The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What’s the scariest work challenge you were faced with and how did you overcome it? is written by Mary Godwin, VP of Operations at Qumulo.
Nine years ago, when I was 27 years into my career, I was laid off from my job.
"Scared" doesn't even begin to define how I felt. Devastated, angry, rejected, disrespected, and completely bereft might begin to cover the bases of my emotional state. It wasn't that I had a performance issue. It was due to an acquisition and subsequent "synergies." Basically, there was a person in the acquiring company who wanted my job—so he was in, and I was out. To make matters worse, I was told that I could interview for other positions in the newly combined company, only to have interviewers either arrive so late for the interview that they were unable to dedicate enough time to the meeting, or not show up at all. I was eventually handed my "package," and that was the end of my time with that company.
Over the course of those 27 years, I had never not worked. So, without a job, I was completely adrift. A big part of my identity was wrapped up in my professional life—which I didn't truly understand until I no longer had a job. My first reaction was to find a new job as fast as humanly possible—and that's what I did.
I realize now this was a big mistake. When you're a job seeker, being frantic creates desperation—and interviewers can see and smell desperation from a mile away. It doesn't make for a successful interview. The more rejections I got, the more desperate I felt. Not surprisingly, I received no job offers during this time.
Finally, after a couple of fruitless months, in a state of exhaustion, I did the only thing I could think to do. I went to Paris. I ate, I drank, and I walked literally for miles through Paris. It didn't take the pain away—but it sure gave me a chance to think about how work-focused I had become. It also gave me time to reflect on how much my impression of myself was wrapped up in my success at work. Maybe it was the ongoing dialog in my head, maybe it was all the walking, or maybe (quite possibly) it was the wine, but eventually everything started to come into perspective. And then strangely, as I was sitting in a café, drinking another glass of wine, I got a call from a recruiter about an opportunity that was my dream job.
When I got home from Paris, I was centered, refreshed, and no longer desperate. I interviewed and got the job, which ended up being one of the best jobs I've ever had. If I had interviewed while I was still in my state of desperation, it's unlikely I would have gotten the job.
I can say this now: Getting laid off was a gift. In hindsight, the job I lost was actually only a so-so job. Being forced to find a new job led to me finding a great job. This is the core of what I learned from the whole experience. Life is too short to have a crummy job, particularly when you're getting into the later years of your career. These days, I'm a lot more willing to change things up if I'm not happy in my job or feel like I'm in a dead end. In fact, since Paris, I've chosen to move on twice from jobs that weren't going anywhere. The bad jobs allow me to shift my focus to what I really want—and I go looking for that, rather than just some random job out of desperation. And if things get really bad, I'll always have Paris.