What I learned from being made redundant — twice

I’m 27 years old and in my five year career span I’ve been made redundant twice. That aside, I’ve had four jobs within that period, all from completely different sectors, though the common ground is that they were all in Marketing. Suffice to say, I kind of feel as if I’ve been through enough professional scenarios than some people might have done until they get to their 40s. I’m hoping that’s going to pay off for when I do hit my 40s :/

I don’t know if you can call my last redundancy a redundancy either. I was on probation for the first six months and they decided to let me go because they wanted to take a different approach to how they structure their Marketing team. I don’t get bogged down by the semantics but I have my reasons for referring it to as a redundancy based on the rationale of how that decision came about and how it was executed.

That redundancy was in Jan 2016 and I just started my new job in Nov 2016. And some very interesting things happened during this gap, all of which have fundamentally changed the way I approach myself, my work and my goals. This change is also intrinsically linked to some personal experiences that have paralleled my professional ones, and so my own learnings go much further than the outline below. Nevertheless, here’s a snapshot for the ones who may be remotely interested…

Saying no

During my gap I freelanced part time in Marketing and worked part time in retail for Jo Malone. Last time I was made redundant at the age of 24, I jumped into my next job, but this time I decided I wanted to give things the time they may need to unfold; I didn’t want to rush into another job which probably wouldn’t be right for me or I for the company, and I also wanted to take the time to properly determine what I wanted and what I have to offer. During this period I was offered two jobs which seemed great on paper, but upon closer inspection there was something not quite right. I’ll skip over what wasn’t right and just hone in on the point that for the first time I learned why sometimes you need to turn down a good opportunity. And despite the uncertainty at that time, I don’t regret turning those offers down at all.

Falling madly in love with the process

I’ve worked part time in retail since I was 16 all throughout my studies and it was fine, I liked it but didn’t think too much of it, certainly not as a career path on the shop floor (although I should point out that the amount of skill needed to run a store is second to none. It’s a highly undervalued and underpaid industry). There was something different about how I worked when I went back into retail this time. When I was 16 working at Peter Jones on the weekend, all I could think about was getting through the day. Now I cared about and valued every little thing that I was doing during the day.

I remember this moment distinctively; I bent down behind the tasting bar counter in Jo Malone to pick up some lotions, and in that exact moment a fleeting thought passed, that being, in the broader scheme of things regarding what I want to be doing, this is pretty far off. And you’d think that if you feel far off from your mark, that will then lead to a whole host of negative feelings and perceptions about how you see yourself and your life. And yet it did the complete opposite, I felt so empowered. A switch flipped where my focus was on what I was doing wholeheartedly, as opposed to where I was trying to be. And that completely changed my perspective. What I’m doing may not be quite right compared to where I’d like to be, but what I am doing right now, I absolutely love it. I love the interaction, the product, my team, the visual identity of the brand that I get to enjoy every day and going by the feedback I got from my customers, I was tangibly making a difference. Furthermore, perfecting this process and becoming as obsessive over it as much as the end result changed my relationship with how I work, which further changed my thoughts on what ‘work’ actually is. Whether I’m cleaning the floor or holding a board meeting, my effort and performance was no longer dictated by what I’m doing.

Ironically, upon leaving the store I read Jo Malone’s autobiography in which she beautifully nips this point in a bud:

“Some people asked at the time why I’d work with McDonalds when my brand was high end luxury, but I felt that enquiry spoke more to a very British obsession with class than it did to my reason for doing the project. Whatever I do, and with whomever I work, my creativity is never compromised — the beauty and luxury lies in the bottle, not the point of sale.”

Perfecto.

Saving face?? Oh no honey. My face is too busy looking ahead.

I mentioned this point in an earlier post about how to hire a kick-ass marketer; the (bizarre) battle between reputation and authenticity (bizarre because it’s weird that it can been seen as a binary; there’s clearly something wrong if authenticity doesn’t precede reputation). We all want to be seen as being worthy, capable, deserving and successful (I think), all the things which redundancy — in theory — strips away from us (I’m skipping over the debate on how everything is only what we make it, which on a side note I totally agree with). And even though you may not see yourself that way, you can’t help a future employer or anyone else from seeing it that way. As a marketer, I’m great at reframing things, and that’s exactly what I did for the first four years. I reframed my set backs, which is exactly what everyone should be doing…but I was doing it for all the wrong reasons (I’m sure I’m not alone). I should be reframing adversity to learn from it and extract real value, not from wanting to be seen in a certain way. If I’m learning and adding value, the right people will see me in the right way.

Additionally, I already feel too exhausted at the thoughts of keep up appearances which I naively thought was an intrinsic part of working life (it isn’t. You’re part of the wrong culture if it is). And if I’m making my choices for the right reasons, this issue of keeping up appearances doesn’t even come into the equation. So this is my story. If you like it, great. Let’s work together. Even if you don’t like it but respect it, great let’s work together. If you don’t fit into the above, I’ll respect that too and you can go hire someone else whose story matches the one that’s in your head. And I’ll be off to my find a company that is ‘my people’.

Why finding the right company matters

You know the people who say there’s no such thing as a perfect job, or they have to reluctantly do what they’re doing because of the benefits, even though they’re still miserable? Don’t believe them. And that’s not to say you should naively job hop, hold out for years for a job you like or neglect your responsibilities. But instead it’s more to do with the process and refusing to settle. Don’t settle. Don’t set up camp somewhere that you are clearly unhappy, you feel you don’t fit into the culture or don’t care about what the company is trying to achieve. We all need a paycheck granted, but take it from someone who has had four jobs in four years, there really is a HUGE difference between working somewhere where you feel like you belong, and somewhere that’s just paying the bills. Additionally contrary to popular beliefs, feeling like you belong somewhere may not necessarily generate happy feelings; purpose has nothing to do with happiness. It’s a nice byproduct but it doesn’t mean if you don’t feel good about something it’s not purposeful. Nobody likes cardio but we all want the benefits of it. If I wasn’t made redundant, it would never have highlighted what I care about and what kind of organisation I’d like to be a part of.

Every company is similar; they all have similar structures and all care about the bottom line, but what differentiates them is how they execute those structures and how they approach detail; it’s how companies manage the nuances that make the world of difference. I don’t believe that the grass is ever greener on the other side, nor should it be if you’re diligently watering your side however, you do need to ask yourself; do I even want grass? I actually like the look of a patio.

Crafting a professional identity; A woman in the workplace

This probably deserves a post in its own right to be fair. I’m going to flag up a disclaimer: this is specifically about me and my perspective and my life choices (all that have come about from my upbringing, exposure and personality) it’s not a generalisation nor is it attempting to speak on behalf of anyone else. So now that that’s cleared…

It’s fair to say that we live in a patriarchal society; the structures that we have were built by men, for men, to measure men. Especially professional structures (don’t test my history but it wasn’t too long ago that women were not allowed or expected to work). And it’s fair to say that science says men and women are wired differently and our brains solve problems very differently. And so, during my first few years in the working world, I tried really hard to mould not just my working style, but pretty much most communication into that of what will be stereotypically classified as masculine.

Furthermore, there is more light shed on successful men than women, and even less so on successful ethnic women (maybe because there aren’t that many? Hmm) I tried to remould myself because I naively thought that if I don’t I’m going to fail.

But I’d often trip over myself when trying to reshape my thinking and communication because it wasn’t coming naturally to me. A banker once said to me that my thoughts were too convoluted because I kept jumping from one idea to another. Now…I’m not denying that I can improve my communication, I most definitely can, constructive feedback is good, but I couldn’t help but think — am I convoluted because you can’t keep up with my thought processes or because what I’m saying is genuinely incoherent. Considering he didn’t seem disengaged and we continued talking for another hour, I can’t imagine it being too much of the former. It’s stuff like this which made me reassess my working style.

And whilst I appreciate that the point is to communicate in a way that will be heard, there becomes a fine line between losing your own voice and adapting it so it’s heard. Because it turns out that it doesn’t matter how polished and amazing you are, sometimes other factors end up carrying more weight. If this is the case, I don’t think I want to move forward whilst attempting to change (unnecessarily) my approach just because it’s unfamiliar or less preferred (for no commercial reason) when really the issue is that it happens to be different from what’s expected (again for no commercial reason, just out of habit).

I should be able to convey passion, ambition, teamwork, leadership, and should be able to be effective, efficient, deliver results without forcing myself to be like anyone else. I shouldn’t need to dominate to get my point across. I shouldn’t need to look at other people and be competitive to strive to be awesome at what I do (inspiration on the other hand, always helps) and I shouldn’t need to suppress my emotions to be seen to be professional or taken seriously (I’m skipping over elaborating the obvious point about where boundaries should be).

I absolutely want to explore ways of using my gender appropriately in the workplace.

The feminine mindset is different from the masculine, and nor are they assigned to a particular sex; everyone has masculine and feminine traits but in the workplace it’s the masculine set which takes lead. And I think I’d like to now try doing business with predominantly a feminine one….within a patriarchal structure. Getting laid off didn’t make me feel hesitant about trying anymore. One of the most unpleasant professional scenarios has already happened to me, twice over, before I even managed to even get my career off the ground and build self esteem. I think I’ll be ok from here onwards.

It’s not personal… It’s poor decision making

Well, that’s true for my circumstances. Both times I was hired because the companies were trialling something, and both times I got laid off because they changed their minds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a reasonably business savvy woman so can totally understand that you can’t foresee how things will pan out (and would actually support me getting laid off it meant the company will do better; I don’t really want to be somewhere that doesn’t want me). But this helped me to very quickly materialise a core value of mine which had been bubbling at the back of my head for a while, that being; everything I do, I do with longevity in mind. And where longevity is concerned, there’s no such thing as poor decision making, just circumstances unfolding not according to plan. There’s a difference between the two.

Probably the most valuable insight I gained as a young woman in such circumstances was not only that I can bounce back, but I get wiser, smarter, stronger, more business savvy, more in tune with who I am and what I want every time and learn how to lead myself better, which teaches me how to connect and lead others better, as well as strengthen my audacity in going after it against all odds. Not because I’m deserving, worthy, intelligent or exceptional, but because I’m passionate, committed, resilient, a visionary and willing to work for it. I hope you are too.