For those of us who are still trying to establish a footing in our career field, it’s not entitlement that’s at the core of our waning engagement and company loyalties. In the age of millennial burnout, corporate layoffs, and government shutdowns, I’m seeing firsthand what makes my generation so anxious about our career trajectories and why so many are seeking to be their own bosses.
In my second year in the workforce after a long decade training to be a pharmacist, I had my first job scare. It was my first lesson and reality check that nothing is guaranteed, especially your income. As a healthcare professional, I’d been groomed into believing that our roles are so absolutely essential, we could never be let go. But in the fourth quarter of 2018, I learned this was not the case.
One day, I learned that there were multiple VPs of the health system who were being terminated. A week later, I learned of colleagues within my department that were laid off all in one morning. Some were newly hired, and one was there for 10 years. Some were direct reports from my own boss, and some were not. One of them I had seen just the day before because she sits right behind me in our shared office. All of them had the same job title as me.
It could have been me.
When I first heard about the terminations, I immediately feared for what that meant for me. My thoughts raced about having to leave New York City, how long I could last jobless, and what it would mean to my career trajectory to be laid off. While I came out of the scare with my role intact, there were some things I learned. Surprisingly, gratitude to still have my job wasn’t necessarily top on the list, but rather, more practical and existential lessons.
1. I needed to re-evaluate my priorities.
I had to really consider what my priorities were when it came to my life and career. If I couldn’t find exactly what my current job was in a different NYC hospital, would I be willing to uproot my partner and I to find it? Would I be willing to do something else in order to satisfy my higher priority to stay? Together with my partner, it was decided that we both wanted to stay in New York City. I was accepting of having different day-to-day pharmacist job duties in order to fulfill financial needs. And my partner would be able to continue his upward career trajectory here as well.
2. I needed to stop spending too much on unnecessary things.
Living in New York City and in the first year of my student loan repayments does not leave me with very much disposable income, yet I still manage to eat out too much, use Amazon Prime late at night, and “treat myself” to post-work happy hours. When there was the slightest chance I may not have a job, I immediately became acutely aware of my current level of frivolous spending.
3. I needed to build up my savings account ASAP.
If I lost my job, I wouldn’t even have a month’s worth of rent in my saving’s account. Now that I know there’s always a possibility that my job could go away, that is terrifying. There’s no excuse for this, and I decided to make it a high priority to build up my savings account to a few months’ worth of emergency funding. I re-allocated unnecessary spending to a monthly saving’s goal.
4. I needed to remember the bottom line.
You think that healthcare institutions should be able to help patients no matter what, but hospitals close their doors all the time if they are not financially sound. Even the top hospitals in New York aren’t immune to his. And if top leaders make bad business decisions, it’s the labor budget that takes the hit (whether that is ethical or not).
5. I needed health insurance.
As a healthcare professional, health insurance is still a foreign language to me. But what I do know is that the best options are when you have a job that provides it. The concept that there are people who want to take away the option for those who do not have jobs (or pre-existing conditions) made me upset and scared. The thought of my former colleagues not having health insurance because of situations out of their control, after all of the patient care they provide, is incredibly sad and unacceptable.
6. I needed to lean on my support.
I live with my partner and he is employed, has savings, and no debt. We already have it set up to where we attempt to live off his salary in order for me to put everything I can into reducing my student loans as quickly as possible. Luckily, if I was laid off then he would be able to provide interim support until I found another position. He kept emphasizing this to help me through the uncertainty, but it was difficult to mentally accept this help. I’ve been trained to ensure I have financial independence, but when you are in a partnership you work through tough times together.
Even today, I’m still working through these lessons. Weeks later it’s sinking in how this reality check has affected me emotionally. I’ve found myself apathetic about work. Unmotivated. Questioning if I even want to stay at my job after seeing what my former colleagues went through. Then I realize I also don’t have the flexibility to move around because I don’t have consistent passive income or even an emergency savings fund that can cover rent and student loan bills.
My experience and those I’m hearing of across the country has only further inspired me to ensure that I am set up financially to allow my personal values to be the core of my life decisions, not my job. When you centralize so much of your worth in your job, and then you realize that job to no longer exist, the core of your world gets topsy turvy.
I may have come out of it with my job intact, but I didn’t get out of it unscathed. Instead, I’ve come out with scars to remind me of the biggest lesson of all: I need to put myself first.
Erin is a pharmacy manager at an academic medical center, peer-reviewed author, and speaker. Drawing on her experiences of work-life imbalance and burnout, she created Coffee Meets Polished (www.coffeemeetspolished.com). With her content, she encourages us to embrace our identity and agency through wellness, culture, activism, and more. She’s constantly listening to podcasts and sharing behind-the-scenes of New York City living on her Instagram (@erin.turingan).
Image via Unsplash