“It’s not you, it’s me.” Or at least that’s how the email may as well have started. One year ago, to the day, I found myself overseas and unemployed.
Last year, my wife and I had decided to take a risk and travel the world while working virtually. A few months into our adventure, I received an email from my former employer letting all employees know that operations had ceased, effective immediately (more about the immediate aftermath here).
Luckily, 365 days and 7 countries later, I’m happy to report that my watershed moment made me a savvier, happier, and more resilient person. Here are few of the lessons I learned from that experience.
The Sensible: Naivety be Gone
I truly believed in the modern company culture of “radical truth” and “total transparency.” Now I’ve both realized and accepted that these words are just the latest buzzwords and industry jargon.
There is a certain empowerment that comes with accepting that businesses will do what is best for them, so I need to do what is best for me. Sometimes, you are simply caught in the impersonal fray of a company that has to “downsize and pivot.”
The Personal: Divorcing Career and Identity
One year ago, I saw a clear career path ahead of me that promised more responsibility, new challenges, and greater pay. In hindsight, that career path never actually existed. When the company abruptly closed, my identity faltered.
I was embarrassed to tell friends and family that I was now working as a freelance independent contractor. I felt lost without a clear understanding of what a successful career path looks like in the freelance world.
Then, I changed my verbiage. I wasn’t just a freelance virtual assistant. I was a project manager, a website designer, a miracle worker, a successful small business owner, a profitable contractor, a supportive partner, and a more responsive daughter, sister, and friend.
Working as an independent contractor allows me to continue to travel the globe with my wife. I embrace doing quarterly taxes. I create my own professional development. I experiment more in the kitchen. I am learning to use our DSLR camera. I exercise more regularly. I read more, write more, and laugh more.
The Practical: Financial Literacy
In many ways, learning that you and 400 of your colleagues have been made redundant contributed to our financial literacy.
Before we began our travels, we saved up enough money to get us through about six months should we face any financial uncertainty – which we did. This allowed me to pursue remote options with independent clients, and later on, drop clients who were not a good fit.
Having these savings meant being able to afford freedom and flexibility. Whereas before, I thought of savings as an after-thought, I now know that building savings into your budget is essential.
The Future: I Don’t Know (and that’s OK)
It would be inconsiderate to claim that the downfall of my previous employer was a blessing in disguise. The closure caused financial and emotional duress to hundreds, if not thousands of employees, families and customers.
The silver lining I am choosing to focus on is that this experience forced me to re-evaluate my strengths and weaknesses and reminded me that I need to know what kind of life I want in order pursue it.