Ask Elaine: Should I change directions after being let go from my job?



Hi Elaine: I was recently let go at work. I’m not sure if I should take it as a sign and pivot into something new, like freelance writing or proofreading or even writing fiction novels like I’ve always wanted — or if I should find some traditional work and plan to be more prepared down the road. Since lots of folks are getting let go these days, what’s your advice?

Now What?: The urge to wallow or panic can be strong when you’ve just been blindsided by a layoff. I love that you’re keeping an open mind and looking at this as an opportunity — not just a setback. Keeping that mind-set is key to turning this pivot point into a strategic win.

Before I can advise you, I have questions: What line of work were you in? What did you enjoy about your job — aside from the paycheck? How transferrable is your current skill set for the kind of work you’re interested in doing? And how much runway do you have to live on in your savings?

Unless you already have experience in the field you’re looking to enter, it might be wise to pursue a day job that you can make a living on first. Continue cultivating projects on the side to develop the necessary skills and contacts that will eventually enable you to make your side hustle your main hustle. Lots of successful novelists and freelancers started out writing on the side.

Of the writing professions you expressed an interest in, proofreading is one that you can be hired to do as a day job most imminently. I’d suggest prioritizing that in your job search, while pursuing work in the fields that you have relevant experience in.

Depending on what kind of freelance writing you’re looking to do, it isn’t very lucrative at first for most new writers. You’ll need to build up your bylines and editorial contacts, which takes time. Most editors need to see relevant writing samples to consider hiring you to take on a story.

If you have an idea for a novel, start outlining it and working on a manuscript in your down time. And don’t give up on it when you get a new job. The more developed your idea and story, the better luck you’ll have meeting with agents and publishers when the time comes.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing any decision paralysis, as an aspiring writer, you may find it helpful to write out your game plan in A, B and C scenarios. Dream into A; this is your most ideal outcome if everything goes exactly the way you would design it. B is your next-best option. C is what you could live with until A or B become more realistic. I also think it can be helpful to play out the worst-case scenario, especially if your mind is already taking you there. Better to face it, accept that those fears are part of your process and identify all the specific steps you can take to avoid any of those fears becoming a reality.

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Everyone’s pivot point looks different, but they’re often spurred by an unexpected or stressful event. Having a job end abruptly can be traumatic and it can come with its own grieving process. While you work on your game plan, build in space to process and self-reflect. Also, ask for help. Whether it’s from a recruiter, former boss, colleague, friend, family member or therapist, this is the time when it’s important to reach out — especially if you find yourself retreating in ways that aren’t helping you move forward.

If you’re experiencing a blow to your confidence or negative self-talk is creeping in, then this is about more than just a job search. Take an honest inventory of your reality — financially, of course, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually. What parts of your life are most fulfilling? What is draining or depleting you? Where would you like to invest more of your time and energy? How can you use this unexpected opportunity to prioritize what matters the most to you as you decide on your next steps?

Because being fired or laid off is uniquely emotional for anyone whose job is tied to their identity, explore therapy if it’s accessible. If not, take the initiative to dig deeper by answering questions like: How much of your identity is anchored in your job? Where do you derive your self-worth? What role do you want work to play in your life? Keep in mind that it’s a whole life you get to redesign — not just your job.

The narrative you tell yourself is an incredibly important part of dictating what happens next. No matter how your last chapter ended, you get to be the author of your next chapter and the hero of your own story. Reframe your fears, reevaluate all of your options and reach boldly for what you want your next chapter to look like. A solid game plan informed by self-reflection will help you take your next steps with confidence and clear intention.