On Getting Canned
-- Section: Life . Topics: Learning
In late August of 2012, my wife and I announced that we’d be having our first child in March. We’d known for several weeks and it felt fantastic to finally share the good news with everyone. We had been window-shopping for homes online in preparation for the new addition, and that Saturday we casually attended an open house nearby. A little over twenty four hours later, we were looking at houses with the realtor we’d met at the open house. At the last house we visited, we knew that it was the house we wanted. It was perfect for our family. It was everything we wanted in a first home; three bedrooms, a studio space, a huge back yard, even a well-maintained garden! By the end of the next week, we’d officially reached mutual acceptance with the sellers of the house. We were going to buy our first home! It seemed like everything was going right in our life.
In my life, the good and the bad never seem to get evenly spread around. The bad all clumps up together and the good all happens at once. Usually, though, there’s a lot of neutral stuff in between the good and bad sections. This time, however, the bad came screaming in at eighty miles per hour, pulling a trailer, and rear-ended the good.
We came out to our car Saturday morning to find that somebody had taken the left front wheel off of our car, slashed the tire, jammed the whole thing under the body of the car, and stolen the lugnuts and hubcap. The policeman tells us he thinks the person was trying to steal the catalytic converter. He tells us that another car in the complex was broken into the same night. He tells us, very politely, that our complex is pretty much a cesspool. “Not to disparage your residence, but we have a lot of problems in that area.”
I went in to work the next Monday and went through my day as usual. Mid-afternoon, the CEO and CTO pull me aside (it’s a small startup, so I talk to these guys regularly), and inform me that I’m being laid off. For a few moments, I don’t breath, blink, or move. I get mild tunnel vision, my skin flushes, and I get the dreamy “this can’t be real” feeling because I can’t believe that the worst possible words are coming out of my bosses’ mouths. I go back to my desk, speechless, the dreaminess and tunnel vision still not completely gone. I’m a bit shellshocked. It finally hits me and I head outside to call my wife.
At this point, the adrenaline is catching up to whatever brought on the numbness from minutes before, and I’m hyperventilating a little bit. My wife answers and I don’t beat around the bush. “I just got laid off,” I spit out in despair.
Now, at this point, let me take a brief moment to explain to you about my wife. She is, without equivocation, the best thing that has ever happened to me. Never in a million years would I have ever guessed that I would find a woman so supportive and loving and kind to be my wife. With that in mind, think of how devastating this news is, not just for me, but for her, and for us. She’s pregnant, we’re about to buy a house, and I’m losing my job. The natural reaction would be for her to start bawling into the phone and screaming or freaking out like I clearly already was. And that reaction would be completely understandable and not something that anybody could hold against her.
My wife instead said this, “Jake, it’s going to be ok. Things are gonna be fine. Do you need me to pick you up from the bus?” I told her I had till the end of the week and was going to finish up the work day and then head home at my normal time. We get the most devastating news ever and instead of freaking out with me, she shows immense strength and compassion and tells me that things are going to be ok. Now, I’m sure that as soon as I got off the phone she screamed or bawled or something else, but before all that, she injected some peace into my heart and mind. Helluva lady.
I went through the last two hours of my work day in a haze, instant messaging with my coworkers about the layoffs (there were several others as well), and feeling awful about the entire situation. Could I have done something different? Should I have worked harder at finding a new job before this happened? Had I completely let down my wife?
I call my parents on the way home, and their sympathy almost makes me break down in tears. Almost. But I keep it together and get on the bus for home. All the way home, my stomach is full of knots. I’m cold and shaky despite the warm weather. And sweaty. I feel sick. I feel like the world is moving a thousand miles an hour around me while I shamble in slow motion home.
I get inside, and like usual, our dog is losing her mind with excitement that I’m home. My wife embraces me and I start to lose it again, but clamp back down. She’s in the middle of making dinner, so I let her get back to that and I slump down on the couch and let the dog climb all over me, showing me how happy she is that I’m home.
From the kitchen (which, in that 680 sq/ft apartment, was about 10 feet away) my wife tells me something that must have been some kind of revelation from god or womanly intuition or something, because it’s exactly what I need to hear, “Jake, I want you to know that no matter what, I am not mad at you, or upset with you, or disappointed in you.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, after keeping a tight lid on it up to this point, I finally lost it. I broke down.
I can not stress to you the life-altering, breathtaking, borderline magical power of having a loving, supportive wife.
Though we were both terrified of our new situation and devastated about the the impact it would have on buying a home, my wife was thinking of me. She knows me well and knew that I would probably be beating myself up about it. She knew that I would feel the whole weight of both of our sadness on my shoulders. And she told me exactly what I needed to hear.
I didn’t feel much like eating the delicious dinner she made and I kind of floated through the rest of the evening with a sense of disappointment and despondency floating through my head. I told myself that I could have that one night to feel sorry for myself and be frustrated, angry, and negative. I decided that after that, I would be productive, optimistic, and driven. I wasn’t sure how, because I tend to be kind of a pessimistic dude, but I knew I didn’t really have a choice. I didn’t have time for that crap.
My wife called and talked to our realtor and the mortgage officer we were going to use, and told them that I no longer had a steady income and we no longer qualified for the mortgage. It was official. We were losing the house. The house we’d already moved into emotionally. The house that was going to be where we started our family. Where our baby would come home from the hospital, and where he’d take his first steps. Where our dog would be able to run at full speed in the back yard and chase squirrels. We were being banished back to the world where people randomly take your wheel off your car in the middle of the night to try to steal a car part, and when they fail at doing it because they’re probably high, they slash your tires and steal your lugnuts to spite you.
I went to bed earlier than usual that night, but couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was how I had no idea what I was going to do. About how we’d lost the house. And I couldn’t stop wondering if somebody was outside right then trying to do something to my car.
I finally started praying. Not your typical, going-through-the-motions kind of prayer. I was talking to God and begging for help. I was terrified about my future and heartbroken about the present. I asked for comfort. I asked for guidance. I asked for opportunity. I asked that, somehow, by miraculous intervention, I could be positive and optimistic about all of this. That somehow I might feel hope. After a solid half-hour conversation with God, I went to sleep.
I woke sometime after 5 am because my wife was weeping in bed next to me. Losing the house was so devastating, especially when we had been so close. She worded it perfectly: “I feel like my fiancé has broken up with me three days before the wedding.” (NOTE: Waking up to your wife crying in bed next to you is pretty much the worst thing in the world. Just saying.)
I had to visit my chiropractor the next day, and my wife had to work, and we needed to visit my parents, so we all piled into the car the next morning and headed south. Most of my day was going to be devoted to job hunting. Job applications, résumés, and cover letters make my head swim and my blood boil. They make me feel despondent and tired. They suck the life out of me. But I had promised myself that night before was my only allotted ”feeling sorry for myself” time, and so I approached the day with every ounce of can-do that I had in me. Furthermore, I’d asked God to help me be optimistic and hopeful, so I figured I’d try to meet him part way. If he was going to send me the ability to be optimistic, I might was well try to act on the ability I was asking for.
I will accept no other word short of “miraculous” to describe the fact that, as the day progressed, not only did I not get depressed, or feel hopeless, or get angry, but I actually began to feel positive. I began to feel like something good was in my future. I began to feel like things were going to get better. I felt a miraculous aura of comfort, optimism, and peace begin to infuse me. It ebbed and flowed a bit, that first full day on the job hunt, but as we drove home that night, it struck me in what I can only describe as a revelation. I turned to my wife and said, “You know what? Things are going to be ok. I know it.”
My wife, being the aforementioned saint that she is, was way ahead of me: “Oh, I know that. I don’t doubt it one bit.”
If you doubt my use of the word miraculous, I will tell you that the positivity and hopefulness lasted for months. I was productive and positive in the face of an enormous loss, and that is not normal behavior for me.
The next morning, I got up to go back to work. I sat, mentally poring over the job leads that friends had fed me on the hunt the previous day, as I ate a bowl of cereal and watched a little Law & Order with my wife. I got an unexpected text from a coworker telling me that he had a lead for some contract work for me and wanted to help. This was the second time where I broke down. It made me realize just how blessed I am to have so many kind, generous, compassionate people in my life. My wife, my parents, dozens of coworkers and friends spread across the state and country. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I thought about how people were going out of their way to help me out in this difficult time.
I got to work and the barrage of kindness continued. It seemed like every one of my coworkers has some lead on a position, or a job, or a company that was hiring, or a good staffing agent. My coworkers, whom I was always certain I annoyed the hell out of, were all reaching out to help. One of them even insisted on buying me lunch even though he could easily justify pinching his pennies, he himself getting his hours cut back due to the same circumstances that led to the layoffs.
The outpouring of compassion and kindness I was shown in that tough time was more than I could have ever dreamed of. I can’t express enough gratitude for the wonderful people I have in my life.
I finally understand why my mom always cried whenever we watched It’s a Wonderful Life when I was a kid. I feel much like George Bailey did at the end of the movie as he reads Clarence’s parting words: ”Remember: no man is a failure who has friends.”
That was six years ago, now. I’d love to say the it was an easy breeze after that. Let me summarize briefly:
I did contract work. I took temp jobs. My son was born. I took horrible jobs. We got burglarized. I got sick of the sparseness of jobs in my trade. I noticed that none of my programmer friends were ever unemployed. I hit the reset button on my entire career. I started learning to code. I took night classes. I took online courses. I eventually ended up doing an intense, 8-week, 40hr/week coding boot camp at Code Fellows. I learned to become an iOS developer. My son grew. I worked at two different startups. I worked on a failed video game Kickstarter project. In the summer of 2015, I landed the exact job I’d set my heart on while I was studying at Code Fellows. My wife and I welcomed a daughter into the world. I made great friends at my job and worked there for over a year and a half, before leaving for the job I have now.
And y’all, I love this job. It is amazing how much life doesn’t suck when you like your job.
It’s been a helluva trip to get here, and involved going through the three darkest years of my life, but the hard work paid off, as did the emotional and social support of my wife, family, and friends. Thank you all for your love and support.
— This post was originally written as an answer on Quora. It has since been featured on Business Insider, Thought Catalog, and The Huffington Post. —