How I survived a Layoff with a Career Change

We had sensed it coming in the carefully worded corporate announcements and in whispered conversations beside the water coolers. The uncertainty was nerve racking. But when the layoff was announced, it was almost a relief for me; the agonizing suspense was finally over. I was face to face with reality.

I had worked for twenty three years as a drug discovery biologist in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, the last sixteen years with a large pharmaceutical company. In December 2013, there was a restructuring; the company eliminated my division and terminated several positions, including mine. I took the severance package and found myself thinking, “what next?” I spent some time contemplating whether I wanted to continue on the career track I was in. It had its compensations. But at the same time I was thinking: Do I want my future in the hands of others who can terminate me again at any time to satisfy the latest corporate diktat. My heart said no. I wanted to do something entirely different, something that would be enjoyable, keeping me happily awake at night and dreaming during the day. I wanted to be master of my own destiny, doing things I loved and not having to answer to anyone. After much thought, I decided to be a writer since I had always loved reading and writing. In particular, I was always interested in national and international affairs and in traveling.

To start, I wrote a few articles on wild life I had seen and photographed during safaris and sent them to journals and newspapers. They were published. I then wrote on international events e.g. the current refugee crisis in Europe and rebuilding after the Nepal earthquake. I have recently set up a blog where I have begun to post materials on travel or current events that pique my interest. This is the jackpot. I don’t even have to look for a publisher, I just click the ‘publish’ tab.

Life is good again. I write what I want when I want. It keeps me busy and focused. But I am not a slave to the alarm clock or the daily commute. I am living life on my own terms. My wife is very supportive.  A few days ago she suggested going on a drive. We drove along the Delaware River, stopped at a beautiful spot and walked hand in hand. It was a gorgeous Monday morning. The sun was bright, some trees still clung to their fall colors, the squirrels were busy completing their winter stash and the ducks and geese were clamoring to be fed. It was idyllic. I even got ideas for a couple of stories. We snacked at a local restaurant and returned home in time for lunch. We consider ourselves very fortunate that we can do this on any day of our choosing. We are empty nesters who have consciously chosen to move off the fast track in favor of a simple, low-stress life.

The lessons I have learned that enabled me to switch careers and to lead a happy, contented life can be summarized in just four points:

  1. Limit wants
  2. Manage finances
  3. Nurture relationships
  4. Stay healthy

To me these are intuitively obvious and interconnected. For example, limiting wants leads to less spending and more savings to invest. It allows more time for nurturing relationships and maintaining health, which in turn are needed to enjoy life. I plan to expand on these themes in future posts and eventually collate them in book form.

Career changes are fast becoming a de facto part of modern life. In the integrated global economy today, multiple careers are becoming the norm, essential in gaining experience to conduct complex, multinational businesses. I have given seminars to freshman college students titled “Follow your Passions but be Prepared for the Unexpected,” using my life-story as an example. They found it instructive. I believe a job is a means to an end, to earn enough to be able to appreciate and enjoy life, wisely.

Have you considered a career transition to pursue your passion or your dream? It may not be as difficult as you think. Sometimes the change is forced upon you, sometimes you have to consciously initiate the change yourself. The economy is in reasonably good shape and opportunities are opening up. Think it through carefully, weigh the pros and cons and then, take the plunge.

My career has undergone several unexpected changes, that story has been published in Science. Now, two years after the layoff, I am happily enjoying life as a fledgling writer.



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