I offer you this:
Maybe not today, or tomorrow, or next week – but you will, eventually, find a position where you are more valued, more respected, more appreciated, more included, possibly better paid, better treated, and ultimately happier.
And in the meantime, hang in there. Take a walk. Call a friend. Make some cookies. Read for fun. I’m here if you want to chat.
More FC business. I’m working through figuring out the best channels to share various things.
Substack feels best for essays and overly-long missives. I’ll try to make them useful.
Twitter (ugh) feels best for sharing new opportunities and resources, mainly in the form of retweets but I’ll try to dig up some original material.
The FC website mainly feels like an archive, though I’ll continue to log these posts there as well, and I’m thinking about how to organize a more static set of freelance/public media resources.
I haven’t yet touched the FC Facebook page… is anyone even still over there?
LinkedIn feels like a good place to engage, but I haven’t quite figured out how yet, beyond just sharing the existence of FC. I’ll keep working on it.
As always I’m eager for your comments and feedback, and of course any resources or job opportunities you’d like to share. The Cafe only works if we’re in it together. ☕️