Everything Will Be Okay: The Feeling of Losing A Job
To this day I haven’t received a more cryptic text message than the one I woke up to on this day five years ago.
Hey man, just want to tell you tomorrow is going to be a day, be ready.
Just do your normal routine, make your breakfast, and come to the office at the usual time.
If it helps, just know I’ve already cried about this several times, but we’re going to be okay.
The messages were from Ben, my editor and boss at VIBE. At the time, I was an articles editor, but my main duty was online editor. I had just started working under Ben after reporting to Danyel, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, and Ross, the head of digital, for the better part of a year. Ben was not a new employee, he was one of the more senior people on staff, but we never worked as close as we had within those last couple of months.
Reading those text messages from Ben made my heart sink straight into my stomach. At the time I received them, I wasn’t home. I was at the apartment of a girl I was seeing. During that time, it was customary for me to wake up an hour before her and quietly step out to go home and get ready for the day. But on that morning, I was too scared to even move. I woke her up instead.
“What do I do about this?”
She was half-asleep, but attentive enough to calm me down. “It might not be as bad as you think,” she said.
“But it’s definitely not good, right?”
“Well, yeah,” she said. “If he said he cried, it doesn’t sound good.”
I sat on the side of her bed and just stared at the drawn blinds covering her small bedroom window. The fear that I was going to be fired paralyzed me momentarily. The time was 6:30 AM, and it would be at least another three hours before I found out anything.
When I finally mustered up the mental strength to get myself out of this woman’s bed and head home, I thought carefully about the grounds they had to let me go. Ben and I were just hitting a stride, but when we first paired together, our relationship wasn’t great. I can’t exactly explain why that was, and even though we don’t talk these days as much, I still consider him a friend, and somewhat of a brother. But before we even got to that point, I saw him more as a veteran who didn’t think I had what it took to make it. I never let him mentor me, and in meetings, I would openly disagree with him over certain ideas. That wasn’t hate, I just had a different point-of-view than he did on how things should be done.
Yet, for all the indifference I felt towards some of his ideas, I respected the hell out of Ben’s passion for VIBE and the craft. Many editors aren’t as good at writing as they are at editing, but Ben wasn’t one of those guys. He was the real deal on both sides of the pen. He could write his ass-off, and call your ass out if he felt you were slacking on even a 300-word front-of-the-book piece. But as a person, I couldn’t read him at all, which made the first few weeks of working under him mentally stressful. He was like a problem I was trying to solve.
By the time he sent me that text message, we worked out many kinks in our relationship, much of which came after a heart-to-heart we had in the office. I told him that he could count on me to be a good soldier, as long as I could count on him to have my back if anyone else had an issue with me. I felt he could be an ally, something I was in desperate need of because at the time, VIBE was still figuring out how to merge digital and editorial. That was the main reason I fell to Ben, the staff was being shaken up to be more digital focused, and was using the editorial team as a resource for generating great ideas and content.
In doing so, I felt like my role was being diminished. The title change from online editor to articles editor felt like a demotion, a way to de-specialize what I felt like I specialized in, which was digital content and thinking creatively for the web. If I was going to succeed, I needed more teammates, less rivals, and Ben, who everyone respected and had the ear of our editor-in-chief, would be a great place for me to start. Working underneath him would give me an advantage, and put me on the right side of a fight should anything go down.
But when I saw that text message and I saw Ben said he cried, I was pretty sure Ben attempted to fight for me and lost. Something was going to happen, and I was going to be caught up in it, but at the time I had no idea who would go down with me. All I could think about was the fact that I was going down.
I did as Ben said, but with a twist. I got into the office early, figuring maybe if I was going to be put on probation and not fired outright, I could make a good impression by showing up extra early. There were what we called “rounds” on my desk, printouts of the pages from the next issue that I needed to go over to make sure all of the text and design were good before they went to copy. Once I was finished, I had to send an email to Carla, our managing editor, Angela, our copy chief, and Danyel to let them know the rounds moved.
No sooner did I take the rounds off my desk and send the email did my phone ring. I picked up.
“This is Jozen,” I said.
“Jozen, it’s Danyel, you don’t need to move rounds.”
Oh, damn, it’s going down like this, I thought.
“What’s wrong,” I said.
“It’s done, all of it.”
I didn’t understand what she was saying, or rather, I didn’t think that what she was saying was actually true.
“What’s done,” I said.
“Jozen, VIBE is shutting down today,” said Danyel. Her voice, usually authoritative but also comforting like your favorite teacher, was shaking. “At the end of the day, we’re all done. There will be no more VIBE.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.”
“You’re going to be okay,” Danyel said. “We’re going to be okay, but you don’t have to send out anymore emails. Hang tight, we’ll make the announcement at noon.”
The VIBE offices were on the 22nd floor of 120 Wall St. The layout was weird, with both the business department and editorial department being on the same floor but opposite sides. They weren’t big, but I was the only one in the office at that moment, and they felt huge. I had to go downstairs and outside to do two things: Get some air and call my mom.
For the first time since graduating from college, I was going to be unemployed, and what made it worse, it came at a time when heads were rolling damn near everywhere. This was the height of the great recession, and even though I worked in media where every publication like VIBE that thrived in the 90s was holding on with all its might to stay relevant in the aughts, I was stunned that I was about to undergo the same fate I read so much about in the press.
And yet, there was this strange feeling that I avoided the worst. Whereas I thought my head was going to be the one to roll when I received those texts from Ben, the reality was, the whole team was going down. Every single one of us were employed by VIBE deserved to be there, and none of us deserved what was about to happen. Something about that made the bitter pill I had to swallow, slightly less bitter. It was the old saying, “misery loves company” fully realized. As I told my mom, my being laid off wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been because I could have been the only one.
At the announcement, all of us were instructed that we had to be out the same day, which meant clearing our desks of all our belongings, and submitting any outstanding expenses for which we could be compensated on our next check, which would be our last. Some of my coworkers shed tears, others were angry, nobody panicked, but that worry we all had was thick, and sucked the air out of the room. You have to understand, every single person in that office woke up thinking their life was going to move just as it always had only to be told their life would never be the same.
That was five years ago today.
I don’t relive that day as much as I used to but it sticks out in my own life calendar as one of those days I never forget. I could mark time to it in a way I can’t with most other days, not even birthdays. Birthdays come and go. But finding out you’re not going to have a job doesn’t happen on an annual basis the same time every year. That isn’t life coming at you fast, it’s life coming at you out of nowhere. Imagine the fastest ball ever thrown at you, and then think of it coming not in front of you but from behind. That’s how it felt to be told we wouldn’t have a job anymore.
My blog would have probably never happened if I was still at VIBE, and it’s one of the most tangible things I can point to when saying, everything happens for a reason, even losing your job. But I still wonder sometimes, why did it have to happen this way? When people talk about having their back up against the wall, few things define that metaphor more than waking up and realizing you don’t have a job anymore. I always think about that day and am amazed that no matter how good life treats me, it took THAT to get me here.
Sometimes I still think I’m paying for what happened to me on June 30, 2009. I think about that great issue we were putting together, a tribute to Michael Jackson who had just died a few days prior. There was a feature I was working on about the L.A. hip-hop scene, which was coming up at the time. Other great things were being put together by a great team, a team that I still miss to this day.
But as it turns out, Danyel and Ben were right. I’m okay. Nothing is what I thought it would be before that morning I woke up and received those texts, but everything is okay. Whoever is the first person to tell you that everything is going to be okay, believe them, and even if you don’t, work your ass off to prove them right.