Of all the stuff that people warned me would happen in my twenties, redundancy wasn’t on the list. Traumatising heartbreak, toxic friendships, and post-uni breakdowns, I might have expected, but REDUNDANCY? Isn’t that what middle aged blokes go through just before they have an affair and buy a red convertible?
Unfortunately, it turns out that losing your job unexpectedly, and wondering what the f you’re going to do next, is also something that can very much happen when you’re 25. Brilliant.
But back to where it all started: how I first landed my job as a journalist. I discovered the blogosphere during my first term of an English Lit degree, and made a few friends who were all extremely stylish, and determined to break into the world of fashion magazines. And so I too did what any self respecting blogger in American Apparel disco pants did at that point, and also started applying haphazardly for internships. After a few months of putting things on coat hangers and making tea, I’d built up a CV of titles that I was pretty proud of. The only catch? I knew fashion wasn’t the right path for me, largely down to the fact I didn't actually care about clothes (sorry), and instead wanted to write about boybands, periods, and reality TV.
From here, I had a job in teen journalism at Sugarscape (remember Sugar Magazine? That’s the one, but make it internet) for four and a half years. Starting aged 20, I climbed my way from work experience, to fixed freelancer, to senior writer, and eventually, multimedia editor. It was interwoven with the roller coaster of my early twenties, and I grew up with that job as a huge part of me as a person. It was the thing in my life that I was unquestionably the proudest of - the part of me that really impressed people. It sounds cliche, but it really was my dream career, and also came with a team that were real friends. Anyone who’s worked in a creative role will know that you can’t help but put a lot of yourself into the job - it becomes a reflection of who you are as a person.
Fast forward to December 2016, and to find out that all that was about to be pulled from underneath me was a sucker punch. I was handed a letter and informed that the brand - and my job - would no longer exist anymore. Done. Finito. Over. Redundant.
Suddenly, life was on a quick-moving countdown until the day that I would be Officially Unemployed, which is an unexpected, terrifying place to find yourself in at 25. Wait, I was the *~successful~* one… This doesn’t happen to me. This is failure. My confidence took a huge hit.
After being told, I allowed myself some time to feel all the feels—to feel scared, confused, angry, panicked. The part of redundancy that I found the hardest to handle was the thought that I would never love a job as much as the one I’d had to leave behind. I struggled, and was left wondering what my purpose really was anymore.
And that's not even mentioning the financial and practical sides of the problem. For a while, I woke up feeling completely sick, with every worst case scenario running through my head. It’s impossible not to panic, because no income? No money. No money? No rent. That meant moving back up to my mum’s, which meant no close relationship with my boyfriend, and no friends nearby. Redundancy doesn’t just mean your job is gone, it means your whole life is put into reverse. A good night’s sleep? Oh, we don’t know her.
Life has a real knack of chucking a flaming fireball of garbage straight at your face when everything around you is going almost too well. I was happy, and then all of a sudden, I wasn’t - and I didn’t have a backup plan.
The lightbulb moment
But, along with all of those difficult feelings came some positive ones; motivation, ambition, determination. When it’s crunch time, they’re the ones that you HAVE to channel in the face of adversity, in order to move forward and make the best of a bad situation.
It was at that point that I reached out to every possible contact I could think of - everyone and anyone who could potentially provide a stepping stone into an obvious alternative - freelancing. I’d also been thinking about giving my YouTube, which I'd done for years as a hobby, more of a push. While it had only ever been for fun before, I decided that now was the one and only chance to give it a proper go.
For financial reasons, I set myself a strict time limit of three months to make freelancing happen. Those 12 weeks were touch-and-go at times, involving clinging onto commissions, some very strict budgeting, and constant rejection. It was a slow climb, but by some miracle, I managed it. By month four (and with all of my savings rinsed), I was matching the monthly earnings that I’d made in my full time job, and it started to feel as though actually, maybe, things were going to be okay.
It was an unwanted career move, but in the end it turned out to be the best one. Picking yourself back up after redundancy brings a huge sense of achievement. And, alongside that personal bonus, it turns out freelance life actually suits me a whole lot better. These things are often a blessing in disguise. Working to my own schedule is ideal for my brain, which often doesn’t work too well at 9am, but does get sudden bursts of motivation at midnight, for example. As a freelancer, I’ve been able to spread my wings with ideas, new companies, new challenges - much more than I ever did in a fixed role, where I would probably have stayed at the same, comfortable level for a long time.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t come with its downsides. Freelance income is unreliable by nature, and there’s days when I do really miss the safety blanket of a full time job. When I feel like I’m going nuts having spent four days in the flat, or the days when I’d like to have someone to walk to the corner shop with, I really miss having close colleagues. I miss team meetings when I’ve got a creative block, having someone to celebrate with when things go well, someone to bitch with when it all goes tits up.
But, ultimately, it was the best career move I’ve made. I ended up more independent, more creative, and making more money than I would ever have made in my old role. I’ve had global travel opportunities, worked alongside my favourite brands, and created content that really matters to me, for which I get to take the credit and enjoy the rewards, rather than see it go to the wider brand.
My advice if you experience early unemployment
If you find yourself in the same boat, don’t panic. Get everything in writing. Use the small amounts of control you do have to make the situation as smooth as possible—like serving your notice period while working from home. Speak openly and honestly about your worries to friends and family. Make sure that you’re looking after your own mental wellbeing, because it really takes a toll. Use the time to figure out what the hell you want in life, and how to realistically make that happen, because you might never get such a clean cut opportunity again to try something new. Set boundaries, budgets and time limits. Don’t get lazy - keep a daily structure, and utilise every email address that you can think of.
I’m a firm believer that (most, non-extreme-levels-of-shit) things really do happen for a reason, but I’ve learned that the time when that reason hasn’t quite manifested itself yet, is painful. It also taught me the somewhat bubble-bursting lesson that yes, you should love your job, but you are NOT your job. You are so much more than your job. Business should be separate from your happiness because you cannot rely on it, and instead you should dedicate as much time as you can to the other things that make you who you are.
I wasn’t ready to let go of a job I loved so much—but you very rarely are ready for a dramatic, left hand turn in life. It’s those shock moments that truly challenge you, and push you to go for what you really want, but might have been sleeping on.