So, Kevin was laid off from his job about a month ago. I haven’t mentioned it until now, out of respect to him, but he’s given me the go ahead to tell you guys.
It was a bit of a surprise, as these things tend to be. He’d only been working at this job for about six months. It was a position he’d accepted after having spent the prior 18 months recovering from an 11 year career in advertising and post-production. That career had worked him constantly, always overtime, often on weekends, sometimes on holidays and he was, simply put, exhausted by it. It was a very joyful time in our lives when he finally left that career, since it was something he’d been hoping to do for a long time. He took the 18 months that followed day by day, exercising, enjoying Prospect Park, doing comedy shows, freelancing, doing voice over work and generally rediscovering who he was without such a demanding job weighing him down.
But after a year and a half of this relaxed lifestyle, he’d begun to feel a bit stuck and wasn’t sure what to do next. He decided to take this new job so that he could, to borrow a phrase from my friend Blue, shake up his snow globe.
Still, it was a big transition for him to return to the traditional work force this past January. He definitely experienced a bit of culture shock as he reacquainted himself with a daily commute, breakfast at his desk, lunch from a midtown deli and limited free time. But he’d decided when he took the new job that he’d do it for a year, and reevaluate his next steps when the year was up.
After the initial surprise of finding himself back in an office environment subsided, he was able to find parts of the job that he enjoyed. He was making new friends and business contacts and finding his groove. Despite this, he didn’t love being cooped up in an office, surrounded by people in close quarters all day long, and he had started to talk again this past June about what he’d do when the year at the new job was up. We’d joke around about moving to California or Spain, about quitting our jobs and opening up a café, buying and fixing up house in Red Hook, Brooklyn, or coming up with a new invention to sell for billions. But underneath all the goofy day dreaming we did together was a shared belief that we had (and still have) a unique opportunity – as a young, intelligent couple who doesn’t have children yet, the world is our oyster. And since we’re both big believers in the idea that there are no limitations in life and that nobody has to fill any role they don’t want to fill, we talked excitedly about being open to any possibility.
The day he got laid off, we’d met for lunch in Bryant Park, which we did occasionally. He’d made some random joke while we were enjoying the park, something I’d never heard him say before over our lunch meet-ups, that he’d better hurry back to the office or he was gonna get fired. Knowing he was a productive employee, I didn’t really think twice about his comment, other than to wonder if it was wishful thinking, or if there had been tension at the office that morning that made him feel like he had to keep his lunch hour short.
So I was stunned when I got a call from him that afternoon, telling me he was back in Bryant Park, and had just been let go from his job. He was stunned too, and couldn’t believe he’d off-handedly predicted it an hour earlier.
It was a story like so many of the stories I’ve heard from friends. (I know so many people who have been laid off. My improv team is made up of 7 performers and only 3 of us have kept our jobs in the last year.) His company wasn’t doing well, they had to make cutbacks, he wasn’t the only person who’s role would be changing, and they had to let him go. Yikes.
But then they offered him a few options, which is something that hadn’t happened to most of the people I knew who’d been laid off. Among them was the option to stay on as a commission-based employee who would work from home, and if he decided to do this they’d continue to pay for his health insurance! It wasn’t an ideal situation – having your salary taken away never is – but it was an opportunity to maintain a source of income, and it was a chance to get out of the stuffy office environment.
Being laid off is never easy, but he has been able to re-shift his mindset since that day from “I lost my job,” to, “I’ve been given the opportunity to work for myself, on my own terms.” He still wakes up with me every day and when I leave the house, he sits down to work. He’s been so productive and organized, working 10-12 hours a day to grow this new business for himself. He’s also been taking advantage of being home during the days – he wears whatever he wants, takes breaks to go for jogs or bike rides, eats breakfast and lunch from our home kitchen, and makes his schedule work for him. It can be a bit scary to work only on commission, and he’s still learning the ropes, but it’s a scenario that suits him very well right now. He’s able to focus in the quiet of our apartment, he’s fantastic at making connections and building relationships with people, which is 80% of this job, and he’s a hard worker, always pushing himself to get better at the role.
It’s been so inspiring (and enviable!) to see him bravely take on this unexpected challenge. It certainly wasn’t what he anticipated the second half of 2009 to look like, but he is a smart, capable, intuitive person and I know without a shadow of a doubt that he’s going to make this new opportunity work for him.
Also, be careful what you wish for. It might come true.