I was 28. I lost my first startup job during the dot com bubble. The last day felt like a movie. There I was, spinning in my chair – the only furniture left in the big open room once filled with desks and ideas. Only two lights were on. I was holding my envelope and spinning, literally and metaphorically, as I stared at the dents in the paneled ceiling.
That thin manila envelope held all the legal documents to describe my termination. 6 weeks of pay. Unemployment insurance. Acronyms I didn’t understand. I saw these envelopes each week as my team shrunk. First, my manager. Then, my favorite designer.
The last was the person I shared an office with. I loved sharing an office with her. When things went wild, we would close the door and blast the song from Free Willy (“Will You Be There” by Michael Jackson) as we swayed our arms above our heads and laughed out loud. We were shaking off the funk to figure shit out.
Now, there I was, alone. Spinning in my chair. Making sense of something that just didn’t make sense. We had a great idea. I loved my team. I loved our mission. I didn’t want it to be over.
After a few weeks of looking for jobs, I felt hopeless. I didn’t think I’d find one in DC that didn’t force me into some government contract role. In my frustration, I opened up Monster.com and typed “social media jobs.” I told myself I’d move wherever I saw the most jobs posted. At the time, that place was Boston. My lease was ending. I had nowhere else to go, so off I went.
I went without a job for months and it drained my savings and hope. Slowly, my salary expectations went from “I want to make the same amount of money” to “I need money to eat.” As I applied for jobs, I quickly realized employers were adjusting salary expectations based on the trends, not the talent. I ended up in a gig making just half of what I was making at a startup, even though I was working at a bigger company in a much more expensive city. I was hungry in more ways than just for a career. I had to say yes.
Ultimately, I guess it’s on me for not negotiating, but I ended up in a situation where that money just wasn’t enough. I can live on a budget. I grew up with a military accountant for a parent. But even in a tiny one room apartment where I could touch every wall at once, I could not afford my life. My diet mostly consisted of chicken nuggets and romaine – my attempt at checking off some nutritional values without blowing my only flexible income. There were more than a few months I was using credit cards and dipping into my savings to just afford to survive.
I have lived like I was eating my last chicken nugget for decades. I have that little fear inside. The voice that tells me I won’t have enough money to eat. That it’ll all fall out from under me even if my life today is nothing like it was. I know I’m not alone. I think we all have those fears that it’ll all fall out from under us whether the panic was sparked by losing a great job, great love, or something else.
It’s so easy to end up spinning in a world filled with headlines trying to get a click by tapping into our despair. Layoffs filling our LinkedIn feeds. That’s when the most important lesson I learned from losing the job I loved (and my chicken nugget diet) comes into play. The lesson that sometimes, you have to tune out to tune back into yourself.
I know I can’t spin harder to stop the sensation of spinning. I can’t shut the door to stop all the problems of the world. But I can take a second to tune back in. It’s the first step in learning to love the parts of me that get so scared.
The only way I can stop the spinning is to stand up, put on my song, and shake it out before I keep going. It doesn’t solve anything but it does shock my nervous system into thinking about something else for a minute. Maybe even letting a little gratitude come in, knowing that taking a pause alone is worthy of applause for me. That I can love this fear just like I love my strengths, knowing someday it won’t feel like I’m just spinning.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.