I arrived at the office like any other day, armed with a tupperware container of carrots and celery with hummus. I walked through the halls where people were looking downcast, hushed whispers crawling along the walls. I was feeling anxious about the state of my job and the publication we were running at the time. I had a meeting scheduled in the morning - “team update meeting”. I mentioned it to a colleague. She looked confused. What team update?
I went back to my desk and my boss was waiting for me. He asked if I wanted to go for a walk to chat, grab a coffee. I said ‘No I’m okay, I have this iced coffee I brought from home. I’m trying to save money by bringing snacks from home,’ I explained as if this was the most normal day in the world. He nodded like he wasn’t really listening and said we should probably go for a walk anyway. He waited until we were in the lift before turning to me and saying that he had just lost his job after 12 years with the company. I quickly realised that the “team update meeting” was between me, a HR rep and the head of the entire department. Half our team was axed, myself included.
This was my first official redundancy and I was in complete panic mode. I had no back up plan. After a few days I hunkered down and got to work. I became resourceful. What did I have already and how could I use my skills? The process of finding another job was painstaking and difficult, but I quickly realised I didn’t necessarily want to jump into another permanent position, particularly in the media industry which felt volatile at the time.
Reaching out to people and being vulnerable about losing my dream job, helped me find new opportunities
Instead my co-worker, who had also been cut from the team and miraculously was still able to think of other people, recommended me to a former colleague about taking on a six-month full time contract as a social media lead on a project. At first I was hesitant - I was waiting to find out about a role I was super keen on and working for another high profile media company. When that didn’t work out, I immediately said yes to the contract, which had been offered to me straight away.
With every setback, there was always one thing that kept me going. This contract allowed me the flexibility to both work on my own projects and it gave me a solid end date that I could prepare for. It meant my holidays weren’t paid for anymore, I had less security because I could lose a contract at any given moment and no sick or personal leave. But it set me up with an agency that sorted out payroll, super and all the admin, and who would check in to make sure things were working out.
I worked harder than I have ever worked during that half of the year. I remember travelling for work in Grafton and staying up until midnight finishing a social media strategy, knowing I had to catch a plane at 5am the next day. Around that same time I had been going home and listening to lectures and tutorials and preparing applications for the Walkleys Incubator and Innovation Program in the hopes that I could keep going with the publication idea I’d had previously.
On the way to the airport, my manager asked me about this project I had been pitching for. I told him about it and that I was also working on a manuscript for a workshop in October. He said, you know, maybe media isn’t your calling. Maybe the manuscript is the thing you should focus on. I laughed at this suggestion, because we were both delirious from the early flight. But the thing is; I now had all of these options I could explore and could actively discuss them with my employers, since they knew that this was a temporary gig.
Those six months soon became a call to arms to reassess what it was I really wanted to do with my life. Reaching out to people and being vulnerable about losing my dream job, helped me find new opportunities and realise that there is always something out there if you know where to look, you’re open to new and unusual opportunities and if you’re willing to email and ask friends of friends if they can keep an ear out for you.
Having no choice in the outcome—me getting booted out on the same day I brought carrot sticks like some kind of Bugs Bunny of redundancy—forced me to take a good hard honest look at the path I was taking, whether I was happy and to question: what did I really want out of my career? In the past what I had considered to be various dream roles, were on reflection, often unsustainable and at times thankless. You dedicate your whole life and all your thoughts to building something you’re proud of. Many industries we look to as beacons for the future, are sometimes holding us back with archaic structures, inflexibility and an unquestioning stance on how things should be done. At the same time, they’re happy to exploit young people when it’s beneficial for them, like working unreasonably long hours and unpaid internships everywhere.
Working on your own terms also makes it easier to have independence and decide the most ideal ways of working
By making changes to my routine and structure, I found myself making more time for my health, getting regular check-ups and adding “SEE DOCTOR” to my to-do lists, as well as trying out new forms of exercise. Things like working on a schedule that suits your habits and making sure you’re getting enough sleep also lessens anxiety (if rigid office structures induce anxiety for you).
Working on your own terms also makes it easier to have independence and decide the most ideal ways of working. Don’t want to spend the morning answering emails or attending endless meetings? Answer emails in the afternoon and do all your creative thinking in the mornings. Taking risks and a leap of faith can be scary but it teaches us how to be courageous at the same time.
Short term roles, contracts and freelancing: although stressful in their own way, they do come with the freedom and flexibility of doing things more on your own terms. You can concentrate on your well-being and your life. Don't be afraid to move from job to job. The world won't end if your job has an end date. It can actually be good for you, help you to reassess what you really want to be doing in your career. This is why we’re moving to flexible working conditions and becoming your own boss. It also shows our employers that things aren’t so rigid anymore and that one thing young people prioritise more and more is mentorship, training, learning new skills and advancing their careers and trying new things. The important thing is finding the option that works for you. Take the leap.
Sheree Joseph is a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @tinyfleu
'The Employables' airs every Wednesday at 8.30pm on SBS. Episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere via SBS On Demand. Catch up on Episode One here: