When I moved to New York city to take a job as a creative director in 2014, I was ecstatic. After purging at least 70% of my belongings, I happily traded shoe-melting Dallas summers for eyelash-freezing New York winters.
It was the first time I’d lived anywhere outside of Texas, so adjusting to my new home and the unsettling lack of Tex-Mex took longer than expected.
Then, just about the time I started to feel settled into my new city, I got laid off. Here’s what it taught me.
The first two weeks of unemployment were the worst. I hadn’t had time to build a New York–based professional network anywhere near the size of the one I’d had in Dallas. Despite that, I still managed to get enough support to update my portfolio, survive a nasty fight with depression and anxiety, and land a freelance gig as a creative director.
Some of my ad-industry buddies insist that freelancing in New York is the only way to go. There are tons of opportunities, and you can make a ton of money doing it if you can stomach inconsistent gigs (which I cannot) and if you love networking (which I do not): I need to know exactly how much my next check is going to be and when I’m going to get it. And the thought of saying things like, “Lemme shoot you my contact info so we can have a convo about those opps!” to multiple cocktail-holding industry strangers makes me want to run screaming into a busy intersection.
Luckily, the contract I took was a solid one-month commitment that, thanks to following my favorite four-word rule, turned into two months and, eventually, a full-time offer. The freelance opportunity helped me with so much more than paying rent. I made amazing new connections, got a fresh (and desperately needed) boost of self-esteem, and had the chance I needed to decide what I really wanted to be doing and where I wanted to do it.
Feeling like this particular full-time job just wasn’t right for me, I declined the offer. But with my newfound confidence I decided to try to find that perfect fit–and, like most things in life, it played out a bit differently than I’d imagined it would.
It’s always easier to find a new job when you have one. Negotiating for a better salary, title, and benefits doesn’t work nearly as well when you’re making $0, your title is “unemployed,” and the only benefit you have is being able to send emails from your phone in bed all day. During my new agency contract, I had the luxury of investigating alternative options, knowing the freelance gig could turn into a full-time gig if I wanted it.
Because I wasn’t afraid of unemployment anymore, I had the confidence to ask tough questions that I knew might make people uncomfortable (calling out bad reviews from former employees, for example). I countered existing job descriptions with the ones I actually wanted. I developed proposals around the salary band I thought I deserved based on market research and help from recruiter friends, and used facts and figures to push for it.
I began turning interviewers into interviewees, asking them questions about their company’s vision of the future, and determining whether I wanted to be part of it. I focused less on getting in with the big-name agencies and more on finding a spot that felt like the best fit for me.
Back when I only visited New York for business trips, I saw the city as a magical wonderland of art, theater, and intense connections. But as a resident, I saw it as a crowded, angry place that taught me to keep my head down, walk fast, and stay guarded. On the one hand, that was disappointing. On the other, it piqued my curiosity about places I’d previously dismissed.
A native Texan, I spent my formative years in Dallas devouring queso, chugging sweet tea, and enjoying the fact that 90% of my family lived within an hour radius of me. As a 15-month Brooklyn resident, I’d captured hundreds of short stories inspired by people on my subway commute, discovered the value of weatherproof boots, and tapped into an energy unlike any I’d experienced before.
Now I had a chance to try something completely different. New sights. New stories. New people. And the way that thought got my heart pumping was enough to counteract the dread of packing and moving once again.
Eventually, I got a call from an interested Seattle-based recruiter. Had I received it prior to my New York adventure, I likely would’ve turned down the opportunity. But because I already knew the excitement a cross-country move could offer, I was open to the idea.
I found what turned out to be the perfect fit: an agency I’d never heard of in a city I never thought I’d live in. Through two months of deep, honest conversations with everyone from the recruiter to the CEO, I’d found a place where I felt I could make a difference.
Was I terrified about packing up and moving across the country yet again? Absolutely. Would I want it any other way? No way. Being scared is always better than being stuck.
This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.