Faye Rapoport DesPres

The Road Surprisingly Traveled

COVID-19 has changed our world, and, individually, our worlds. For those of us who lost a job due to the pandemic, everything tilted in an unexpected way. An elevator we were riding stopped short between floors and threw us against the wall. Job hunting has felt like pressing all of the buttons and watching them light up while the elevator takes you nowhere. For those who are struggling, I want to share a hopeful story that proves a job loss can be a “blessing in disguise,” even if it rarely feels like one. 

Fourteen years ago I had a full-time job as a writer producing marketing materials for a company I won’t name. I had a decent salary for someone at that stage of my life and career, along with solid benefits. Unfortunately, for the first (and to this day only) time in my career, I had serious conflicts with a boss. There were days when I drove to work in tears. Without going into details, I‘ll say the job didn’t end well. I left with a severance package, some time to find new health insurance, and the right to collect unemployment.

I was devastated. Until that point, I’d had nothing but positive relationships at my jobs. As far as I knew, I’d always been seen as a standout employee who got along with everyone on her team. If I’d changed jobs due to a relocation or an offer of something better, I’d left with glowing recommendations and a sense of pride in what I’d achieved. Even at this particular job, key players assured me (after the fact and off the record) that my good work had been appreciated and they were sorry for the way things had played out.

Still, I felt devalued, defeated, and embarrassed to have lost my job. 

I started freelancing as a writer, editor, and journalist — something I’ve done on and off for many years — to bring in income. Then, I made a decision I never would have made if I hadn’t lost my job. I used some savings to follow a life-long dream. I applied to — and was accepted into — an MFA program in Creative Writing. 

For two and a half years I worked part-time as a freelancer while  pursuing my degree. Three years after I lost that painful job, I graduated with my second master’s degree and a manuscript that would eventually become my first published book. 

To this day, I believe I never would have published a book if I hadn’t lost that job.

The MFA took me in another unexpected direction. When an opportunity came up to teach at a nearby university, I was recommended for the position by a friend whom I’d met while exploring MFA programs. I was hired an adjunct professor to teach a freshman composition class. Soon after that, I was hired by another university (this time recommended by a fellow student from my program) to teach in a better environment. I eventually added creative writing and literature courses to my schedule. Dream two, to become a professor teaching creative writing, was fulfilled.

I taught for five years. Unfortunately, adjunct pay is notoriously low, and the jobs provide no benefits. Eventually I had to give up teaching to take another full-time marketing writing job (offered to me by a friend and former colleague). I worked at that job for two and a half years before COVID-19 put an end to that chapter.

Now here’s the final twist. With job hunting so difficult during the pandemic, and with so many people out of work, it has been tough to find another job. But ANOTHER friend and colleague — this time from the university where I taught for five years — gave me an idea. Why not teach writing online? She knew numerous parents who were seeking online writing classes and tutoring for kids, and she helped me set up a part-time tutoring practice from home. Still another friend-of-a-friend spent time with me on a Zoom call discussing how to make the endeavor a success.

Here’s the thing. Not one of those opportunities would have come my way — publishing my first book (or the two books since), teaching as a professor, or teaching online during the pandemic — if I hadn’t lost that job 14 years ago. And I promise, I’ve paid it forward every way I can. I’ve recommended other writers and editors for freelance opportunities, I’ve hired (or purchased from) friends and colleagues when I’ve been in a position to do so, and I’ve written recommendations and acted as a reference whenever asked.

Everyone’s situation is different. Everyone’s pressures and income needs are different. And not every colleague or contact will be as forthright or generous as those in my network have been. Recently, I was working as a contractor for the company that was forced to lay me off due to the pandemic. A marketing agency I had been working with took the work I’d been doing for 2.5 years for themselves. They didn’t offer me the opportunity to pick up the work, leaving me jobless.

But guess what — had they hired me, I wouldn’t be teaching. I wouldn’t have agreed to co-edit a literary anthology that now has an agent and will soon be shopped to publishers. I wouldn’t have completed my fourth book, a children’s book that is now with the illustrator. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog post, which I hope will inspire other job seekers to believe things CAN get better.

There really is such a thing as a blessing in disguise. I hope you find yours, and if there’s any way I can help, let me know.