What happens when life pulls the rug out from under you when you least expect it? When that fantastic job and career you have only just started to carve suddenly stops dead in its tracks? For 24 year old Sophie it could have been a long-term meltdown. Instead, it defined her resilience and strength and led to a dream job she would not have otherwise foreseen. In our series “When Our Worst Leads to Our Best” we continue to explore how adversity can often in fact be triumph in disguise.
When she was 23 Sophie’s career was just taking off.
Following her business degree she was fortunate to be one of few selected to join a particular graduate programme. All that hard work, all those application forms and numerous rounds of interviews finally paid off. Now she was here. She was on the cusp of a two-year programme rotating through at least six core departments of the business, all the while broadening her skillset and giving her time to decide on her ultimate area of expertise. She had her whole career ahead of her and she was firing on all cylinders.
But the graduate course was with Thomas Cook, and Sophie had absolutely no idea what was coming her way…
Kickstarting a career
You’re bulletproof when you’re in your twenties, especially in the workforce. You’re too young to be jaded; you’re eager to learn; you’re building a budding network of interesting, skilled people; everything’s new so boredom just doesn’t even factor on your radar; you’re loving life.
Until you lose your job.
That is not part of the script. At least, not in your early 20s and not when you’ve just entered the workforce. For Sophie, it was the chapter in her story that she never saw coming. That happened to people further on and further up. So when it did unfold - and it came out of nowhere - she completely lost her footing.
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The week ended like any other. Sophie was about a year into her programme and she was loving it. She had a work family around her, she was gaining enormous experience, she was on track. There had been hush talk of challenges, and certainly budget cuts were under review. But that Friday night laptops were closed, lights were turned off, and everyone headed off into their weekend.
Sophie was oblivious as to what was about to go down.
Sophie got up and dressed for work. To this day she has a vivid memory of doing her hair whilst watching the television in the background, her CEO on live television confirming the company was to be liquidated. It surely wasn’t real. Sophie left for work. By 1pm she was back at home and unemployed.
Mourning the loss of a job
In those darkest of weeks she remembers her Dad telling her that it would all work out. In fact, he said, it would ironically be the making of her. Before that happened though, he explained she was going to go through something akin to grief. Denial, anger, depression, acceptance; it’d be an explosive washing machine of emotions.
First came shock and confusion. She just absolutely couldn’t believe it. Last week she had purpose and routine and an income. This week she’d been effectively torn from her team, never again would they all be together in a work environment. In that first week she would wake up, and just not know what to do with herself. How to save her career? Where to look for work? Was there even work available this close to Christmas, isn't that traditionally the worst time to be seeking employment?
In a way it was fortunate that the situation called for a lot of red tape - forms needed filling out, boxes needed ticking. Sophie could put herself into autopilot and be an efficient admin officer. But then the paper work was done and she was left with nothing.
The power of routine and a support network
She threw herself into her fitness and routine. Gym twice a day and a schedule for every activity - from taking her bovine collagen with morning coffee to even reading and phoning friends.
(On the point of collagen - Sophie knows that at her age a collagen supplement is not essential. She started taking Edible Health bovine powder collagen in an effort to eliminate acne scarring. She no longer has acne and she’s convinced her skin is better than it’s ever been. So why stop something that’s working so well).
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Taking the supplement, and every other routine, was all part of creating a deliberate structure to not only make her day feel full, but to retain a paradigm of control in this total, chaotic wreck of a situation.
Friends were key. Sophie lived with several of her closest mates and it was that camaraderie and support that got her through. She had a shoulder whenever it was needed, and she would soak them all in tears. But ironically, it was this homelife that also brought her internal tension. Here they all were going off to work every day. Here they all were coming back every evening with their stories, their accomplishments, their frustrations. Only those out of work have an acute awareness of just how much of life is spent in it, even when we’re not physically there.
The best laid plans…
Despite all the angst and upset, Sophie threw herself into job hunting. She’d never been in this position, and certainly not whilst feeling this raw. She thought it would take her a month. She didn’t know the average statistic was more like three to six months. A river of applications and interviews later and she’d found nothing. When interviews did progress, she would have a crisis of confidence wondering if she was just taking a plaster approach, a short-term solution to get her out of hot water. She couldn’t think clearly. Some of her friends were embarking on a Life Holiday - the kind of year+ adventure to every corner of the globe. She agreed to their suggestion - she would throw in the towel and join them.
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And then (of course, as the story so often goes) the job offer came in. It was with a start-up business offering investment solutions to millennials. The owners didn’t quite know how to define her role - she was expected to carve and mould it as she went. Amazing. One thing was clear - she was going to be hands-on involved in everything. In she went, all guns blazing, and didn't look back. It’s become the dream job - it has given her opportunities to step up and lay the ropes, not just learn them. In contrast to a big corporation, start-ups are all about learning from trial and error, being agile and responsive to change when necessary. All things Sophie relishes.
When coronavirus hit and words like isolation, quarantine, furlough and redundancy entered the daily lexicon, a lot of people got worried. Not Sophie. By no means was she belittling the gravitas of the situation, but this all seemed familiar territory. She’d felt this panic, she’d lived this isolation, she had taught herself how to remain functional and efficient when structure falls by the wayside. Unlike coronavirus with us all in this together, she’d done it all alone. This time around, she had this.
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So for Sophie, losing her job was a gift to her career. It happened so early in the piece that she can apply it positively to her future. It taught her resilience and strength. It made her realise she can find herself in dark times, but she can get out of them, too.
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