I was laid off in 2016 and my life took a completely different trajectory. I’ve been feeling a strong need to write this article and tell my story but finding the courage to do so has been difficult. Putting one’s self in the spotlight isn’t always the easiest thing to do but with more and more sad news about people losing their jobs due to the Covid19 pandemic, I thought I’ll have to brave it, tell my story and perhaps it can give hope to someone out there. So, wish me luck, am gonna need it because am about to lay bare some parts of my soul as I share my journey of how I got retrenched and what it took for me to rebuild and reinvent myself — the non-traditional way!
I always thought that being laid off or being retrenched was something that happened to old people. Yes, I was that naïve! I had an illusion of job security like many people who still have a job do today. I was a permanent employee with a permanent contract of employment. I had it nicely kept in my drawer at home until that fateful morning when my boss called for a meeting in his office.
Personally, I think the idea of job security is an illusion. One day you may get to work, content in the knowledge that you are safe and secured in your job. Then you’ll get a call from your Boss, he wants to see you in his/her office. Or you’ll get that dreadful email. Yes, that’s right — your guess is as good as mine. You’ll get told the company is restructuring or some other nicety or not-so-nicety story and that will be the end. That contract you signed for permanent employment means nothing. There is always a possibility that you will no longer have a job if maybe you don’t perform, or if do something outrageous or if fall behind a certain criteria. Sometimes you may not have done anything wrong like in my case. Your employer might just need to downsize and get rid of some staff, and because you were the last one in, you are the first one out. Especially now, as the Covid19 pandemic is bringing even the toughest global job markets to its knees.
Okay, back to my story…
When my boss called me into his office that fateful morning, It was nothing unusual as that was what usually happened whenever he’d been away and then returned to the office. And so I walked into his office suspecting nothing and sat down with this big smile on my face. He looked at me and took a deep breath that felt like he took my soul along. Immediately I knew something was wrong, my smile faded as I was waiting for him to drop the bomb. He went silent for about 20 seconds which felt like an eternity. I could feel my heart pounding against my chest.
Finally, he looked straight at me with this pale look and said, “We’ve been wondering how to tell you this but there are some changes going on and we’ve decided to let you go.” In that moment I felt my heart drop into my stomach. It felt as if I had just been hit by a train at high speed. This turn of events was completely unexpected and shocked me to the extent that I sat there, open-mouthed, struggling to comprehend what I’d just heard. His eyes stared at me intently; his inability to grasp the chaos he had just unleashed was astounding. Yet I couldn’t speak. I was rendered speechless. My mouth was dry. I could feel my heart forcing its way out of my chest.
If you prefer visual content, then watch the video version of this article on YouTube. Otherwise, keep reading…
This was a watershed moment in my life and I knew life was never going to be the same again. I’ve just lost the very job I held on to for dear life. My identity, my bills, my groceries, and my children’s futures were wrapped around that job and it was gone in an instant. The footsteps of me walking away from an abusive marriage that nearly drove me to suicide were barely dried. It was exactly one year of me and my two kids facing life on our own in a foreign country and the job that gave us hope was now gone.
As a single mom, I felt my world crashing into tiny little pieces. I thought I’d finish all of my own sufferings and was borrowing other people’s suffering. I thought divorce was the rock bottom of rock bottoms. I was still hurting like hell from the divorce. My self-esteem was on the floor. I was still figuring out this thing called single parenting and then boom retrenchment happened. I didn’t think life could get any worse and at that moment but it did. The job that kept me sane was gone in an instant.
To say that day and the weeks and months that followed were some of the worst days of my life would be an understatement. I cried myself to sleep for months. It took weeks for me to even tell my closest friend that I’d been laid off. Anxiety was the order of the day and tears became my daily bread. They were nights I’ll literally wait for the kids to fall asleep so that I can fall apart. The despair was unbearable. I was a walking zombie.
As time went on, the raging storm inside me began to subside. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but still, I made the tough decision never to return to the corporate world again. The decision was mostly out of fear. I remember thinking to myself I don’t want to ever feel this pain again. I don’t want to ever feel this level of hopelessness and despair again. Deep down I knew there was more to life. And I decided it was time to explore, time to pave my own path; though I had no idea what that path looked like.
Back then, I had no idea there was a writer in me, I had no idea I could do public speaking. Being an author or a speaker was the furthest thing from my mind. I had no idea I could impact people or make a difference in the world. I never ever imagine that someday someone would pay my flight and hotel accommodation to fly me to another country to speak at a conference but my God was at work behind the scenes though it felt like I was literally drowning in pain.
After losing my job, all I knew was pain. I was in a dark place. I’d hit rock bottom once again. I cried myself to sleep for months. My pain eventually became curiosity and I started questioning as to why retrenchment was more rampant and more vicious. It was like when you buy a particular type of car, then you start to see that car everywhere go. It was like that for me, everytime I switched on the TV or radio, there was news about different companies laying off workers and sometimes in their thousands. So, I started questioning how a company can afford to retrenched or lay off thousands of employees in a space of 2 to 3 years and yet don’t go bankrupt but instead increases productivity, efficiency and much more.
These questions let me to the belly of the internet. I started researching and then discovered that machines were replacing humans at work. Hence the reason why an organization can let go so many people and continue to thrive. For the first time, I came across words like Artificial Intelligence(AI), Robotics, Internet of Things(IoT), Big Data and much; all powered by something called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. At the time, these concepts sounded very foreign and were quite intimidating. This was in 2017.
At this point, it is worth mentioning that I had zero interest or background in IT or tech. The only tech I knew prior to being laid off was working on my laptop or using my smartphone for calls and messages, nothing beyond that. I am not an academician by any stretch of imagination, I don’t even have a degree. Yep! you heard that right!
Well, my cluelessness about these new technologies only fueled my curiosity even more. I wanted to know more about these emerging technologies. I wanted to understand their impact on employment. And the more I studied these concepts the more interesting and fascinating they became. I started sharing my findings on social media and realized that many people were just as clueless as me, completely unaware of how new technologies were changing work and life. I discovered that many are too comfortable in the false illusion of “Job Security”, holding onto skills/certificates that are no longer relevant.
This then became a huge passion to warn everyone about these changes. I moved from writing on social media to starting a Blog. Writing then became my therapy. Writing gave me meaning and purpose. I went on to writing for the Huffington Post and other platforms within South Africa. I had no idea this would turn out as a book. And so, my curiosity and a knack for questioning things gave birth to a Book I titled Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted.
When the idea to write a book first came to my mind, I remember disqualifying myself immediately. I was like get out of here, ain’t no way I can write a book! I came up with 1000 valid excuses of why I could never write a book! I told myself “I’m not educated, I can’t speak proper English, I know nothing about technology or the IT industry.” I kept telling myself I wasn’t qualified but the more I tried to run away from the book idea the more it became even stronger. So, I gave in and wrote the book.
And so, I’ve learnt that a certificate is not the only thing that can qualify a person. The passion to make a difference can qualify people as well, purpose qualifies people, experience can qualifies people. Sometimes, just having a certain personality can qualify a person as well. So, you should never disqualify yourself just because you don’t have formal education or certain certificates.
Having the courage to write a book qualified me and gave me a voice. Even though I don’t have the qualifications according to society’s standards, but yet I speak on the topic of technology both nationally and internationally. As a first-time author, the way my book was received by the world outpaced my expectations.
The journey that brought me on an international stage was a painful one, a journey back from the darkness. A journey littered with teeth-shattering challenges. After losing my job and finding myself with no source of income, I was beyond broke. I was as broke as the ten commandments Moses drop when he came down the mountain. The experience was like being thrown in the sea with no life jacket. It was either I swim or die. An amazing couple that I’ve been friends with for years came to my rescue and offered me a room in their house to move in with my two kids but I said no to their offer (the reason I said no to this brilliant offer deserves an article of its own)
Friends and family also suggested I sent the kids back home and try to bounce back on my feet and I also said no. I couldn’t bear the thoughts of them being so far from me. They were still making sense of me and their Dad not being together. I couldn’t put them through another trauma of separating them from me, they were just too young. I just couldn’t!
I told myself I’ll find a way to make it work. I turn to hustling and selling stuff on the streets of Johannesburg to put food on the table. I was selling things like perfumes, second-hand clothing, even foodstuff at times. That was in 2017. I meet people on the street who told me they have been street hustling for 5 years, some 10, 15 even 20years. Hearing these stories horrified me to the core. I didn’t want to end up like that. These people had no dreams. They were so satisfied with their daily bread. But I wanted more out of life. And so when the streets started taking all my time, energy, and moving me further from the dream, I left. I gave up street hustling and decided to learn how to design beaded African Jewelries.
I was selling my craft on Facebook and other online platforms. This strategy of working from home gave me an opportunity to focus on writing the book. As much as I was trying my best to keep a roof over my head and put food on the table, the income wasn’t nearly enough to cover the basics. I’ll forever be grateful for the support I got from family at the time, support from amazing friends and even Food parcels from our church kept me going and most importantly kept the dream alive. But still it wasn’t enough.
I was living on a shoestring budget. I don’t mean those thick shoestrings, I’m talking about the tiny one which you have to be super gentle with otherwise it just breaks. Things got so bad at one point, I remember going back to the couple that had offered me space in their home and asking, hey is that offer still open for me and the kids to move in; though they said yes, I still couldn’t move in with them. Among other reasons, I was afraid I’ll lose my drive and motivation if I suddenly didn’t have to worry about paying rents and or buying food and stuff like that. So I said, no; and things only got worst.
There was a time I was walking for about an hour every day to go keep my daughter In school because I couldn’t afford school transport. I did that for about eight months. Some of the ideas for the book came during those long walks. This was in 2018. I always had a notebook with me. Sometimes, I’ll literally sit on the side of the road and write ideas as they came, they will develop them later when on my laptop. The process of reinventing myself, writing my book and finding my path in life was a hard one but I told myself, there are only two options, its either I win or I win.
I couldn’t even afford home wifi at the time and so I was always on the lookout and hunting for free WiFi spots around town to do my research. I had a very old laptop that couldn’t connect directly to WiFi. I had a small phone that wasn’t so smart either but at least it connected to WiFi where I did my research and typed out what was relevant on my laptop. I’m still keeping that old phone, though no longer working but I keep it for sentimental reasons. This is the exact phone right here in the picture below. I’m sharing it so that the next time you read my Book, it should remind you of the struggle that birth “Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted.”
There were days I had no idea where the next meal will come from. There were days I had to use twice a single tea bag twice so that my daughter will have something that looked like tea. I vividly remember being invited to bring the kids to a friend’s birthday party, My daughter was just turning five at the time. We got to the party and they was so much food, so much chicken, so much meat and my daughter literally started screaming “Maammy, see meat”! I had to put my hand on her mouth to shut her up because i didn’t want people wondering she was acting like that. Truth is, she wasn’t used to eating or seeing those types of delicacies. Having a decent meal was so rare to us at the time and meat was like something we used to see on TV. This in itself is a story within a story.
Life has been tough and rough so much so that if I were to pour out everything I’ve been through, some of you will think I’m reciting a movie script.
The point is that It took a lot of resilience and persistence to get to where I am today. The struggle landed me in hospital at some point due to high levels of stress and other complications but still, giving up wasn’t an option. I was beyond broke both financially, emotionally and spiritually, but I never took my eyes off the dream. How my book actually got published in my broke state is a story for another day.
Some people say my story is inspiring, but the truth is I didn’t exactly know what I was doing, I took a huge chance on life but somehow I figured it out. Somehow, the dots connected as I kept pushing myself, somehow God came through for me. This is grace in action and tenacity combined!
Back in 2016, I didn’t realize it then but when I lost my job I won something else. I won an opportunity to stretch myself to see what else was out there for me. I won an opportunity to dream bigger dreams, take bigger actions and make a bigger difference in the world. The reality is that trouble don’t need an invitation. Tough times are inevitable. But being defeated by them is optional.
As Napoleon Hill said, “Every adversity, every failure and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or a greater benefit.”
Looking in hindsight, getting retrenched/laid off was actually a blessing. I was released and set free to find something better and I did. The very fact that you are reading this article or have read my Book is proof that there is beauty in chaos. Dealing with nearly insurmountable challenges can sometimes turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you, as was the case for me.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I want to accomplish in my life and so the journey continues. My life isn’t void of struggles or pain or heartache or disappointments or tears but I’ve grown as a person. I found my purpose in life and even though I am not yet where I want to be but I am not where I use to be. Now I know what I want out of life. I am not confused by my mandate and my calling is clear as crystal!
The real achievement isn’t that I wrote a book or that I became an international speaker or that I got international recognition. No, the real achievement is the person I had to become mentally, emotionally, spiritually, before any transformation happened in the physical.
As I conclude, my encouragement to anyone going through something is that you should embrace whatever life throws at you. Don’t run away. Fight to change the trajectory of your life. Fight to turn your wounds into wisdom. fight to turn disappointment into opportunity.
Don’t run away from pain, more often than not, a best-seller, best business model or an award-winning song are usually born out of deep adversity or out of an economic crisis as the one the world is facing right now.
So, take the pain, the frustrations, skills and experience you have inside you and package it into something that will solve problems for others and you get paid for it. For me it was a book. Maybe for you, it might be a song, a business, a new tech solution, etc.
As Maya Angelou said, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
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