A woman smiling with her eyes closed and her knees built

I remember the first day I woke up unemployed.

I slept way past my usual 7 a.m. alarm all the way to 8:45 a.m. I remember feeling somewhat relieved yet confused about why I wasn’t that worried. Mostly, I remember feeling like something was missing. I stared up at the ceiling while my cat was pleasantly surprised to get some extra snuggle time. When the coast was clear and my roommate had left for work, I got up to make coffee.

While my coffee brewed in my french press, I let my mind wander with questions and scenarios. I had always been career-driven. Who was I without a job? I was always the person who always planned ahead. Who was I without a back-up plan? I was always an overachiever. Did this mean I failed or was it a sign that I was meant to achieve something bigger? I was always hyper-focused on security. Was I ready to rely on myself?

That day, I remember getting ready as usual. I took my coffee, walked around the park and got honest with myself. I walked around thinking about who I’d been and who I wanted to be. Along that walk, I realized now, more than ever, I had full control over the direction I wanted to go. Every step I took that day was curious, mindful and conscious as I reevaluated my life’s course.

I realized now, more than ever, I had full control over the direction I wanted to go.

With every step, I got closer and closer to grasping that getting laid off might’ve been a blessing in disguise. This was an unexpected detour, sure, but maybe it was coming to me because I had been too busy or too blind to realize that I had been going in the wrong direction this whole time.

I had been chasing security when I could’ve been chasing dreams. I had been aiming for raises when I could’ve been aiming to raise the bar. I had been looking for reasons to leave the corporate world behind, and here I was on the outside—in the middle of Central Park on a Tuesday before noon.

I saw the whole world in front of me. Yes, it was fuzzy. Yes, it was scary, but, even in the murkiness, I saw an opportunity. This was my moment to stop daydreaming and start building. This was my chance to make a name for myself outside of an email signature. This was my time to create something that I believed in, that made a difference and that rattled my soul.

This was my moment to stop daydreaming and start building.

One part of me thought about how I’d miss the routine and comfort of sitting at the same desk each day. Yet, another part of me lit up with the idea that my office could literally be anywhere. One part of me worried about how I could possibly afford rent in New York City without a full-time job. Yet, another part of me reveled in the chance to prove my ego wrong. One part of me thought I was crazy. The other part of me, well, she knew I was crazy—crazy enough to believe in myself.

I spent the next few weeks on a rollercoaster of emotions oscillating between having faith and drowning in doubt. Yet, somehow, I woke up every morning and tried again. I knew deep inside my heart that I did not want to go back into the corporate world. I was going to use this time to rebuild my life—the way that I wanted it to be.

I was going to use this time to rebuild my life—the way that I wanted it to be.

Sometimes, I still succumbed to job interviews because it felt like the “sane” thing to do, but then, by the time I got my first job offer, I vividly remember feeling my heart drop to the bottom of my throat. I remember before they even discussed salary, I heard my gut say, “Oh my God, I’m going to have to tell them no.” And I did.

I started to say no to more opportunities—the ones that didn’t feel right. While it confused many people wondering what the heck I was doing, I felt like I finally had the clarity I had been looking for all along. I said no to enough opportunities that eventually, I magnetized the right ones to come to me. Before I knew it, I had prospects saying yes to me. People who wanted to work with me and for the business I was in the process of building. People believed in me and in what I wanted to do for them. I said no because I knew that there were better things worth saying yes to.

It wasn’t always easy, and I had to get accustomed to also saying no to luxuries to make this happen. No more spontaneous happy hours. No more casual shopping trips or online shopping extravaganzas. I had to get hyper-focused on long-term expansion rather than short-term temptation. I cut back so that I could truly rebuild from scratch.

The first day I woke up as unemployed, I was embarrassed by the label, but I was also empowered by the opportunities. I spent many months unraveling, building and pitching. I spent many late nights writing, questioning and categorizing rejections. I spent many moments making the world my office and my therapy session until, eventually, I went from unemployed to entrepreneur.

Unemployed—I was embarrassed by the label, but I was also empowered by the opportunities.

Today, I went for another walk in Central Park. I let myself consider just how far I’d come while acknowledging that it was only the beginning. I knew that there would continue to be hurdles, labels, doubts and everything under the sun that would make me want to run back to comfort. Yet, I also knew that all it took to wind up here was the choice to believe in myself.

In the end, the greatest gift that unemployment gave me was the chance to trust my heart and to reinvent my life. It gave me the chance to become, against the odds, by simply believing I could. For that detour, I will be forever grateful.

Have you ever been unemployed? Was there any good gained throughout the unemployment process?

Image via Tony Li, Darling Issue No. 22

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