I realized the other day that it has been six months since I was laid off from my job as a newspaper reporter. Six months since one of my greatest fears came true. It already feels like an eternity ago that I was walking out of the newsroom with 11 years worth of detritus in a cardboard box, blinking back tears and wondering what was next. I had thought newspaper work was my life’s calling. I was once the promising young reporter who was going places, on the way up, winning awards and thinking the future was boundless. And then, there I was, signing up for unemployment.
I used to think that, without my newspaper job, I would dry up and blow away. I would have no career, no identity, no circle of people who understood the world the way I did. Since college, virtually all my friends, all my boyfriends (including the one who became my husband), were newspaper people. I thought that I couldn’t do anything else, that I could never find another way to earn a paycheck. I thought that if I lost my job, I would be poor, I would lose my house, I would lose myself.
Six months later, to my surprise, I have discovered that I can find another way to earn a paycheck. For nearly two years before I was pushed out the door, I searched for work and was rejected by one potential employer after another. I felt like a rat on a sinking ship, searching in vain for an exit. I was terrified and desperate. But after being laid off, I opened myself to the full range of possibilities. I started working on this website. I thought about the many different kinds of writing I could do. I thought about all the ways I could earn money — and all the ways I could save it, so I wouldn’t have to work as much. I considered part-time and contract work for the first time. And most importantly, with the security of my severance package and my unemployment benefits, I refused to make decisions based on fear.
In that new clearing I had made — away from the nightmare scenarios that played in my head as the news business spiraled downward — opportunity rose up to meet me. I am now learning the world of non-profits, working for causes I believe in and making enough money to pay my bills. I am also spending a lot more time with my 4-year-old daughter. Most days, that is a wonderful gift. Now, I see that the scariest thing is not losing your job, it’s having to stay in one that makes you miserable. I will do anything it takes not to get stuck in another job that saps my spirit the way newspapers did in those last years.
I cannot claim my new work life is perfect. I am starting over, learning a new field from the ground up. It is a challenge, a privilege and a great experience. But many days I feel completely incompetent. Sometimes I miss working in newspapers because, at least there, I knew what I was doing. I miss having a job that I felt confident in. And the future is far from certain. The work I have now may or may not continue. I remember my old performance reviews used to say, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” The answer to that question now is, “I haven’t the slightest idea.” That is exciting and frightening at once.
But the biggest and most important lesson I have learned in the past six months is that, with or without a newspaper job, I am still a whole and solid person. I used to think of the ranks of the laid-off as sort of shadowy, bereft. They were the ones cast off the island. But I don’t feel that way at all. I feel as alive and vibrant as I ever have, more full of a sense of possibility, more confident that I can survive in this big, scary world. I feel like I have finally made it to shore after far too long on a shrinking island.
This weekend, I sat on the beach and watched the evening light glowing in the dune grass. Amelia filled buckets in the surf as I sipped a cold beer. I thought about all those years of fearing that I would be forced out of the newsroom. My worst fear was realized, and I stepped outside and found this.