”I’m sorry, but you are om the list.”
And with those words from my supervisor in mid-August this year, my 20-year media career was over.
Since 2003, I had survived more than eight layoffs at the media company I worked in. So when I learnt about the retrenchment exercise on 18 August, I thought that I would be safe again as my copywriter position was considered to be an essential one.
But as I prayed this time, I sensed as if God was talking personally to me.
”Trust in Me,” I felt that He was telling me this.
So I changed my approach and prayed: ‘’If it is Your will that I be let go, I accept Your will too and I know that You will lead me through this. Amen.’’
We were notified that the affected employees would be informed by the end of the day. When 6pm came around and no phone calls came, I felt sure that I was safe.
Until 6.15pm came round, and my supervisor made the fateful phone call that led to my secure world tumbling down.
”Don’t worry, doors and windows will open,” my sister said when I told her the news.
Those words were a welcome rock of sustenance and strength as I faced the days and weeks that followed.
For several years, the media industry worldwide was forced to lay off thousands of staff worldwide in response to declining circulation and readership of newspapers and magazines. .
Digital media subscriptions were rising but they were not enough to offset the rising numbers of readers who got their news from social media platforms instead.
So the layoffs were not unusual. I used to think I was immune, as my role was considered ‘essential’. But I was wrong.
There was no use denying the inevitable, so I quickly and realistically accepted my new situation and work towards getting another position as soon as possible.
I had much to be grateful for. I was in good health and had financial security, thanks to a sizable severance package as well as medical and training benefits.
I turned to employability coaches to help me craft my resume to fit the new job market (I last prepared a resume and CV more than 20 years ago). I came across advertisements for copywriting and content creation positions, so I applied to as many as I could.
As my last working day was 31 August, I still had projects to complete before handing the work to my colleague. The work was a great comfort as it helped to distract me and enabled me to not immediately have to face the reality of my job situation.
After I finally bade goodbye, I was confident that job offers would come in.
One week passed, then two weeks, then three. Then the rejection e-mails came in, and I realised there were few positions available for an experienced ex-copywriter in his mid-50s.
That was hard to take, and soon discouragement began to set in.
Upon hearing of my retrenchment, an old and dear friend shared that it may be a time of reinvention for me.
Another friend shared how she felt that miracles occurred only after we had made the decision to ‘’take the first step’’, something I was very often unwilling to do.
Yet another friend told me that the layoff might be a time for God to teach me how to ‘’walk on water’’.
’See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.’’ (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)
Tender loving care
Several months before COVID-19, I invested in a gym membership and began regular workout sessions in order to improve my endurance, lose weight and look good.
As colleagues and friends saw the changes in me – I even dropped my shirt size from Large to Medium – I was motivated to keep up the practice.
I later began taking long morning walks and posted short encouraging videos after each walk.
After my retrenchment, my fitness routine also helped me maintain my mental and spiritual health after my retrenchment, as the walks were times to commune with God, hear His voice and review my mindsets as I continued my job search.
Former colleagues, and other friends said they were committed to praying for me and often checked in with me to encourage and refresh me with Bible verses and godly insights.
I also started studying the Bible deeper as I sought guidance and spiritual anchoring for my journey.
A few days after I shared the news of my retrenchment, a former colleague helped connect me to a freelance writing assignment that kept me busy for several weeks.
Soon after that event, friends and former schoolmates sent me other freelance writing assignments, work from their clients and business leaders.
The situation began to improve and by end-September, I had three job offers lined up..
One was a referral by my former editor for a contract position at another media agency.
A former client also referred me for a management position at a well-known enrichment centre.
The third offer was for a relationship manager position at a financial services company.
After much consideration, I decided to accept the contract job offer at the media agency.
But the post-retrenchment experience had taught me to look at my situation through different eyes.
Although I had counselled and encouraged many friends and former colleagues who had been retrenched, that prior experience was not of much help as I navigated my own journey when it was my turn.
But what initially looked like a tragedy soon turned into a blessing instead.
Former colleagues have now become good friends and many of them have sent freelance writing assignments my way.
My walks and videos have also helped me forge new and closer friendships that may not have been possible had I still been working.
I do not know what the future will be for me after this job ends but my experiences have helped me learn to ‘’put my hand in the hand of the One who stilled the water’’ and am learning to ‘’walk on water’’ myself as I learn to walk together with God as we face uncertainties.
Increased empathy was another gift that God gave me during the retrenchment as I developed a deeper understanding of my situation and that of many others who were in similar circumstances.
I first thought that my retrenchment meant 2020 would be the worst year of my life.
But now it has turned into the best year of my life instead!