A few weeks before Christmas 2016, I went to work as usual on a typical Monday morning, at my full-time job at a boutique Media and Marketing agency.
However unlike all previous Mondays, the greatest challenge wasn’t struggling to wake up that day, getting through an endless list of tasks or negotiating deals with clients.
This particular Monday, was the day I was to learn what it feels like to lose a job.
I walked into a fairly quiet office, sat down at my desk, took a deep breath before opening my email inbox and simultaneously, the multiple Excel spreadsheets I had been working on. Little did I know that this typical kind of office dread was but a speck of dust in comparison to what was to happen only a couple of hours later.
Just shy of midday, one of the company directors came over and asked to see me in the boardroom. Just me. I followed obediently, with thoughts of potential issues with clients or deals circulating my mind as my boss closed the door behind me.
She seemed hesitant yet stoic, then came straight out of the blocks with the news that my “position was being made redundant.”
I was surprised by my immediate reaction. Normally I would fall into a heap, release uncontrollable tears, then withdraw from the confrontation and accept my fate.
Yet somehow, in this moment, I responded with a little grit and anger. I questioned the decision and expressed my disappointment; I felt that I had given so much to the company that it seemed unjust and cruel that my efforts had come to this.
All that my boss could say in reply was, “I thought you’d be relieved.”
It was this part, as I reflect on it now, that truly hurt me the most.
I’ve realised that as unexpected as it was, getting fired was perhaps, imminent. I had felt it in my bones that something wasn’t quite right halfway through 2016.
There was a series of events and occurrences that took place that year which created great unease, frustration and confusion about how I saw myself in that environment and how that environment was impacting me. It was clear that I did not belong there, perhaps politeness and delusion masked the necessity for honest confrontation.
Still it stung to hear those words, the implication that I should be relieved at the news that I was being let go. It made me feel that I brought it on myself, that perhaps I almost asked for it – that I was responsible for this happening and therefore should be pleased at the outcome.
To be told so simply that you’re no longer needed or wanted, compounded with the shame and guilt for causing your own demise – that’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
It’s amazing how a single moment can shatter it all in an instant – that promises for prosperity, abundance and a secure future, even on the tough days, seems so within reach and even guaranteed. It took me years to find a full-time job in the Media Industry, let alone build experience and earn respect once I was there.
To have something I was so sure of to suddenly get taken away, became about more than just losing a job, I had lost myself in the process too.
Just like when I left high school and university, now in my 30s, I was starting all over again – back to the drawing board – contemplating what I really wanted out of life and what I needed to do to get there.
After working in the corporate world for so many years, I also had to find a way to reconnect with my passions, reassessing what I actually enjoyed doing and what I was actually good at.
This is where the creative struggle again rose to the surface. I needed to find a new way to sustain myself whilst doing work that was meaningful and fulfilling.
I thought it would be easier this time around, that having built some solid years of experience and wisdom, I would be better placed to take the next step into an unknown future. I was naive to think this, because the truth was that despite my experience, my confidence, sense of identity and self-worth had taken a beating and I had to accept that as a creative, there is never really any sure-fire way up – the path is uncertain and unique to each one of us.
In this headspace, I learned to empathise with the youth of today, thinking about what it must feel like for students and graduates who don’t have clarity on their place in the world or the support to just start figuring it all out. In creative industries especially, where there is no guarantee for work or stability, how do young people go about navigating a career pathway and finding their purpose in a noisy world intensified by competition and saturated with choice?
I recognised myself as one such young, creative, now unemployed person, battling with self-doubt and fear which was crippling my ability to start afresh. I learned that whether you’re new to the workforce or whether you have experience, setbacks can happen at any given moment and you can never be one hundred percent prepared.
I learned that it is your character – your resilience and courage that are the keys to help you build or re-build your life and career. Finding security in employment is about more than just a pay check – it’s about believing you are worthy enough, believing that you have something to contribute, acknowledging that your voice deserves to be heard.
Brewing with all sorts of emotions as I worked on my own self-worth, I started to immerse myself in research around youth unemployment and underemployment. I was disheartened to find out just how much of the younger population in Melbourne and Australia as a whole, is struggling to find their place in their workforce. To see that more than half of our university or TAFE graduates do not have work or are working casually in jobs unrelated to their studies, didn’t make sense to me.
How can it be that we are a nation so full of economic opportunity when a large contingent of the future generation are not provided sufficient avenues to apply their skills, talents, passions and ideas? How can we justify the resources invested into the education sector when a majority of our young people are left without direction and confidence in themselves or the future once they leave school?
For young creatives, the struggle is somehow even more silent.
After all, as aspiring musicians, writers, filmmakers, performers, artists – who are we to expect stability or support when we are pursuing egotistical dreams in fields often deemed ‘non-essential’ to how our society functions? To be privileged enough to have studied and have the choice in what we studied, this too sets the expectation that we are self-sufficient to find employment, especially if we have tertiary qualifications.
Yet, the research and analysis around The New Work Reality prove otherwise.
Throughout this time of learning during 2017, I also reflected on all of my past experiences, as a student, graduate, freelancer and employee in creative industries. I realised how much I have learned and continue to learn about myself, the workforce and other people, and I needed a place and a platform to share it all.
Later that year, I started connecting with young people. I started a mentorship program to help them navigate career pathways and found so much value in exchanging stories and experiences, all of which provided useful insights that seemed to be helping students and graduates feel better prepared for life after school.
In 2018, I expanded the program and partnered with non-profit organisation Laneway Learning, so that young creators could apply their skills and build some practical work experience whilst making a real contribution to the local community.
Needless to say, the last couple of years have been such an eye-opening and growth-filled adventure, not without its trials and downturns, but always with the vision to create positive impact on young people as they enter the real world and search for meaning and fulfilment in their lives. And since it’s been on my mind for a while, I am now officially documenting my learnings, findings and insights, hoping that my own journey being young, creative and unemployed might be of some help to whomever may need it.