scorecardI was laid off after 25 years of working my way up in the insurance industry. It was the best thing to happen to me.
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I was laid off after 25 years of working my way up in the insurance industry. It was the best thing to happen to me.

Melissa Drake   

I was laid off after 25 years of working my way up in the insurance industry. It was the best thing to happen to me.
Careers3 min read
The author was laid off after 25 years.    Nadia_Bormotova/Getty Images
  • I was 20 years old when I started an entry-level job in the insurance industry.
  • Twenty-five years later, I was a director reporting to the CEO when my position was eliminated.

I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, a global insurance hub, with a mother who worked in insurance, so it's no surprise that's where my career began.

Eager to start my administrative position, I dropped out of college to upgrade my retail wages and lock in employer benefits. It was 1990, in the days of paternalistic employers with extreme coverage health plans, low deductibles and copays, stacked 401ks, profit-sharing plans, and every ancillary coverage you could ever want. I was grateful for the opportunity and excited to see how far I could take my entry-level position.

I immediately set goals, saying I'd double my salary in five years, triple it in 10, and quadruple it in 15. I crushed and surpassed those goals as I advanced through various positions. Having only changed companies two times, I was a loyal employee who evolved with buyouts, mergers, and acquisitions. Many of my promotions were to newly created positions tailored to my specific skill set — which grew around communications, marketing, business analysis, and client service.

But everything changed when my role was suddenly eliminated.

I enjoyed most of my career, and I was good at it

As glorious as it was to have an employer with the best benefits on the market, I sometimes felt stifled and caged in. The bureaucracy, red tape, and politics challenged me.

I recall a conversation with my best friend Sue, who worked at all three employers with me, suggesting I go rogue and become an entrepreneur. I gasped. There was no way I could give up the benefits, the prestige, and the steady paycheck. I couldn't even consider such a move, especially as a single mother, so I decided to make the most of my office days.

In 2012, my 16-year-old son and I traveled to Los Angeles. My son declared he wanted to live in California within days of our arrival. "There's no way in hell I'd ever live here," I proclaimed. I was comfortable in my corporate job and owned a home I loved. I couldn't imagine leaving my "nest." California was exhausting to me, too.

But honestly, outside of work, I was severely depressed and mourning the death of my parents, with no energy to explore anything new.

I had to get really uncomfortable to find my happy place

A few years after our trip to California, my son went to college out of state. Two concurrent chronic illnesses amplified the emptiness of my empty nest. I had no choice but to take better care of myself and create a life outside of work and being a parent. I joined Facebook and expanded my support network. I started dancing with a group of empty nest moms, began living, and did things that made me happy.

Just as I was hitting my stride, caring for my health, and recovering from the most pressing and prolonged depressive episode that landed me in bed for a full seven years, I was laid off from my corporate position as a director reporting to the CEO.

While the news was jarring, I wasn't worried. I had no idea what I would do, but I knew my time in the insurance industry had expired.

Losing my job felt like permission to go after my destiny

As someone who nearly always struggled with mental health, I wanted to write to spread awareness and normalize conversations around depression, anxiety, and life’s toughest transitions like chronic illness, divorce, single parenting, the death of loved ones, and traumatic events — all of which I had direct experience with. Job loss was a new transition I could add to my toolbelt.

My destiny wasn’t just about a new career but an entirely new way of living. Without the comfort of a stable job, secure home, and benefits galore, California became where I suddenly felt most alive, most connected, and most led to continue chasing my dreams.

Without the unexpected job elimination and the greatest nudge from the universe, I’m not sure I ever would’ve stepped outside of the corporate track where I grew up. Thankfully, the skills and bachelor’s degree I earned were transferrable, and entrepreneurship gave me the freedom and flexibility my friend Sue suggested.

Plus, the move proved to be the best thing for my family.