I admit it: it took me a long time to get over being laid off from my job a few years ago. It was a long period of recovery, and a long struggle with my anger and resentment over what had happened.
To understand why I was so reluctant to let go, I have to explain the dreams, the years and the effort that it took to get to that pinnacle in the first place.
And the "pinnacle" was a dream: a paying job as a writer.
Words and stories have been pouring out of me since I was a little kid. I loved slipping into other worlds and other identities in books, and I loved reading newspapers and watching the news to absorb the world around me. I loved to write and create my own worlds. I was eager to write as a kid. My first grade teacher once took my desk away because I was writing on it; my response, of course, was to write on the floor instead.
I'd been told many times by my call-them-as-they-see-them friends and family that I was a bullshit artist. I just never thought I could make money at it!
My dreams as a child certainly included being an author or a reporter. But as childhood flowed into adolescence, I spent more time living in a virtual war zone at school, trying to fend off verbal and physical harassment on campus by students (and eventually, by faculty). I lost my way at school, and my lack of preparedness nipped my college dreams in the bud.
So I jumped into my reality with both feet. I worked dozens of the crappiest jobs in the world for less than no money. Eventually, I did get a job that allowed me to be around books again, working for a big corporate book retailer. From there, I segued into the corporate world, and eventually carved out a reputation for myself as an organized problem solver - one who spotted trends and issues and came up with inventive solutions.
But in the back of my mind, I was still a writer.
Internet access was a transformative thing; it allowed me to read and comment on articles in newspapers and magazines. To my delight, nearly every comment I ever sent was printed. I attended a business writing seminar. The leader had a "second job" selling freelance pieces to the local paper.
I pitched. They bought. I was hooked.
For several years, I wrote dozens of freelance pieces for that paper. I also because a contributing writer for a leading Web site on daytime television, and a contributing writer for a great new magazine that launched covering local LGBT people and issues.
So when an opportunity came in Spring 2008 to get paid for writing, I grabbed that opportunity and ran with it.
It meant a great deal of change, of course. I was moving to Chicago! And any move is not without risks and choices. It was a take it or leave it. In order to take it, I had to leave behind where I was, which included a job and a small pension I was mere weeks away from vesting in.
But forture favors the brave. Or so I thought.
I enjoyed my job and I believed things were going well. There was a little bit of culture shock, to be sure. For most of the last ten years, I'd been one of the youngest people (if not THE youngest) at any job I'd worked. But at this new job, I was the old man. That's a bit disconcerting when you're thought of yourself as a ageless, timeless hipster.
But my boss seemed pleased with my work, and at every review checkpoint, every opportunity for feedback, I heard good things.
I remember being in the office that December day. Rumors of layoffs had surfaced on an industry Web site. My boss was in Europe and we were so busy. I remember thinking, They can't lay me off. We're so busy.
They can lay me off. They DID lay off three hundred people that day, and I was one of them.
I had a delayed reaction. A few days after the layoff, I took a scheduled trip to New York City to visit the set of one of the daytime shows I wrote about. It was the stuff of dreams - being on set, meeting actors and writers, seeing the CBS Broadcast building and absorbing television history. It was awesome. I was distracted. Christmas came, and that's a great distraction.
And then, around those first days of January, the anger set in. The rage. Why? Why me? Why so soon?
And that quickly turned to a long stretch of self-examination - and self-doubt. I doubted my abilities, my achievements, and myself. In my head, I revisited and reexamined every interaction, every event, every article I'd ever written, looking for clues, trying to assign blame for what happened.
Millions of people have been laid off in the last few years. And though it's primarily about external factors that have very little to do with anyone's job performance, it's hard as the recipient of the pink slip not to take it personally.
Even after I got a new job, the abbreviated Dream Job remained a sore subject for me. I was still angry, even a year later. The conflict became comic; my former company seemed to be haunting me, their logo appearing in odd places, everywhere I looked. At one point, I saw the man who fired me on TV several times within a few weeks. I'd turn the TV on and voila, there he was. I had to laugh, but it did seem like fate was giving me a giant middle finger.
I'm happy to say that, although I'll always be sad (and a little sore) at what never was and what could have been, I finally let go of my anger, my stress, and all of the negative feelings about being let go.
The main reason I'd felt so bitter, so defeated and so dazed about it all initially was not just the loss of something I felt I'd walked a long road to get to. I think it was the feeling that I was defined by that loss. And it was the feeling that the layoff had somehow blocked off all roads leading to the future. It was, perhaps, a feeling that I could no longer be a writer.
But time healed my anger. Achievements at my new job have diminished any self-doubt. And as for feeling like the roads to the future are blocked - well, I took those matters into my own hands and decided to return to college. It will be a challenge, but my writing and reporting skills will grow, and I'll have a degree that outlines those skills and talents.
My current job will be ending soon, but it's ending because I gave notice. So this time it's ending on my terms, in my own time. And that's a great feeling, too.
So is letting go.