Why Getting Laid Off In My 20s Was Actually A Blessing In Disguise

by Karen Ruffini

I've spent more than 5,000 hours of my life commuting.

No one told me it's pretty much impossible to find a job on Long Island with a degree in English, but I found out relatively quickly the only way to do what I intended with my degree (while actually earning money) was to work in illustrious New York, New York. So into the city I went.

Being somewhat of an opportunist, I jumped around whenever I found a company that seemed to beckon me, and, at 27 years old, I finally felt like I was carving out a niche in my career path.

But at the height of my young-adult career, I came home every day exhausted and deflated. The lifestyle of a commuter isn't exactly a glamorous one -- waking up at sunrise and sometimes coming home after the sun sets.

You can kiss any ideas of a social life, a homemade meal or even a kickboxing class goodbye, because as soon as you get home, you're essentially preparing for bed so you can wake up at sunrise once again.

But I did it anyway. I have bills. I have rent. I have a wedding to pay for! And no, working those hours meant I couldn't make all the family gatherings, and I couldn't go out for a girls' night with friends, but, hey, having a job trumped all of that.

Then, that job of mine ceased to exist.

I was laid off.

When I lost my job, a million thoughts went through my head, but the one that stayed in the front of my mind at all times was, “What the hell am I going to tell everyone?”

I was disappointed in myself –– which is something I could handle. But having my family and friends feeling that way is an entirely different story. I couldn't imagine telling them I was let go from my job, or admitting how expendable and insignificant I felt.

I tend to exude confidence with nearly everything I do, even when I'm considered an amateur at something (I got hit in the face during softball tryouts in 7th grade and I still made the team). It's who I am and it's who I've always been, and I felt completely robbed of that.

But I'm also the kind of person who says exactly what's on her mind. So, I sucked it up, swallowed what little pride I had left and started to slowly break the news to those close to me.

In telling everyone about my situation, I realized this: the people you love should always show empathy and support.

Family members were concerned but loving, sympathetic friends brought over bottles of wine and my fiancé reassured me that we'd figure it all out together, as a team.

Though I was ashamed to tell the people closest to me the news, afterwards I felt… free.

When you let go of the expectation of who you feel you should be, you also let go of the image you present to those around you. It's real, and it's humbling.

I am not going to tell you that I tidied up my resume and updated my LinkedIn profile during my first week of unemployment. The reality was I stayed up late, woke up even later and binge-watched the first three seasons of "Weeds." Watch out, working world! This girl is a go-getter!

But within that week I also saw my sister, who is pregnant with her first child. I got to have dinner with her and simply enjoy my only sibling, during one of the most incredible times in her life. We're very close, but because of my work schedule, I rarely ever saw her on a weekday. It felt good to be around her.

I was able to see my grandpa, who is doing his best to cope with the loss of his wife, my grandmother. I went to his house, and he told me stories of when he was a boxer in the Navy and showed me the latest drawings he's been working on. I felt happy just to be with him. It was like a very tiny piece of happiness was put back into my very cluttered and disorganized heart.

I know what you're thinking. Having time to yourself and catching up with family and friends sounds great… but you don't get paid for sitting at Applebee's and drinking watered-down margaritas. How am I going to make money if I don't get a full-time job right away?

Truthfully, I'm not there yet. My wedding is next June, and it is not cheap (for all of you who think you can have a beautiful wedding for, like, $5,000, you're dreaming).

But I'm crunching numbers. I'm trying to do the math. I'm trying to figure out if there's a way to make things work without a typical 9-to-5. Because I realized that those 5,000 hours spent commuting are gone. I can never retrieve them, and I can't change where I was or who I was with. And do I really want to spend another 5,000 hours on a train packed with strangers?

There are a million ways I can make money that don't necessarily equate to starting up the grind of a “normal” job again. I'm a photographer and a writer; I'm creative and witty. I can figure it out, because the confidence I thought I'd lost forever is slowly finding its way back to me.

Losing my job helped me gain clarity on the things I absolutely need in life. I'm still sifting through what I can live without versus what I hold in my heart as an absolute necessity. I'm not done sorting, but I've got the time and the people I need to help me organize my priorities.

In the meantime, though, I think I'll have another margarita.