After graduation I started interning at a literary agency before finding a job as an assistant editor at a small publishing house. I was living my childhood dream of working in book publishing, working with authors, editing and revising forthcoming titles that I was excited to be a part of, until I wasn’t. I’ve replayed the events of that day over and over again in my head since then. It was about two months after my one year anniversary with the company. I walked into the office like I did on any typical day responded to a few emails, dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, and planned out my work day. Then around 10 am, my phone rang. The COO wanted to see me in his office. I walked in and immediately noticed the thick tension in the room. After I sat down he told me that as a result of the internal restructuring happening within the next few weeks, I was being let go, effective immediately.
Losing your job sucks, especially when you aren’t prepared for it and don’t see it coming. Unemployment sucks even more. For me, it’s not about the financial burden (which is a problem), but rather the sheer boredom of not having anything to do everyday and being alone with my thoughts. I’ll admit that I shed plenty of tears and spent countless hours playing back the events of the past year, wondering where I went wrong. I might or might not have also drank a few bottles of Jack by myself at one point. But in retrospect, losing my first job at 23 was probably the best thing that ever happened to me and I am a better person for it. Here’s why:
I let my job consume me and forgot how to live
Working in book publishing was all I ever wanted to do. From the moment I decided I wanted to work in publishing, I made it my life goal to get there. I made sure I was in all the Honors and AP English courses in high school and I applied to various liberal arts schools with English or writing programs. Then when I got my first job in the publishing industry, I lived and breathed it. There was always a project to finish on the weekend and a reason to stay late. I quickly found myself burning out and in dire need of time off, but I refused to take a week or two off because there was always another project or another obligation that I needed to devote time to.
As much as I love books and as much as I loved my job, I was starting to feel a bit lost. I had messaged my best friend a few weeks before and told her that I felt numb and unfulfilled, which I didn’t understand because I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. I tried to make a list of things that I enjoyed but couldn’t get any further than books and beer. After losing my job, I had more time to reflect and I realized that the reason I was feeling numb and unfulfilled was because I had let my job consume my life. Even if you love something or someone unconditionally, your love will grow to resentment if you devote every waking hour of your life to said thing or person. All I did was work, work, work. Even on weekends I took manuscripts home to read and edit. When I didn’t have anything to read, I browsed the Internet for potential authors. My job had become the most important thing in my life. In fact, I spent more time crying over losing it than I did over boys, deaths, and other things that usually warrant tears in a normal person with feelings.
In dedicating so much time to my job, I had forgotten how to live. It wasn’t until about two or three bottles of wine and whiskey later that I realized exactly how much this job had taken over my life. There are so many things to appreciate in this world. New York City in particular is filled with millions of wonders, plenty of activities to try and multiple sights to behold, but I never took time to go out and see it because I didn’t want to take a break from my job. The minute I realized this, I started out by doing little things like seeing movies by myself, taking walks in my neighborhood, and visiting museums alone. I immediately felt more complete and fulfilled because I was living and devoting time to me and only me, not a career that I thought defined me.
I forgot how to socialize and lost touch with my friends
Let’s be honest. New York City is chaotic and having a 9-5 job can be hectic. Making plans to meet up with friends can be difficult because we’re all young professionals, trying to make a splash in our respective industries and have no time to catch up with each other. I was no different. In fact, the only people that I talked to or really hung out with were my coworkers and my brother (who lives about a block away). Okay so I did text a handful of friends for drinks or sushi, but only because they did it first and I felt guilty saying no. But the point is, once I started working, I made little effort to keep in touch with my friends.
As a result, I became much more introverted than I already was and in a sense forgot how to socialize and make appropriate small talk. Remember that scene in “She’s the Man” where Channing Tatum’s character goes on a date with the girl of his dreams and he tries to awkwardly make small talk by asking her if she likes cheese? Yep, that’s me attempting to converse with other human creatures.
After losing my job, I no longer had an excuse to refuse dinner or drinks with a friend. In fact, I was so utterly bored out of my mind I texted friends I hadn’t spoken to in years just to check in and say hello. Needless to say, I rekindled some old friendships and reconnected with people I had lost touch with over the years. In my fear to be alone with my own thoughts of inadequacy and incompetence, listening to others distracted me from my own thoughts and I became a better listener and friend as a result.
I Lost Touch with My Parents
In “13 going on 30,” Jennifer Garner’s character completely loses touch with her parents after she started working at Poised and ignores their calls. I was slowly becoming that person. Coming from an Asian American family, my parents were never quite understanding of my choice to work in the arts (yes publishing is an art). So when I started working in the industry, I had it in my head that staying in touch with them would only put a damper on my career. They would try to talk me out of it and I wasn’t about to let them do that.
After I lost my job, I waited a week before I told them what happened. I dreaded hearing “I told you so.” But instead of saying that, they reassured me that it happens to everyone and told me that they could loan me money if I was having financial trouble as a result. At first, my stubborn, independent self refused their help. But then I realized that although they constantly urged me to change my career path, they have been more supportive than most Asian parents. Sure, they called me throughout college and told me time and time again that I should consider something more practical for a major, but in retrospect, they did pay for my liberal arts degree. Some of my friends’ parents refused to pay for their educations unless they studied a hard science.
In letting myself be consumed by my career aspirations, I had failed to appreciate all that my parents had done for me. I realized the other day that they are not getting any younger and I would never be able to forgive myself if they passed away before I got the chance to tell them just how much I appreciated their support. They may not have verbalized it but they showed it in more subtle ways. I finally apologized to them for being an unappreciative daughter and told them just how grateful I am for them and reached an understanding with them—something that hasn’t happened since I was twelve.
So, the take away here is to live. Since losing my job, I’ve started delving more into freelance work, helping my friends who need writing help and other aspiring authors with their projects. While the financial struggle is still very real, I’ve started feeling a bit more fulfilled. Having more hours during the day to do things I want to do and reflect on the past couple of years of my life has done wonders. And now I know for when I get my next job, to not let it consume me.