Sink or swim: How I recovered after being laid off in a pandemic

Like millions of other people in the world, the coronavirus turned my life upside down. The last six months have been a tumultuous rollercoaster of high, lows, plot twists, and turns that I could have never predicted. In a time where so many feel so little hope, I want to share how I seemed to navigate my career and find the light amongst the wreckage.

When and how I found out I was being laid off

In March of this year, I was just getting comfortable in my new, full-time job. Since my senior year of college, I worked at CNN. I started as an intern, then after 2 months, I got hired as a freelance producer. Although I worked 40+ hours a week, I wasn't given a contract with a salary, benefits, or perks. I just worked, a lot. I left CNN in October and started my new job in November. I was super excited to have a full-time job that I loved!

I was a Regional Manager for Campus Movie Fest, the world's largest student film festival. I traveled full-time, from Atlanta to New York City promoting the film festival and helping students make short films. Then, we hosted a huge film festival on each college campus showcasing the best films and handing out awards. The best of the best got a chance to go to Hollywood for the national festival and France for the International Cannes Film Festival. It was all very, very exciting.

I was on the job for four short months, hopping from city to city when we finally landed in New Jersey. My co-workers and I hopped on the train every time we got a chance to spend time in the city. In one month I went to two Broadway shows, Hadestown and Ain't Too Proud! On Tuesday afternoon, my Tour Manager Vi and I were trying to schedule presentations on one of our assigned campuses, but there were rumors of classes being canceled soon. We went back to our Airbnb to regroup and make contingency plans for the week. The next morning, officials began sending out press releases and making statements on their social media accounts. One by one, schools were dropping off our tour like flies.

After days of anxiety and fear of losing our jobs, the VP of Education at our company called and gave the verdict: the tour was over. We were ordered to pack up our equipment and head back to Atlanta. For the next month and a half, we worked from home. We put on a virtual film festival on Youtube as a last hoorah, then myself and my entire team were laid off on the last day of April.

But wait, there's more!

After our tour ended, it seemed like bad news continued to follow. I was in the running for a 5-week contract with Apple to lead their Apple Camp in Cupertino over the summer. I was going to be paid almost $10,000 to teach kids how to make movies using Apple products. That was canceled. I two interviews for contract positions at two companies that I've been dying to work for. They were no longer hiring. It felt like life was taking way more from me than it was giving.

My first move

The first thing on my mind May 1 was, "how am I going to make money?" I had money saved, and Dante was paying most of the bills, but I still wanted to work. I had already started applying for jobs, but in the meantime, I signed up for Instacart! In my first week, I worked for about 4 days and only made $300. That was NOT going to cut it. Dante convinced me to keep going to make sure that it wasn't for me and it took me less than a week to realize it wasn't. I knew I needed to make some other moves because manual labor has never been, and will never be, for me.

The importance of networking and how I pivoted

As a journalist, my first option to make money was to write! I reached out to my editor, Nancy, at YR Media who I used to write articles for as a freelancer, and told her I was open to working. She's always looking for pitches, so I started there. She and I have a very good, friendly relationship so soon after we reconnected, she started sending me jobs to apply for. Sometimes I got interviews, sometimes I didn't! The important part was that I was making connections and putting myself out there. My editor gave me the confidence I needed to continue writing and applying, no matter what.

A friend of mine, Khyree, recently went into business for herself. She's a master marketer with a ton of cool clients. One of those clients was looking for a copywriter. Khy knows that I'm a writer so, like a friend, she referred me for the job. From that moment on, she agreed to keep me in her professional Rolodex as a copywriter whenever anyone was looking for quality referrals. Her thinking of me in that way meant more to me than she knows, and I'll forever be grateful. My friend really gave me the confidence I needed to recognize my talent and pursue paid writing opportunities outside of journalism.

My friend, former mentor and manager Linda had also gone into business for herself. I worked for her for about a year back in 2016-2017 and we kept in touch ever since. Once I was old enough, we became friends, now we're more like family. A few years ago, she fully committed to growing her marketing and event management business. One of her current clients needed a press kit and a pr push. Linda remembered that I had done some work publicist work in the past and that I dabbled in graphic design. So, she hired me. My friend inspired me to expand my business.

My mom has owned her own business for 25 years. After countless phone calls listening to me doubt myself and my ability to be an entrepreneur, she gave me a perspective I never considered. My mom told me that I already had my own business. She reminded me that all the work I was doing actually had me working full time and that I should focus on that. My mom gave me the confidence to take myself seriously as an entrepreneur.

What I'm working on now

I'm happily running my own blog. I'm writing and creating content that is authentic and truly represents my life and who I am.

I recently got hired to join the Electionland team at ProPublica. ProPublica’s Electionland project covers problems that prevent eligible voters from casting their ballots during the 2020 elections. Our coalition of newsrooms around the country is investigating issues related to voter registration, pandemic-related changes to voting, the shift to vote-by-mail, cybersecurity, voter education, misinformation, and more. So far, I really like my manager, my team, and the work we're doing. It's a temporary job, though, so my contract ends on November 3.

I also joined Upwork! A lot of my work comes from there. It's a platform where companies and individuals can hire freelancers on a contract basis for both short and long term projects. My last contract lasted two weeks and it was $60/hour. You set your own hours, your own hourly wage then submit proposals to clients. You negotiate your pay and you get to work!

This pandemic has forced a lot of people to do a lot of things. For me, it was sinking or swim. I refused to sink so I had to learn to swim. Doing Instacart or getting a job at Target wasn't for me, so I had to find a way or make one. That's exactly what I did. Although I'm figuring out this freelance life as it comes, I'm still proud of myself for what I've done so far.

©2020 by Savannah West