I am standing on the pavement outside my office at 2.34PM on a Thursday. People in business clothes stride purposefully past, heading towards important meetings or coffees with colleagues. These activities seem alien to me now – the day-to-day mundanities of a world I’m no longer part of.
I’d always wondered what people do directly after finding out they’ve lost their jobs. Where do you go? Who do you tell? What do you do with yourself?
As it turns out, the answer is relatively straightforward: smoke a fag, call a friend, put one foot in front of the other until you reach the door of a pub, drink the day into oblivion with aforementioned friend. Wake up foggy-headed the next day, even less capable of putting back together the pieces of the colossal puzzle that your future has now become.
It’s not like the word “redundancy” was unfamiliar to me. After seven years working in the media, I’d lost count of the amount of friends, foes, colleagues and acquaintances who had disappeared beyond the doors of HR, never to be seen again. I presumed there’d be some level of fanfare though – perhaps a highlight reel of my “best bits” set to a sad-but-ultimately-uplifting Kelly Clarkson song – as I gallantly walked out of the office door.
Instead, it was a Slack message that sealed my fate. Earlier on that Thursday, I received a DM from the company’s head of HR: “Hi Rose, please come to the meeting room 🙂”.
Among the many things that I’d lose in the course of the ensuing conversation – my job, my sense of security and stability, my future plans – I left having gained one invaluable piece of insight: how gut-wrenchingly inappropriate it is to use a smiling emoji to summon a meeting where you will tell someone they’ve lost their job.
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, though. The six months I’d spent in that job were some of the most turbulent of my life. The company had a high rate of staff turnover, so I never felt fully settled in my role, which involved producing international events. When I heard the ping, I knew exactly what was happening. Although I felt sick as I walked towards the meeting room, I was also relieved. Months of second-guessing, worrying and paranoia about my job were now replaced with stillness. I listened to the HR manager, feeling my head nod up and down as I mutely ingested the information.
When you lose your job, the way you view time changes too. Instead of planning summer holidays in far-flung places with your mates or weekend jaunts to the seaside, you become firmly rooted in the present. You pare back on plans and try to get a hold on your expenditure. You cling onto any semblance of routine you can find.
Mainly though, you wonder how on earth you are going to fill your days. What am I going to do for the next hour? The next ten minutes? Does this make me a failure? Shit. Will I ever find a job again?
Exercise helped. So did regular phone calls with sympathetic friends. Slowly but surely after that fateful Thursday, my emotions began to settle and things felt different – more manageable. I decided to see my redundancy as an opportunity. I would stop being scared and pursue the dream I always had of becoming a writer. I had no idea what tomorrow would look like, or next year but instead of feeling terrified, I felt energised.
Today, I make my living as a freelance writer. More than any other lifestyle change, it has contributed the most to my general sense of wellbeing. I feel more secure than I ever did working for other people – no longer dependent on the whims of managers or heads of HR – and have far more agency over my direction in life.
Sometimes, it takes a jolt from the blue or a ping from your laptop to shake you into living. Reconsidering what you actually want is scary, but the ups and downs and lefts and rights it takes you on are worth it. I wouldn’t change that Slack message with its wildly inappropriate smiley for anything.
Because, ultimately, it forced me to take ownership over my future in a way I couldn’t have otherwise, after years of sleep-walking through my life.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.