Some of us get warnings when layoffs are imminent, from actually being given notice to rumor mills buzzing. I had no warning. Well, technically I had about 24 hours warning. We knew that some of us were going—we just didn’t know who. I was especially nervous, because my husband had been laid off the month before. We were already struggling with that loss—how were we going to get through me losing my job too?

Then the vague meeting request from my supervisor came. The knot in my stomach grew bigger with each hour of silence leading up to the meeting. What if I couldn’t find another job right away? How were we going to pay our bills next month? Would we have to move? Could we afford to move? Should I sell my car? Wait, I can’t. I’d have no way to get to interviews or another job. Then I’d tell myself to stop thinking so negatively. Maybe it wasn’t what I thought.

But when HR showed up at the meeting, I knew… The worst was happening and I better hold on tight for the ride. As I sat there listening to the information being given to me, trying to keep from having a full-on panic attack, all I could think was how is this happening? How do both me and my husband get laid off during a time when the risk of being laid off is extremely low? Lower than it’s been in years. Not to mention, I live in Colorado, where the unemployment rate is sitting at around 2.4%.

Lesson Learned #1: Even when the unemployment rate is extremely low, there’s no such thing as complete job security. Be ready and have a back-up plan.

They tell you to take a break after you’ve been laid off, and that’s nice in theory. But it’s not really an option when you need to keep a roof over your head. I didn’t take a break. I dove right into applying to jobs. For at least 8 hours a day, I applied to every job I was qualified for that sounded like a decent fit.

One the worst parts of being laid off is you’re already going out into the world feeling rejected and less than. You have to explain, over and over, why you no longer have a job… even when it’s not your fault. There’s also the bias employers can have—preferring the currently employed over the unemployed. That’s an uphill battle in and of itself.

Then there’s the field I’m in, creative/marketing, which is highly competitive. I’m fortunate enough to have a versatile skillset, so I can apply to design, writing, video production, and digital marketing roles. Honestly, having all those skills made a huge difference. If you are in a competitive field, I highly recommend using any down time to take some free courses and gain a wider skillset within that field. Companies love candidates who can wear a few hats.

Getting laid off makes you take a good hard look at your life and your path, whether you want to or not. After a couple weeks of panicking, contacting everyone in my network, and interviewing with several employers a week, I began to question my direction. There was something missing in these interviews. None of these opportunities were exciting me. They all felt…the same.

Was hopping into yet another corporate creative job what I wanted? I’d been yearning for years to break out of the box and see where my ideas could take me. But I was always too scared to let go of that security of a paycheck every two weeks.

Wait, what security?

As it turns out, being laid off might have been the best thing to happen to me, because it has given me a good kick in the ass. It has woken me up to the fact that no job or situation is secure. Why the hell not start my own adventure? Why not think out of the box? Why not go after what truly drives me in life – to inspire and be inspired.

I’m a storyteller and a dreamer who thinks way too much. I want to wake up in the morning and be challenged. I want to tell old stories in new ways. I want to follow my heart and my passion instead of my fears and doubts.

So, that’s what I’m doing. In the two months I was job hunting, I got two very respectable offers for great-sounding, full-time opportunities. And I turned them both down. Did I completely freak out about it and question myself? You bet. But I’d already been down that road. I’ve been working in the corporate world for years, and it just felt like I’d be picking up where I left off. It felt like I was giving up on myself.

I ended up accepting a part-time role with a non-profit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a cause near and dear to my heart. With a brother on the autistic spectrum and having ADHD myself, I feel connected to others with disabilities and I want to help them succeed. This is the kind of work that drives me to get up in the morning.

I’ve also started offering creative services to a variety of clients, including the fabulous folks here at TalentWorks. It’s scary as hell – but it’s also exciting and invigorating. Am I still open to the right full-time role, if it comes along? Most definitely. But it has to be the right role. It has to let me break out of that box a little and see what’s possible. Most importantly, it has to challenge my perspective and inspire me to grow.

To be fair, this isn’t all roses and candy canes. This is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken in my career. If I think too hard about the future, I get a little terrified. I’m definitely missing that regular paycheck. But if I don’t take the risk, how will I ever know what’s possible? When I was 14 and writing stories in my notebooks, I wrote this on the inside of every cover: There’s no limit to the imagination.

Call it cheesy. Call it overly optimistic. But I still believe it, and I’m still going for it every day.

Lesson Learned #2: Sometimes, the scariest moments lead to the most rewarding, life-changing opportunities if you face your fears head-on. There is no limit to the imagination.

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