I never saw it coming if I’m going to be totally honest. There was nothing to indicate that this day was going to be different than any other day.
My boss scheduled a 1:1 with me and I was excited to talk to her about how well the project I had just delivered was going. I’d been working on it the whole year and it was finally live and performing beyond expectations. I was looking forward to bragging on myself and asking for the raise that had been promised to me 15 months prior. I had rehearsed what I was going to say all week and I was anxious, but confident, that this conversation would go well.
Like she did every week, my boss canceled at the last minute. I felt a little deflated, but I went on with my work, then headed out after lunch to pick up Alissa and finish my workday at home, the same way I did every Thursday.
Almost as soon as I had logged in and got back to work, my phone rang—it was my boss and the first thing she said was, “Hi Eunice, I have Melanie from HR here with me.” My heart started pounding and I dropped into my chair. I was being laid off and I had no idea it was coming.
“Oh, hi…” I tried to sound like I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but she continued.
“We are terminating your employment effective immediately due to a violation of the corporate credit card policy.”
I felt like I had been slammed in the gut with a wrecking ball. What? I haven’t even used my corporate card since March! “Um, what does that mean?” I asked.
“Melanie will go over the details of your separation with you.”
Holy shit. I’m getting fired! I could not believe what was happening. I started to feel a buzzing in my ears and my heart was now beating in my throat. I was speechless. I could hear a woman still talking to me, but I was not registering at all what she was saying. I had never been fired before.
It didn’t take long before I realized that my termination was one of those that was a mere excuse to avoid paying me a severance for my 5 years of service. I was less mad about losing my job than I was that the company I had grown to love had been so shitty to me to save a handful of money.
It took me about 45 minutes to process the shock of losing my job before emotionally, I was fine. After that, I consulted a few attorneys and learned that, thanks to at-will laws, it would be pointless for me to try to fight it. (I could get on a whole soapbox about how at-will laws allow so much workplace abuse that is not covered by the EEOC and it is beyond maddening, but that is a whole series of blog posts on its own.)
After that, I needed to figure out what I wanted to do. Prior to getting let go, I had toyed with the idea of going out on my own, but I wasn’t sure how to go about building a client base that would match the salary I was bringing in.
I had owned a photography business prior to the job that had just fired me, and I remembered all of the things I hate about running a business: the inconsistent cash flow, the up-front expenses, the ridiculously challenging clients, bookkeeping, and the constant and overwhelming feeling of the imposter syndrome. Nothing about doing that again sounded remotely appealing.
As I started interviewing with new companies, however, I really started to hate the idea of having to answer to someone else and for having no control over what was going to happen to me.
A few friends tossed me some freelance work while I was looking for jobs and I really enjoyed the freedom of being able to work on my own terms. I kept taking on small marketing projects here and there, and the first time I said no to one that sounded particularly horrendous, I felt a sense of freedom. No longer did I have to work with people that I really didn’t want to work with if I didn’t want to!
That was when I decided that I was going to start a business and work for myself again. The idea that I no longer had to take on work that I didn’t want to do left me feeling so empowered and light, it just made sense. I wanted the flexibility to work during the time of day that I am most productive (evenings and late night), rather than forcing myself out of bed at an ungodly hour and having to be functional before 10 AM.
It wasn’t easy—not at all. I worked three days a week at my friend’s coffee shop, and that, along with my unemployment check, kept me going for about six months. The pressure of needing to make ends meet to keep a roof over our heads triggered a lot of childhood trauma and made it really hard to show up some days. But I did it.
A little over two years later, I was far from “making it.” I was close to closing several projects which ended up losing funding at the last minute or the scope drastically changed and there was no money in it. I was frustrated that I just needed one thing to come through and I could breathe easy for a few months. I was racking up debt and seemed like actual income was impossible.
I had my car repo’ed. I was on the verge of being evicted. I was making $650 a month and there was not a single part of me that wanted to go look for employment elsewhere. Instead, I just wanted to persist and show myself (and my overly critical mother) that I could do this. As cliché as it sounds, I refused to believe that failure was an option. And going to work for someone else felt like a failure.
I kept making phone calls and connecting to opportunities and finally, I landed my big fish—the client that I needed to pay all of my bills and have some left over came through. It felt great. It felt amazing. Alissa even said to me, “wow, this new job is pretty baller, huh Mom? I’m really proud of you.”
We celebrated that fall by taking a trip to Mexico, all expenses paid, and I enjoyed a real vacation without worrying about money for the first time in almost a decade. We indulged, Alissa swooned over the “bougie” resort, and I realized that, no matter what, I always wanted to work like this: on my terms.
When the pandemic hit, I ended taking on an employee position with one of the clients I had been working for and that was a disaster. I quit almost three months ago without even thinking about what was next or where my next check was coming from. I didn’t care. I had to get out of there as soon as humanly possible. The situation had become untenable and it was literally killing me.
After I left that job, I finally unpacked the box that had been sitting on my floor for three and a half years. It was the box of my office stuff, packed up hastily for me by a colleague when I had gotten fired. It had been sitting on the floor of my bedroom since the day I brought it home. Every time I looked at it, I got so angry that I didn’t want to touch it. Not only was it holding a physical space in my room, but an emotional one as well.
As I went through the box, putting things away and tossing others, I felt an emotional weight lift from me. Not just for the time that the box held, but for the previous 11 months of stress, pain and abuse I had endured. I realized that I had been carrying an emotional weight of feeling not good enough for years and this new job had brought everything I had avoided dealing with after I was fired right to the surface every day. No job should ever make you feel like that. No amount of money or sense of stability is worth it.
Ten weeks later, I’m rested, relaxed, and healing from the emotional trauma that experience had on me, as well as the physical illness that had me hospitalized earlier this year. I’m back to doing my own thing again, this time focused on my writing, and I could honestly not be happier.
I know that entrepreneurship isn’t right for everyone, but if there is one thing that I have learned over the past half decade, it’s that it is definitely for me.
This post was inspired by a prompt or theme from illuminate. This monthly membership was created by the editors of The Kindred Voice to encourage more people to write and share their stories.
Be sure to check out other writers who have created on this month’s theme: Work
How Do You Define ‘Work’? by Adeola Sheehy
My Work is Never Done (a poem) by Mia Sutton
What Do You Do? by Hannah Kewley
They Say a Mother’s Work is Never Done by Leesha Mony
Working in the Margins by Laci Hoyt
You Gotta Work B**ch by Amy Rich
Labors of Love by Liz Russell
I Am a Writer by Christine Carpenter
Potted Houseplant by Crystal James