How Losing My Job Propelled My Writing Career
I lost a salary with benefits and gained the freedom to do what I truly wanted.
At 16 years old, I began the pursuit of an English degree. My original thought was that I could use it to teach, maybe find some other “respectable” career path. When I made this selection, I knew that my mom probably wished I had inherited the interest in the medical field that nearly all of our other family members had.
What I wanted to do was get paid to write.
I imagined that I would be able to find a great writing job when I had my degree in-hand. Still unsure of how I would use it, I knew that it was a societal norm to earn a degree and quickly get your life started.
After college, I moved to LA. To make this work, I had to take the first job that was available to me — waitressing. It was convenient and it did the trick. I was able to scrape up just enough money to pay my $1,000 rent each month (for a studio apartment, by the way).
This was the sacrifice that I made to live in the heart of Hollywood. Four years went by before I finally reached my breaking point. All of the late nights, bad tippers, and waffle-scented t-shirts were finally telling me that I was ready to move on from this French cafe.
A Change in Pace
I typed “entry-level” into the Craigslist job search bar and began applying to everything that I could. I ended up going in for an interview with a small insurance brokerage. Honestly, I had no interest in getting into the field. I was a creative type with body modifications. I was apprehensive that the supervisor would ask for me to change my appearance, which I was entirely opposed to.
Surprisingly, she didn’t. I ended up getting the job on the spot and I entered the big world of insurance. I secured a 9–5 position, much different than my late-night restaurant shifts. I also had weekends off (finally!). Things seemed like they were going to work out well for me.
I learned a lot about the industry as I was mentored by my supervisor. Eventually, I even took my insurance license exam and passed on the first try. I was a true businesswoman now. I brought coffee from home in a travel mug, placed people on hold, and sold comprehensive insurance policies.
On paper, I was thriving. The company treated me very well and even offered me a raise shortly after I had been working there. Ah, so this is what it felt like to make a comfortable living. It was the first time in my life that I had felt this way.
I worked at this job for three years before I realized that I was going to move again. Life can be gloriously unpredictable. The city had served me well, but I had plans to move across the country. Surely, I thought, this was the end of the insurance road. Part of me was excited to start a new chapter, yet another part wondered if I’d find something else I was good at.
A few things had changed since I had been hired. I was the only agent left at that point. Yeah, crazy busy all the time. I was nervous to put in my notice because I didn’t know what would happen to the business once I was gone. I decided that I needed to give my notice a month in advance, just so the company wouldn’t tank. My boss surprised me with an offer that I couldn’t refuse:
I was told that I could work remotely from my new home state. I still had a job!
During this time, I was writing a little bit. It was mainly a hobby that came with an additional opportunity to earn pocket money. I secured a few small jobs here and there, but the insurance job was my livelihood. Imagining my new life, I envisioned that I’d be able to write a lot more — and I was very right. I knew that I was trading the city bustle for a country breeze. I pictured myself sitting on the porch with my laptop and a successful word count.
Welcome to Corporate America
The job with the mom-and-pop insurance brokerage worked out remotely for about four months before my boss realized that we couldn’t operate this way. It was a business that was just slowly sinking. She had to sell it.
I was told that I would be kept on the team, an important liaison to merge the brokerages. A merger was something that I had only ever seen depicted in movies. I didn’t quite know what that would change for me; I was hesitant to stay on board. The opportunity to continue working remotely persuaded me. I agreed to work for the much larger firm that ended up taking on our book of business.
The daily operations were a lot different under their leadership and I knew this because they flew me out for employee training that same month. I went from being the one who ran the show to another cog in the wheel. People there wore suits and had primped hair. I sort of felt in the back of my mind that this wasn’t going to work out. I also felt very out of place.
After I returned home, my remote job began. It felt brand new even though it was what I had been doing for the last four years. Insurance was still insurance for me. I operated on a Pacific Time schedule, assisted clients (both new and old), and attended mandatory virtual meetings.
Unsure about how this was going to work out, my salary served as a nice reminder that I would benefit from staying on board. With supplemental income from writing, I felt like I had it made.
A Loose Thread
On an ordinary Friday, I was particularly bummed about having to attend the virtual semi-weekly meeting. I was very busy with other things and I thought it was silly to have to pause my work to sit and listen to someone talk about something that didn’t even concern me. I was already feeling prickly.
Immediately following the meeting, my new boss called me. He asked me how I was doing, gave me a little bit of small talk to work with. Then, like cutting a thread loose from his sleeve, he fired me.
I had never been fired before.
Well, he let me go because there was “no more need” for my position. All I could think about was how confused my clients would be. In that instant, I felt like I had been used. My efforts in getting my clients acquainted with the new team were completely taken for granted.
I asked him if I had a few weeks to wrap things up and he said that the decision was effective immediately.
That was it. I was told to abandon my emails and never log onto the system again. Luckily, I was given a fair severance. I was also able to file for unemployment because, technically, I had been laid off.
Picking Up the Pieces
After hanging up the phone, I felt shocked and lost. That morning, I had a job. Hours later, I did not. A simultaneous wave of relief and anger flooded me. I quietly walked over to my partner and laughed a little too much. I told her what happened, how I was just…Let go.
This was a very trying time because my self-worth took a huge blow. I found it ironic that I still didn’t succeed, even in a “respectable” career with benefits and the works. I lost everything that I had trained for, but I know now that this is exactly what needed to happen.
I could have gotten another job in the same field. But, let’s face it, I didn’t like insurance to begin with.
Telling myself that I was going to do it, I committed to writing. I allowed myself one full day of sulking to heal my wounds. My emotions ranged from screw them for not valuing me to I’m the worst.
I knew that dwelling in the stress wasn’t going to serve me; it wasn’t going to pay my bills.
Momentum began to build. My several small writing projects turned into longer ones. I soon found a regular stream of work that allowed me to make an actual living. I was doing it — I was a “real” writer.
One of Many Lessons
Where I stand now, I realize that I have been a real writer all along. The amount of money that you make does not equate to the passion that you have. Even after all those years, I found my way back to writing. Or maybe, writing found me.
Losing my job was what it took for me to really go for it — commit to writing.
The days that used to be filled with dread based on how to handle angry customers have been replaced with anticipation of how I’m going to get my message across or how I’m going to explain ideas. Standing firm in the belief that it is never too late, or too soon, to go after what you want, I encourage you to leap.
Apply for that position. Write that E-book. Start a new publishing company. Leave the job that you hate.
I still write full-time. I do this from home, usually in my pajamas. Medium is a new endeavor for me and I am thankful that the platform exists. I know that I’ll be sticking around for a long time.