“I want to give you an update on funding.”
As soon as my boss said it, I knew I was doomed. We were grabbing coffee, just me and him and everything leading up to that moment had felt ominous. The meeting was vaguely titled “1×1 Catch-up.” The timing — late Friday before Memorial Day — felt fishy. And while the company was doing well enough, I knew that the latest round of fundraising had been a struggle. I knew that because my boss had already given me and the rest of the company an update on funding not that long ago.
So I sat in the Texas humidity, mosquitoes chomping on my exposed ankles, and, for the first time in my life, got fired.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. I had just returned from paternity leave the week prior, after my wife and I welcomed our second baby into the world. We had also just bought our first house. We were coming up on the first anniversary our move to a new city and that transition had only just started to feel complete. Then the pink slip.
There were some silver linings. I would have a full month on the job before termination and would have the opportunity to freelance part-time after that. And, unlike many people in the same situation, I had a safety net. I could be insured under my wife’s plan and the two of us had built a decent chunk of savings over the years–though some of that savings had just been put into a down payment. Everyone in the family was and is healthy. We don’t carry any student loan debt. We wouldn’t struggle to pay our grocery bill.
And yet, I was scared. For one, I don’t have much of a network in Austin, where I moved after 13 years in New York City. I’m also a media guy in a non-media town, so jobs are few and far between. But more than anything, I liked where I was working. Everyone was super-friendly and nice, and I believed in the company’s leadership and mission. For the first time in my career, I didn’t have one eye on the door, looking for possible next moves. I was ready to settle down. In relationship terms, I had found The One and The One had dumped me.
So, like Jon Favreau in Swingers, I reluctantly went back on the hunt, all the while comparing new opportunities to past relationships. I phoned in a cover letter for a copywriting gig at a nutritional supplements company. I halfheartedly sold myself to agencies as a modern-day Don Draper. I refreshed and refreshed the suggested listings on LinkedIn and Glassdoor, which were often amusing, misguided or both. (“What the hell is a brand activation manager?” I wondered.) I had a few interviews that didn’t click interspersed with rejection emails for jobs for which I thought I was overqualified. If I was so money, baby, I didn’t know it. And Vince Vaughn wasn’t there to remind me.
As time passed, I began to feel The Fear. The Fear that I would have to take a step back in my career. The Fear that I wouldn’t find anything at all. The Fear that my wife would find me less manly or less attractive—even that she would expect me to spend much of this transition time at home, with our newborn. The Fear that the freedom that comes with having money would evaporate.
I worried about affording daycare for two children. I worried that, if this became a long-term situation, it would affect my kids’ future. (As the Brookings Institution put it, jobless parents raise less ambitious kids. And studies have shown that when dads are unemployed, it can impact everything from their children’s self-esteem to even their eventual income. When moms are employed, the impact isn’t nearly as deep.)
Like any dad, I want my kids to be proud of what I do. When my daughter was born in 2014, I attempted to shift my career from men’s lifestyle journalism with its reflexive love of scantily clad women to something more conscientious. I worked for a fashion brand with a strong emphasis on giving back, and eventually a fragrance brand that stressed sustainability. Now, my future was uncertain, but I knew that I didn’t want my kids to someday write an essay for Fatherly called “My Father, the Layabout.” [Editor’s Note: I’d publish that in a heartbeat.]
So, I shifted gears. I reached out to my editor friends, and started pitching stories. If I occasionally came across as desperate because I was. A few landed, including this one. And, to my surprise, I quickly had enough going on that I could maintain almost the same lifestyle I’d had before, albeit with some minor cutbacks.
I still feel guilty leaving my wife at home on maternity leave so I can sit at a coffee shop and, essentially, email with my friends. I still feel a low-grade version of The Fear; I have a sinking feeling that, like a ballplayer past his prime, my luck will run out and editors will stop replying to my ideas. But they haven’t so I’ve got a new life I’m ultimately excited about and proud of building at speed.