How losing my job changed my outlook on travel and career
This story, quite fittingly, begins on a Monday.
MLK Day to be exact, a company holiday. I'd just spent the 3 day weekend manically painting in preparation for a 2-person gallery show in Fort Worth.
Before going to bed that night, I compulsively checked my work email, not expecting to find anything. My very new boss had just scheduled an ambiguously titled meeting for 9am the next day.
Turning to my husband, already in bed, I said, deadpan: "I'm getting laid off tomorrow."
The signs were certainly there. The VP of Marketing who'd hired me (creating a brand new role for me) had left a few months prior. The CEO of our business unit was also gone. New leadership at multiple levels. Lots of turnover across the company. A new focus for the business, following some devastating layoffs (900+ people) a few months prior.
And I was in a vulnerable position: a creative director, a role that didn't even exist before, on the marketing team of a global technology company that has never historically valued marketing or creative. With no one in my corner.
When I walked into that dark conference room and saw the sullen look on her face, I braced for impact.
"Called it," I texted my husband about 15 minutes later.
In the aftershock, I didn't feel sad. I actually laughed (albeit, a bit furiously and derisively) about it when I went back to my cube afterward and delivered the news to my team.
I'd never lost a job before. I had no idea how I would react. Tears? A beeline for the nearest grocery store to pick up a box of wine and Ben & Jerry's? I was amused to find that the fiery feeling immediately coursing through my veins was brazen determination. After several years of feeling incredibly burned out at corporate and agency jobs, this moment awakened my drive and motivation from wherever it was sleeping.
I still had to work at this job for another month, but they let me go home for the day. I didn't want to go home. It was 9:30am and I was highly caffeinated. Instead, I immediately drove to a Starbucks and fired off 9 or 10 "I'm a free agent, whatcha got" emails to former coworkers and bosses.
Even in that moment, somehow I knew I was going to turn this layoff into the best thing that's ever happened to my career. Maybe even one of the best things to happen to my life.
And already, I have.
It's been a few months since the layoff. My life now looks a whole lot different than it did before.
Here's what's changed.
1. I'm building a life that allows me the ultimate flexibility to work however I want, from wherever I want.
For a very long time, I've dreamt of being my own boss. Making my own hours. Working from wherever the hell I want. (My apartment in Dallas? Great. Buenos Aires? Claro, vamos!)
Obviously I love to travel, but eventually I'd also love to live abroad. So for a long time, I'd been plotting my escape from cubicle nation to start my own business. Join the league of digital nomads, of freelancers working from their laptops wherever a high speed connection can be found, even if I continued to live in the States for awhile as I got it off the ground.
Suddenly, I have no boss to tiptoe around. I can shout it from the rooftops. I'm 32, so I'm both young and experienced. I'm a damn good strategist with a solid portfolio and network of contacts. I have all the time in the world. Seriously. What better time to go for it than right fucking now?
And so my new journey has begun.
Just two months after quietly hanging up my virtual "open for business" sign as a social media and digital marketing consultant, I already have two clients. I haven't even really started trying yet, and it's already happening.
I know myself. If I hadn't been laid off, I would have sat on this idea for a few more years. I would have debated business names, service offerings, website layouts, and marketing copy endlessly. I would have let analysis paralysis stall my progress, and then gotten tired and gone to bed to get ready for my day job. Right back on the hamster wheel.
I've never felt more energized about the work I do for a living, because now I get to do it on my own terms. And for someone who has struggled with burnout, depression and anxiety along the way... that's a beautiful thing.
2. I'm taking more road trips & exploring the USA.
In this season of my life, I've never been more free. Free to explore, travel and see the world. But a fun little side effect of losing your job and starting a business? Limited cash flow. Womp womp.
So in the few months since this all began, I've begun to explore more of what's closer to home. If I can drive there, stay with someone for free, or snag a cheap flight, I'm there.
First, I took off to Austin to visit an old friend, crashing on her sofa (something I haven't done in years).
Then I flew to New Orleans with my husband for a long weekend, one of my favorite cities in the US.
A few weeks later, I went on a 10 hour road trip to Santa Fe with my mom. I knew she'd love Santa Fe, even though I had never been myself. We also stopped about halfway to hike Palo Duro Canyon, the second-largest canyon in the US.
This trip was especially meaningful. I'd proposed the idea pretty soon after the layoff, when I hadn't launched my business yet. I didn't know if I'd end up taking another job, which would render the trip a whole lot less likely. "I almost hope you don't get a job," my mom said. Me too!
I've been a workaholic for all of my life. I don't visit my parents as much as I should. When would I have another chance to spend that kind of extended quality time with my mom?
The idea of the Santa Fe trip actually helped motivate me to make the business work. I could taste the open road, the liberty of determining my own path. I became addicted to the feeling of freedom that accompanied the trip we were planning. I wanted to be able to do that anytime I wanted.
There's so much to see that doesn't involve flying across an ocean. But when you're burned out by a job that tells you where to sit for 8+ hours a day, you want to get as far away from it as possible on your limited days off. Will I continue traveling to the ends of the earth? Of course. But I credit losing my job for helping open my eyes to what's right under my nose.
3. I'm digging my heels into Dallas, the city I've called home for the past 7 years.
As an Army brat, change is my jam. When you grow up always moving every year or two, staying somewhere for more than 4 or 5 years starts to feel suffocating.
I've now lived in Texas for 20 years. T-W-E-N-T-Y. I've been in Dallas for 7. *faints*
After moving here from Austin with my now-husband (a Kansas and Chicago native), I told myself it would only be for a few years. Then we'd jump ship, and finally leave Texas altogether for somewhere a bit more exciting. Somewhere more cosmopolitan, cultural and interesting, less conservative. Maybe California? Hell, Europe? South America? As I said, expatriating was on the brain.
But then weeks turned into months turned into years. The job my husband took, the one we moved to Dallas for, turned into a highly specialized, in-demand career, in an industry that is most saturated in - you guessed it - Dallas. We made friends. We realized that Dallas, like all major cities in Texas, is pretty blue. We learned the cool parts of the city. And the city began to change, too. To feel a bit more like the parts of Austin we'd loved.
Dallas' job market is robust and healthy, and opportunity after opportunity presented itself. I developed a career in marketing, a reputation, a portfolio, and a strong network of contacts. In fact, part of why I'm so well positioned to start a business now is because of the career I was able to develop here.
A few weeks after the layoff, while scouring job listings in both Dallas and other cities, frustration mounted. I finally made a decision. Something had to give. I needed a change of some kind, whether that was an exciting job in a new city, or staying in Dallas and starting my own business.
It was clear to me: if I really decided to take this leap, there is no better place to do it than Dallas. The economy is strong. My network is here, my professional support system. Both of my first clients came through people I knew.
Starting a business would actually make me actively want to stay put.
Through my leap into entrepreneurship, I have a newfound appreciation for Dallas. Am I buying real estate here anytime soon? Probably not (the market is crap). But I'm not going anywhere for a while. And I'm finally genuinely happy to be here.
On that trip to Austin, I met up with Jennifer Balkan, an artist I've long admired. As I walked through her home and skylit studio, taking in the ambience and mementos of her everyday life, I realized I was getting a glimpse of the kind of life I wanted to build. Jennifer is quite successful and paints full-time for a living.
Yes, I'd love to make a living from my art, too. But more than that, I want the freedom that comes with gainful self-employment. I don't really care if it's a painting or a marketing strategy that pays my bills, just so long as it's me I'm working for.
When she introduced me to her husband, a musician, I mentioned that I'd recently been laid off - hence my appearance in his home from Dallas on a random Friday afternoon. Instead of the usual apologetic reaction, he lit up and enthusiastically said, "Congratulations!"
He couldn't have been more apt.
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