*This post is a continuation of You’re fired! – if you haven’t read that yet, check it out. This post will make much more sense if you do
So the first order of affairs was looking at my cash situation, which was pretty dim. The company had given me two weeks of severance pay, which amounted to like $1200 after taxes. I was still teaching spin classes four to five days a week, which brought in about $100 or so. My salary at the insurance company was actually less than what I made as a high school teacher, but I’d managed to scrape together a couple thousand dollars in savings during the 6 months I’d worked there. I should mention that upon getting the job at the insurance company, I was literally, flat broke. I’d been working in gyms selling memberships for minimum wage plus commission, which brought in, on average, $10-$11 an hour. I regularly worried about buying groceries and putting gas in my car. I even had to ask my mom for money a couple of times during that period, which made me feel like the planet’s biggest fucking loser.
I am no stranger to financial struggle. It’s a terrible feeling.
I had always worked, from the time I was 15 and had my first job at a little mom and pops grocery store in Spring Hill, Florida. And I’d always worked hard. As a kid, my work ethic was solid. I was constantly looking for ways to earn money…babysitting, mowing lawns, etc. I’d learned the value of the dollar early on and was never afraid to work for it. But despite really busting my ass, I mean really busting my ass, I could never get ahead working for someone else. I know this is something that many of you can relate to.
So I had about $3k to my name when I was fired. I’d learned to function with very little cash, so my expenses (rent, car payment, insurance, gas, food, phone, utilities, etc.) were already streamlined to about $2k/month. My insurance coverage through my job would continue for one month, and then I’d have to start paying for Cobra, which was around $300. Because I have ulcerative colitis (and this was when insurance companies could still deny coverage for preexisting conditions), going without health insurance was not an option. Once adding in my impending health insurance premium, I would need to make around $2300 a month to cover my expenses. This meant I had enough money to get by for 5 to 6 weeks.
Okay, $2300. I had the $100 per week from spin, so I needed to figure out how to make another $1900 per month. That was only $475 per week. $68 per day.
I could figure out a way to make $68 per day.
Now that I had confronted my actual expenses, the idea of some sort of freelancing to survive was much less daunting. So the next question was, what skills do I have that I can use to generate income? The first thing that came to me was writing. Writing had always been a strength, but it wasn’t until my marketing job at the insurance company that I actually began to use that skill, professionally. While I was there, I’d learned how to write marketing materials, blog posts, and press releases. I’d learned a bit about SEO and how to manage a WordPress site, as well. Before the insurance job, while I was still squirming around at my shitty gym job, I had started teaching myself some basic graphic design skills in Photoshop. So there it was, I could write, I could do a little design stuff – now I just needed my first client.
I woke up early the next day (this was two days after getting fired) to teach my 6am spin class. I was nuts and would often go for a run downtown after spin. Dawn has always been my favorite time of day, and watching the sun rise over the bay during a run along the waterfront is pretty spectacular. It’s like watching the birth of a new day. It was even more spectacular now because I didn’t have to rush home afterwards, take a hurried shower, throw together a lunch, and hustle to an office where I would spend the day dreaming about leaping from the 12th floor balcony. That was no longer a factor.
So as I was running that morning, an idea came to me. An absolutely preposterous one. It felt more like a command than an idea, as if the words were being spoken to me, telepathically: email your old boss and thank him for firing you.
Say what? Thank that a-hole for totally blindsiding and insulting me? I thought that was literally the stupidest idea ever.
But the thought persisted. Do it anyway.
And say what? I asked myself.
Thank him for the opportunity to learn and the kick you needed to go out on your own.
This inner dialogue was insane. The thought of thanking a boss for firing me was insane. But after my run, I went home and emailed the CEO to, well, thank him. I actually pulled up the email and re-read it this morning as I was writing this post (because I am one of those ridiculous people who never deletes an email). I wanted to share part of what I sent him:
I’ve been kidding myself into thinking that working a 9-5 in an office was right for me. I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. I have to be up and moving. I have to do things my way, on my schedule… and that doesn’t go over well with most bosses, I’ve found There are a few things I’ve wanted to do, venturing out on my own into the world of self-employment, but I’ve always been too scared. It felt safer to find a job with a steady paycheck, even if that was at the sacrifice of what I really wanted to do.
I NEVER thought I would view getting fired as a positive thing, but it was the nudge I needed. I was too much of a wimp to take the plunge, but you shoved me off the cliff… and as crazy as it sounds, I appreciate it.
And I hit send. I didn’t have any expectations of a reply. Frankly, I had no idea why I had even written the email. It felt like one of the stupidest things ever, but the push I’d felt to send it was profound. So I went with it.
Twenty-four minutes later, the CEO replied:
I’m really pleased you are able to do some groovy stuff and hope that everything works out for you.
This must be the first time I was thanked for firing someone
I get it though, [the company] was definitely a stepping stone for you. It looks like you have taken the positives, learned a little and are moving forward.
Please stop by to say hi next time you are around. Also, let me know if your self employment plans include writing press releases. You are an excellent writer, we could use you in the future for press releases on a contract basis.
I really appreciate your email and I know everyone else will too.
Good luck with everything!
And that’s how I got my first client. I started immediately, writing a couple of press releases each week. I charged $125 per release, which took me about 2 hours to draft. They only needed me to write the press releases for a couple of months (while they trained my replacement to do them, ha!), but that bought me some time to start pursuing other opportunities, as well. I began writing for a content mill and posted some ads on craigslist to advertise my writing services. It wasn’t glamorous, but I was almost immediately able to make the same money I had been paid at the insurance company (while working half the hours). During this time, I also built my first blog, This Girl Trains, which helped me learn how to build a website. A couple months later, I landed a contract to build several websites and develop marketing materials for a fitness company. I taught myself all kinds of writing skills during that first year. I wanted to have as many tools in my creative workshop as possible. I never turned a gig down because I didn’t feel qualified; rather, I’d teach myself whatever I needed to learn in order to complete a project. I took on a lot of jobs writing resumes and cover letters during this time, since I had *plenty* of practice at that between 2010 and 2012. I wrote technical manuals. I wrote website content. I edited fiction manuscripts. I proofed essays. I helped people set up LinkedIn profiles. You name it, I did it. About a year later, I landed a contracting opportunity with a firm that helps doctoral candidates with research analysis. That gig, for which I am endlessly thankful, provided me with steady work for the next two years.
As an interesting side note, I almost cancelled the interview with the academic firm. I was in the middle of a hellacious and debilitating ulcerative colitis flare-up. I had a phone interview scheduled but (I’ll spare you the details) was stuck on the toilet. I remember giving myself permission to blow the interview off as I laid on the bathroom floor, praying for my gut to stop cramping. But that same voice that commanded me to thank my boss for firing me piped in and insisted I do the interview, and I’m so glad I did. It was part of my path… all of this has been. It was an opportunity to launch.
With my other clients, I was able to break $50k my second year as a freelancer, which was significantly more money than I’d ever made before, and certainly more than I thought a freelance writer could ever earn (I imagined all freelance writers were starving artists who subsisted on caffeine and nicotine while living in dank studio apartments … turns out, I was wrong).
Today, I work with clients all over the world, mostly in the academic arena. I have a very comfortable income and the freedom and flexibility to do other things that I love, like work on this blog, write my adventure memoir, and find new mountains to bicycle to the top of. Last summer, I bought an RV so I can travel the country and work from the road (see my other blog, www.thehighwayandi.com).
When you put yourself out there, when you take chances and follow the nudges of the universe, you will be rewarded. I can absolutely promise you that. The key is to listen to that voice that tells you to do things like write a thank-you email to a boss who fired you – and then act on it. Empower yourself through action. Be BOLD and courageous enough to live out your own story, not a story someone else has written for you. Take risks and know that everything you need to live an amazing, out-loud life is already within you. Life is meant to be lived, savored, enjoyed. If you don’t love what you’re doing, change it! If you want to figure out a way to have more control over your life, your time, your income, do it!
Free yourself up to be the person you were born to be. You will never regret that.