An incoming call from your boss at 8 PM is an unusual thing. When I saw the name appear on the caller ID, I panicked, only expecting bad news. I was right. My boss was asking me to come in at 9:30 the next morning for a meeting on the ninth floor. The human resources office is on the ninth floor. My heart dropped. “I know what that means,” I said quietly, fighting back the tears. She replied with a simple, “I’m sorry,” and that was that. I hung up the phone, numb, grappling with the idea of going to work the next day, just to be told that I was being fired.
I was four months into what I can only describe as my dream job. I was a photographer at a very reputable publication, and I was struggling. The demands were staggering. I wasn’t delivering. I wasn’t ‘wowing’ them, and I knew it. One month earlier, I had a meeting with HR and my managers and had been given an ultimatum: improve in one month, or you’re gone. While their words were less severe, I knew what they meant, and it seemed like an impossible task. I was already giving 110 percent: working on the weekends, taking evening courses to learn new skills, ‘picking the brains’ of people who were succeeding in the same line of work. I didn’t know what else could be done. One doesn’t gain the experience that takes the course of a career in just 30 days.
The morning after the phone call from my boss, I arrived at work, prepared as one could ever be to receive the news of my termination. I didn’t want to cry, I wanted more than anything to maintain my dignity. Seated in a gray room with no windows, a sympathetic yet merciless woman I didn’t know told me I was being let go. She had clearly done this a hundred times before. My managers sat blankly, silently, at either end of the large boardroom table. Immediately after receiving a piece of paper, making my termination even more real and raw, they escorted me back to my desk to begin the arduous and humiliating task of clearing out my things.
I loved my job. Each day was something completely different from the last. I was meeting new and interesting people at every turn, getting access to exclusive places, subjects, and events, and telling the stories that needed to be seen and heard. I was fulfilled creatively and being challenged constantly, all while pursuing something I was passionate about and that I wholeheartedly believed in. I got to work with some of the brightest journalists, editors and art directors in the country. We were a team, and I truly felt like my contribution mattered. What else can you ask for in a career? This was it for me. I had found my place — my purpose — and I wasn’t going anywhere.
All that came crashing down with a phone call. In the back of my mind, I always knew it was a possibility, considering the ultimatum I received a month earlier. But against all odds, I truly felt like there was improvement happening. I was getting good feedback, my photos were running full-size across the pages of the magazine. Colleagues were complimenting my work. But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t have the experience they needed, and they couldn’t wait around for me. My industry moves quickly, and if you can’t keep up, it’s sink or swim. I’ve learned this the hard way.
I cleared out my desk, took down the photos from my cubicle, handed over my pass card and walked out the door for the last time, my sad box of belongings in hand. On the drive home, my unknowing Uber driver cheerfully made small talk about the weather, while I sniffled and choked back tears in the back seat.
It’s surreal how quickly things can change in one day. Overnight, I went from being too busy to eat, to having absolutely nothing to do. Being idle is a terrifying thing for me, and I fear what lies ahead — emotionally and, of course, financially. I’m trying to look on the positive side and see this as an opportunity for change, and to pursue projects I truly care about. I know that I need to take what I’ve learned from this job and continue to grow. The reality of it is these feelings will likely change in the days and weeks that follow; it’s likely my optimism will fade as the need to dip into my emergency savings for rent money grows. Right now, the wound is too fresh. However, my experience at my old job was still valuable, and right now my plan is to freelance and side hustle while applying for new jobs. Even though it will take time to recover from this blow, I hope to find new opportunities that I love as much as I loved my old job.
Carla Moody is a pseudonym. She was recently fired from her dream job and is now navigating freelance life.
Image via Unsplash