They said it had nothing to do with my job performance. COVID-19 hit the startup hard and the CEO had to redo the entire business strategy.
But it still sucked to be laid off.
One other guy and I were the only ones who had to go. Everyone else who stayed had to take pay cuts.
I was crushed. I felt like a loser.
I was angry, too. I hoped that the startup would lose more customers and shut down.
They said that it was nothing personal and that I would receive support to find a new job.
I believed them, despite my anger and sadness.
But getting laid off still hurt so much.
Then things went from bad to worse
A week after the layoff, the government announced that it would impose a month long “circuit-breaker” to curb the spread of COVID-19. Later, they extended the circuit breaker by another month.
I couldn’t go on a solo trip. I couldn’t meet up with friends. I had to be cooped up at home as much as possible.
Not that I didn’t like being alone. As an introvert, I am used to doing things on my own for long stretches of time.
But it’s hard to deal with the emotional fallout of a layoff while confined to my home. The first two weeks of the circuit breaker were the hardest. I was angry and sad about the layoff. Fearful of the pandemic raging outside. Frustrated at the restrictions on my movements.
It felt like I had lost control over parts of my life.
“Rejection is redirection”
A friend told me this when she heard about my layoff.
I had spoken and text conversations with more than 10 people during the circuit breaker. Ex-colleagues, family, friends, and acquaintances. We talked about my situation, the pandemic, and our hopes and fears. It didn’t really matter what we talked about. What mattered was that I was having conversations. Without these conversations, I would surely have slid into a deep depression.
I told everyone that I was going to take a sabbatical of at least one month to take care of myself and figure out what to do next. No job hunting during this sacred me time. It’s not like there are many job opportunities out there anyway. Not when so many businesses are shutting down or cutting costs, and people say that there’ll be a recession.
Rejection is redirection.
But where to?
Precession says to move forward
When life does not go according to plan, I remind myself about the concept of precession.
The idea is to keep moving forward, in any direction. The mere act of moving is powerful, because motion opens up possibilities for discovery, growth, and change.
Or, as Marshall Thurber describes it:
“When you are in motion, precession happens. Set goals, but watch what happens out of the corner of your eyes, because that is where the excitement is.”
The ongoing global pandemic has made the future so uncertain.
When will we be able to travel freely again? Will scientists be able to develop a vaccine soon enough? How long will the COVID-19 induced recession last? Etc.
It’s stressful to think of what might or might not happen. To keep myself sane, I try to focus on the present as much as possible. The present is all I have and it’s up to me to make the best use of it.
What forward looks like to me
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” ~ Toni Morrison.
As an artist, my work is never done. There are so many things that inspire me. So many things that I want to learn so that I can create better art.
The day after my layoff, I resumed drawing with a vengeance. I had been drawing almost every day for the past few years. Usually about half an hour to two hours a day. But now that I have plenty of free time, I could go all in on my art. I resumed a Udemy course on anatomy for figure drawing. I challenged myself to draw more difficult poses. Through text messaging with my art teacher, I learnt a new lighting technique. I grew so much in terms of art in April and May.
I wrote. On my birthday, I posted my birthday 2020 blog post on Facebook and it quickly became one of my best-performing blog posts in terms of engagement. Writing has always been the most accurate way for me to express myself. If my story resonated with people and brought them comfort during these tough times, even better.
I ate well and cooked more often for my family.
I exercised and took care of my body.
I even completed the self-inventory exercise in What Colour Is Your Parachute and learnt more about myself.
For all the crap that COVID-19 caused in my life, it did force me to slow down and enjoy life. It’s hard to do that often when I worked in the dynamic and fast-paced startup environment.
I could take things one day at a time. Savour the present. Appreciate the little but precious things. Rain after days of hot and humid weather, cake on my birthday, a well-cooked meal, people who care about me, etc.
This is precession. Moving forward, while being aware of the things going on around me. Trusting that eventually, somewhere along the way, exciting opportunities would open up before me.
One day, I got a call
I didn’t recognise the number, but answered anyway.
“Are you Ying Yi?”, an unfamiliar woman asked.
“Do you have a moment to talk?”
“I’ve got good news, about the job you applied for…”
This was the only job I bothered to apply for during my self-declared “no job hunting” sabbatical. I did it because a friend referred me to the job opening, which was not even publicly available. The role was with a world-famous tech company and a good opportunity for career advancement. I didn’t think I stood much of a chance, but applied anyway. I had nothing to lose.
As it turned out, I got a job offer.
After the call, I kept smiling. I wouldn’t say that the layoff was a blessing in disguise, as my Mum put it. The emotional fallout was painful and stressful to deal with. But it gave me freedom. Freedom to pursue my passion projects, to pause and re-evaluate my life, to seize new opportunities.
A new chapter in my life will begin next month.
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