Immediately after losing my travel PR job, I found myself roaming around central London in a daze. At 11.30am, there were tourists, dog walkers and daytime drinkers in Regent’s Park’s rose garden, yet no one else in a shirt and smart trousers. Those people were all in offices, in jobs, in employment. How lost I suddenly felt.
While the firing had been unexpected and baffling with only a dubious reason given, it was also needlessly sinister: I had to clear my desk then and there under scrutiny. But any anger was overshadowed by anxiety. Until that moment, my sheltered, 31-year-old life had never endured such a setback. This sort of stuff only happened to other people. Or so I’d thought.
After getting fired, I walked around London in a daze
Luckily, I’d long been doing freelance writing on the side. In fact, travel journalism had been my intended career following a post-graduate diploma, only for a planned fortnight’s work experience in PR to unwittingly lead to a 10-year career curveball. There’s an echo here of J.K. Rowling’s story. The Harry Potter author lost a secretarial job after writing fiction during work hours. Like her, perhaps my real calling was always there, hiding in plain sight.
Needing to find a way to pay my pricey rent, I gradually made a writing income while robotically applying for replacement PR jobs to supplement it. Committing fully to journalism didn’t occur to me then. Freelancing felt far too ambitious and I couldn’t envision getting a sufficiently well paid staff job at a magazine or newspaper.
Adrian saw the redundancy as a sign and thought: ‘Let’s do this’
Unlike me, when Adrian Van Cooten, now 39, abruptly lost his digital project manager role at an insolvent creative agency in 2013, he had no such qualms.
“Until then, freelancing was only a vague Plan B,” he recalls. “It was never one I thought I’d actually have to initiate but when the redundancy happened I said to myself ‘It’s a sign; let’s do this.’”
Initially, Van Cooten admits, he was overwhelmed. “Especially by the administrative elements: I had to learn on the fly.” So, how soon did he begin to feel that being independent and going solo was viable? “As soon as I got my first paycheck.” He quickly became secure and confident enough to retrain as a freelance UX product designer and began winning awards.
Getting paid to visit Uganda certainly helped make it feel real
For me, it took a little longer to come around to the idea, despite journalism commissions arriving with increasing regularity. Eventually, I began to wonder if some business cards would help.
Then, suddenly, it hit me. Was I was actually doing this? Demonstrably, the answer was yes. So, I ordered some: “Richard Mellor, Freelance Travel Journalist”, they read, often catching me by delighted surprise.
More surprising was how much better I felt. Getting paid to visit Uganda, Machu Picchu or Tokyo certainly helped but it was more that I was energised and purposeful. My weeks became novel: I was forging my own fortune and gaining in self respect.
Redundancy led to Emily fulfilling a long-held dream
For Emily Bain, flexibility was the greatest win. After suffering an unforeseen redundancy while based at a media recruitment agency, the then 35-year-old opted to fulfil a long-held dream: establish her own recruitment company, alongside friend Claire Gray. After an intense opening period of two years, it soon let Bain fit her work around parenthood – and not the other way around.
“Having a choice of when to put your children first, in terms of nativity plays, sports days or working from home when they’re ill, isn’t a gift I’d have if I was still employed.” Bain & Gray’s success – the firm now has 15 staff and a $2.9m annual turnover – has also aided her own personal growth. “Obviously, I was stressed financially and my pride was dented,” Bain reflects. “But it was still the best thing to happen to me”.
I seized the moment and saw the setback as an opportunity
Likewise, I’d say. Which makes me wonder: would I ever have taken up freelance writing without being so roughly shoved? Possibly not. Where I will take credit, however, is in seizing the moment and seeing the setback as an opportunity.
I wish I’d known then how so many of the world’s great geniuses, including J.K. Rowling, endured career hiccups. Were you aware that Walt Disney was fired as a newspaper cartoonist for not being creative enough? Or that Steve Jobs was initially ousted from Apple, only to return as CEO, develop the iPhone and iPad and, arguably, revolutionize modern society. Without quite doing that, it’s fair to say that I have revolutionized my own life.
I could easily still be sleepwalking, if I hadn’t been forced to change
It’s unnerving now to look back and observe my apathy – and my total ignorance of it. The PR world left me unstimulated and stuck. I could easily still be sleepwalking through it today if I hadn’t been forced to make a change.
While more aware of his indifference, writer Nick Dauk relates. Although the 32-year-old American is now another wonderfully sated travel writer, that’s only thanks to suddenly being deprived of his broadcast operations supervisor role at a television channel in 2018.
“What scares me is knowing that I didn’t love the TV world, yet I still stayed put,” he discloses. “I wasn’t brave enough to take a chance.”
Nick loves his work now – and not only on the good days in Guatemala
Similarly, a globe-trotting journalism career has provided valuable perspective for him. “I love writing,” Dauk says with clarity. “Not only during good days on assignment in Guatemala or Italy but on the bad ones at home. That’s how I know I’m happy.”
Dauk recognises another sentiment of mine: being too quick as a postgraduate to identify a career. Even in the absence of pressure from anyone, parents or otherwise, there are still social norms to meet and bills to pay. It then becomes far easier to plough on, head down, than scarily consider a change of direction.
An atrocious day turned out to be the luckiest of my life
“I don’t say that just anyone can change industries and live happily ever after,” Dauk asserts. “Yet, if you can responsibly quit or are faced with getting severed, the best approach is to free your perspective from pigeon-holing. Treat it as an opportunity for something different – something that satisfies you.”
That’s exactly how it turned out for me. An atrocious, traumatic day turned out to be one of the luckiest in my life. I love my work now. What a rare gift and one that I’m only relishing because, eight years ago, someone fired me. Amen to them.
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Images: Richard Mellor & Unsplash