My first layoff

April 15, 2014

Hey, guys! Want to hear a fun story? I got laid off! No, seriously. Let me tell you all about the time that, at the prime age of 22, I earned my first severance package:

My first layoff, part 1: An open love letter to Thunderdome

I’ve been kind of quiet about this, but if you follow media blogs, you might have figured it out by now: Thursday is my last day at Thunderdome.

Two weeks ago, Digital First Media announced it’s axing the project. I didn’t want to talk about it until now. Saying “I’ve been laid off” makes all of it real.

I’ve always been sappy and sentimental — I cried so hard when I drove away from my college town for the last time that took the backroads instead of the interstate because I wasn’t sure I could operate a car going 75 mph while sobbing.

But this ending is especially tough. I’ve only been here for a few months, but this separation hurts. While my time at Thunderdome was short, I’ve learned so much. I’ve become a better journalist. I’ve become a better person.

This is where I started. This was my first big-kid job. My first salary. My first business cards. My first permanent bullpen desk.

I came to Thunderdome as a serial intern, with a resume boasting eight three-month gigs. In college, I was certain I’d land a a full-time job right after I had my diploma.

But it took seven months, which I now realize is nothing in today’s economy/media market/other cliches. But at the time, it was awful. I convinced myself that I’d never be fully employed.

So when the “we want to hire you” call came from Thunderdome, I was half excited, half confused and fully shocked. On those first few days, I felt like an impostor. Part of me believed they’d accidentally sent the offer to the wrong person but were too polite to turn me away now.

Those feelings faded. I got the hang of the newsroom’s workflow. I began to feel comfortable publishing content when I worked alone without another producer to OK it. I made friends with my coworkers. We had inside jokes and shared profanity-laced stories over after-work drinks. I didn’t mind waking up at 5 a.m. for my godawful morning shift. Some days I liked my mornings in the newsroom better than my evenings in my apartment. Thunderdome became home. My coworkers became family.

There’s a lot to love about what we had at Thunderdome. I felt like my work was important — we were fixing problems and creating a new model for journalism. If nothing else, making a living wage in New York City as a journalist was an accomplishment on its own.

But it’s the people that I love the most. I’ve never worked with a more talented, passionate bunch. Every day, I’m inspired by their creativity, fearlessness and dedication to the craft.

This newsroom is full of kind, thoughtful human beings. These past few weeks have brought out the best in this bunch. During a time when most people would adopt a selfish, “take care of me” attitude, the Thunderdomers have come together. This group has supported me, comforted me and even helped me find my next job.

One of my professors once told me that the best thing about being a journalist is the weird, wonderful people you work with. I’m now realizing that truer words have never been spoken.

Thunderdome, I love you, and I’ll miss you. But I know I’ll run into you weirdos again. Keep fighting the good fight, and we’ll swap war stories at the inevitable reunion

My first layoff, part 2: I’m 22, and I have a severance package

Schmaltz and sap aside, being laid off four months after you’ve started your first job ever is, well, weird.

I was naive to think I’d never face newsroom layoffs. But four months into my professional career? I couldn’t even get a solid post-grad year in before getting my first termination of employment letter?

The fact that I can even write “termination of employment letter” seriously at 22 years old is bizarre. I feel like I’m finally the crotchety 75-year-old I always joked I was.

There was a lot of crying. A lot of toxic “maybe if I did [blank] then this wouldn’t be happening” thoughts. A lot of realizing those ideas are irrational considering I’m a very junior employee with little influence on the company. A lot more crying.

But I’m glad this happened early in my career. I work in journalism. I will probably face this again. And now I know that it’s not the end of the world. Being laid off has taught me that nothing lasts forever and that’s OK. I’m not going to avoid new things for fear they may not work.

Now that I know I can — or, in this case, be forced to — walk away from something, I have a weird sense of freedom. Journalism has changed a lot, and it’s going to keep evolving. If I want to be on the frontier, I’m going to have to try new things, and sometimes they’re not going to work. So what? What’s the worse that could happen — the project fails and newsroom folds? Been there. Done that. Survived.

I didn’t go into journalism for the stability. If that’s what I wanted, I could have worked in finance or insurance or sales. But, of course, I’d be miserable and bored out of my mind.

I went into journalism because I’m a fool who chases after the things I love. And if I get laid off once or twice along the way, at least I had a hell of a lot of fun.

So, the nitty-gritty details about being laid off? The day it officially happened is a blur.

The media blogs began leaking stories the night before, so it wasn’t a surprise when our normally out-of-town HR department showed up the next morning. We had a meeting. I left with a packet. There were a lot of euphemisms. One of my colleagues taught me how to apply for unemployment.

We ordered burritos for lunch and all sat away from our desks together for the first time ever, because what was going to happen if there wasn’t someone watching the wire for breaking news? We played music all day long, because what was going to happen if someone complained that the noise was breaking their concentration? What was anyone trying to concentrate on, anyway?

But the sun came up the next day. My alarm went off. The train ran on time. The mail still came. Nothing else in the world stopped just because I’d gotten bad news.

I never thought I’d be laid off. That’s why my parents’ generation likes to complain about millennials:  We assume we’re the exception and not the rule.

But it happened. And I’m alive to tell the story. And no, the guy who fired me did not look like George Clooney.

My first layoff, part 3: The next big adventure

After all of this, I have no room to complain about being laid off or being “unemployed.” Last Wednesday — exactly one week after getting my official termination letter — I accepted a job with the New York Daily News. I start Tuesday.

In my first year post-grad, I’ve gone from barely paid intern to landing my dream first job to watching that job crumble to getting a pretty stellar second job.

My life is going to be uninterrupted by the new job: The new office is two blocks away from Thunderdome, and I’ll have my exact same schedule.

Sometimes, lightning strikes twice. I still have a chance at being the exception and not the rule.

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