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I quit a stable job in my early 20s. Here are 4 things I wish I knew then that helped me survive a layoff a few years later.

  • Nick Dauk is a freelance travel writer and copywriter. At 22, he quit a salaried job in retail to finish his bachelor's degree and switch career paths.
  • When he was laid off six years later from his job at a sports broadcasting company, Dauk says he looked back to mistakes he'd made at 22 to guide his transition into freelancing.
  • Dauk says he learned it's important to have a solid plan before quitting and losing a stable paycheck, and it's key to know yourself as a professional to avoid becoming another anonymous job seeker.
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At 22, I quit a salaried management position at a college bookstore to finish my Bachelor's degree. 

I spent seven years working in retail, and felt I'd achieved all that I wanted to in that industry. So after graduation, I began working at a major sports network. Although I never considered a career in broadcasting, I was able to transition from a freelance production role to a salaried position as an operations manager. After six years with the company, I was laid off at 28 years old.

My decision to completely abandon a stable career in retail was risky, so was my choice to accept a severance and not pursue another role within one of the largest broadcasting companies in the world.

I made a number of mistakes after quitting the bookstore that completely disrupted my professional life for the next six years. The lessons learned from these missteps, however, actually helped me survive the layoff, and successfully transition into a new career almost immediately. 

Mistake No. 1: Quitting without a plan

My long-term plan was to leave the retail industry behind and secure a management position in a different industry, before eventually transitioning into a writing career. The problem was that my "plan" was nonexistent. I quit the bookstore assuming that 18 months of management experience and an upcoming  Bachelor's degree would be enough to land me another comparable management role.

Far from it.

For the first three months, I received two callbacks from countless applications, with zero job offers. A former coworker helped me land a freelance teleprompter role at a sports network, but that only amounted to $100 to $300 a week in paychecks. If the network hadn't hired me full-time 11 months into my job search, I don't know when or where I would have continued my career. 

Lesson learned: Defining the destination and creating a legitimate pathway

When I was laid off at 28, the sports network gave me three months of severance pay, all of which I placed directly into my savings. My plan was to write full-time, ideally transitioning from copywriting to book writing. Either way, the primary goal was to generate at least $27,500 from writing — equivalent to my final retail salary —  without touching my severance. 

This time, I knew exactly what I needed to do to move forward. Measurable goals, coupled with a clear direction and a rough understanding of the journey's terrain, helped me carry out my plan successfully.

Mistake No. 2: Turning down a lifeline

A domestic violence shelter that I supported offered me an overnight security/intake specialist position immediately following my bookstore departure. The hourly wage was more than my bookstore salary and the role had purpose — two tempting benefits that I almost couldn't ignore. 

Still, I declined the offer. 

Ultimately, it didn't feel like the right decision. Though I would go on to work for the shelter in a writing capacity years later, my hesitation to accept their generosity unnecessarily prolonged my resume gap.

Lesson learned: Say "yes" to everything

After my severance, I took on any writing projects that I was offered, even low-paying gigs. Knowing that a scarcity of opportunity could plague me at any moment, I loaded my queue with as many writing assignments as I could get my hands on. 

Some clients netted me tens of thousands over the first year; others, far less. At year's end, I'd paid my bills on time and had continued building a writing resume, without regrettably waiting for the "right" opportunity.

Mistake No. 3: Becoming another anonymous job seeker

In a vacuum, my retail accomplishments were admirable: I'd worked my way from seasonal employee into management at 21 while living in my car, successfully supervised over 50 employees, and responsibly allocated large budgets. With management experience and a college degree, surely my resume would catch the eye of a recruiter.

In reality, though, I was just another recent college grad with an unremarkable CV.

I waded into unemployment with zero networking skills, blindly sending out applications and standing in long career fair lines, all without a clue of how to navigate the job market. 

Lesson learned: Understanding who I was (and who I wasn't) as a professional

With limited writing experience, I accepted that I wouldn't jump into a $40,000 salary right away. Realistically, I'd be lucky to land any full-time copywriting role without another full-time digital marketing entry on my resume.

However, I knew that my minimal experience was solid enough to build a small client base and nab freelance work. I also understood that odds-and-ends gigs, such as writing for entertainment websites, could boost my income little-by-little.

While I set high goals for manuscript publication, I also measured my expectations and pursued projects within my skill range. Slowly, I continued to build experience and a diverse portfolio, understanding that it would take time, effort, and ingenuity to become more than just another writer for hire in the eyes of clients, recruiters, and editors.

Mistake No. 4: Having a one-foot-out-the-door mentality

From the moment I entered the broadcast world, I was planning my exit. 

My hard work earned me promotions nearly every year despite my endless search for something — almost anything — else. Ultimately, this mentality was extremely beneficial long-term, as the part-time writing jobs I picked up years before my severance prepared me for a smooth transition to full-time writing.

But the "what ifs" remain unanswered.

Would I have continued climbing the ladder into operations management or would my path have unexpectedly led me to a role as a writer?

These opportunities could have been right in front of me all along, but instead, I was too focused on greener pastures. 

Lesson learned: Committing to my current career goals

Aside from one crisis of confidence six months after being laid off, I've stayed 100% dedicated to my career goals. There was no backup plan, and no running back to retail or television. 

I kept a steady focus on successfully growing my career, ignoring any temptations to transition to an "easier" job. Even as the rejections and difficulties increased, I stayed committed to the journey. 

Whenever I reach the end, there won't be any "what ifs" left unanswered.

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