This was originally posted on my LinkedIn profile on September 4, 2015. It’s still true.
My best career move….
Today is the 20th Anniversary of what may be the best move of my career. Twenty years ago today, I was laid off from my job.
By September of 1995, I had been the top communications staffer- Ok, the only communications staffer- for a large affordable housing provider for six years. It was a great job. I had a wonderful supportive boss. I cared deeply about the mission. I managed media relations, publications, crisis communications, some public affairs and anything else they threw at me.
Then, on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, I was called into the Executive Director’s office. He offered few words about funding cuts and told me several jobs had to be eliminated including mine and my boss’. It wasn’t really unexpected but it was sure jarring to hear the words.
The truth was, for the previous couple of years, I hadn’t done much that was new. Instead of getting more experience, I had been having the same experiences over and over. I had become very comfortable in my job. Too comfortable.
After a long weekend to think about it, I was back at work on Tuesday. But my job was now figuring out what to do next. Over the next five months, I had breakfast, coffee, lunch, whatever with anyone who was willing to talk with me. PR agency owners. Writers. Corporate vice presidents. Reporters. Elected officials. Not for profit leaders. Friends of friends of friends.
It was fun. I learned a lot. I met people who are still my friends. A friend at the largest PR Agency in town hired me for free-lance work. My mentor hired me at the Red Cross to help reach out to blood donors.
Finally, on referrals from several of the good people I had met during my marathon of informational meetings, I was hired as the communications director for my local chamber of commerce. For two and a half years I got to do big things in Saint Paul. I got very comfortable in my work. Too comfortable. So I decided to lay myself off again and start Davis Communications Management, the business that has sustained me for 17 years.
Suddenly losing your job may not sound like a great career move but it made my company possible. It taught me to take control of my work. It taught me that there are kind people out there who are willing to share their advice and connections. And it taught me that the surest way to be a successful professional is to surround yourself with smart successful professionals.
The experience of losing my job twenty years ago today taught me that that biggest risk comes from not taking risks.