Precisely three years ago, I was fired from my job.
Sorry, “laid off.”
No, I was right the first time. I was fired.
I’m brought into a conference room with the shades drawn and told that the company no longer needs my services — that my position is being eliminated, and my tenure expires today. I cry: In my memory, I softly weep, but in reality, I wail. Two people sit uncomfortably as tears sputter down my face and my head droops as I try to process what is happening.
After I escape the airless room, I flee to my desk, head down, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the office. I will myself to be invisible long enough to gather my bag, my pride and make it to street level. In the lobby, I run into my first friend at the company, ram my head into his shoulder, shake and sob, as he wraps his arms around my slumped body. After a few beats, I feel his grip loosen and I know it’s time to go.
The sharp March air slams my face as I exit the building, taking one more glance at the place. And then much to my surprise, I feel…relieved.
I learned a lot of things from this job — about how great humans can be, how hideous humans can be, my professional strengths and weaknesses. But above all, this job showed me what I’d always known in my heart to be true: that I was meant to write. And on the flip side, not meant to be doing what I was doing.
It also taught me about the meaning of freedom.
An implication of the word ‘freedom’ is that you’re making a conscious decision. You’re choosing your own adventure, and no one else’s opinions or actions have any influence. But that’s actually just one definition. The thing you realize after being thrown out on your ass is that sometimes you need freedom to be created for you. Did I hate my job? You bet. Was I going to leave before I found another job? Not a chance. Along with one month’s severance, I was given the invaluable gift of doing whatever the hell I wanted.
But freedom is also scary.
When you consider being free, you picture zip-lining in Costa Rica or taking a gourmet pastry class. Professional freedom is a completely different beast. The sheer volume of choice, of websites to peruse and people to connect with on LinkedIn and degrees you wish you’d gotten are overwhelming at best and soul-crushing at worst. It’s enough to make you exclusively kick-box, read novels and travel for a few months until you even feel ready to even explore a new professional frontier. Not that I’d know anything aboutthat.
For a good while there, I was scared sh**less. I couldn’t believe I had the audacity to think someone would pay me actual minted money to string words together and tell stories. Journalism school felt like another lifetime. And in many ways, it was. This was journalism 2.0; Marisa’s career 2.0; Life 2.0.
Now the job I was fired from precisely three years ago today feels like another lifetime.
In the hours after I slipped out of the office for good and dragged my limp body back to my apartment, a coworker emailed me to say how sad she was about my departure. She also told me I was “so talented and kind and capable”: I like to think she was right about that, even if my true ambition had not yet been revealed back then.
Another great thing about freedom is that it allows you to see who you really are. The pretty parts, the ugly parts. When you have no job to rush to each morning, you have the time to look at yourself long and hard in the mirror, sit with your thoughts for hours on end, and let another force within you do the driving for a while.
Once my body surrendered the memory of what was, it began to imagine what could be.
So just as you can never predict when you’ll be forced into freedom, you never quite know when you’ll be forced out of it. And when you give up freedom for a dream, I’ve learned, you no longer feel like a captive.