We all dread it. Losing your job is the stuff of nightmares, especially when you don’t expect it. Everything from your finances to your personal life is affected and who knows when the next opportunity will come or what it will be. But what if the uncertainty and chaos that comes from getting laid off actually leads you in a direction that’s even better than you could have ever imagined? For Dawn Kelly, K.C. Kavanagh, and Will Day losing their jobs turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Here’s how they navigated the initial shock, the fear of the unknown, the financial reality and how they landed in careers they absolutely love.
Previous Job: Project Manager KMD Architects
Current Job: Artist/Owner/Founder willdayART LLC
Reason for termination: The financial crisis of 2008. My firm decided I was not needed anymore.
Moment of panic: I felt helpless and panicked. I was not prepared emotionally. It was the darkest time of my life. The only thing got me through that uncertain time was my faith. Without the support of my family and community I would have spiraled down into a deep depression.
Next steps: I did not have a backup plan. This put me in complete shame and I lost all my confidence. I had this incredible urge to hide from the world and be creative in any form. So I descended into my basement and started to paint. I had never painted before, but I felt so alive when I was in this creative mode. I felt transformed.
Big idea: At first, I did not want to be an artist, but after spending months painting, I knew I could do this for a living. I just had to find my voice and find the right market for my art.
Financial reality: I asked my wife to give me a couple years and trust me to figure out this new calling as an artist. Financially, we relied on Aimee’s job and our past savings to get us through. My wife was upset and confused with my decision to be an artist but she trusted and believed in me. We were struggling with my choices which caused some major tensions at home. It seemed like the fate of my family and life was at stake. No pressure! It was the first time in my life I had to truly start all over from the beginning and try and retool my goals, passions and purpose.
Outside opinions: I felt like I was coming out and launching my new self to everyone. I was very reluctant to tell people that I was an artist. I got laughs and blank stares. The responses were “Are you insane, Will? An artist? That is ridiculous. Good luck and I hope Aimee does not leave you.”
Idea to reality: I couldn’t just sit around and paint randomly. I had to figure out my voice and message on canvas very quickly. I knew I needed a lot of help so I consulted with five advisors (friends and business leaders who believed in my vision) to help me develop and execute a business plan. I put together a business model to lease and commission art and created a disciplined approach. This helped me build up inventory and create a lot of work. Leasing my artwork to corporations around the country provided a steady flow of monthly income which I so badly needed. When my wife saw this happening she started to believe that this could actually be a viable business and lifestyle. It took several years to build up my art leasing business and gain the trust and confidence of my family and friends.
Looking back: Being fired had to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It taught me not to be afraid, to be courageous, and that the human spirit can be resilient in every situation. If you are open to these changes, you will be amazed where life takes you.
Current life: My struggle as an artist is still here and real. The financial pressures have not gone away, and I need to produce every day and find my creativity in this chaotic world. There are no straight paths or straight lines in life.
Previous Job: Department Vice President of Global Communications, Prudential Financial Inc
Current Job: CEO, The Nourish Spot
Reason for termination: In 2015, I walked into my job with my luggage expecting to take a quick trip to DC in place of a colleague. I ended up in an office between my new boss and a Human Resources consultant to learn that my job had been eliminated. I could apply for other jobs in the company or leave in 60 days. I chose the latter. I was recruited to my role back way back in 1999. I never applied. In that moment, all of the options presented felt like failure to me.
Moment of panic: I was completely caught off guard. I felt robbed. I cried for months. To add insult to injury, my nearly two-decade-long relationship died too. I truly was an emotional wreck. I blocked everyone on social media and just traveled. Being in New York wasn’t healing me fast enough. I couldn’t fathom why I was eliminated so I traveled, far and wide, with my daughter, my cousins and my girlfriends.
Big idea: It was divine. I was praying, hard, with tears streaming from my eyes because I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. The TV was on and CNN was broadcasting that Styles P had opened a juice bar in Yonkers. I was inspired to do it too—but in Queens. I had been juicing for awhile trying to lose the stubborn pounds I gained while climbing the corporate ladder. I quickly realized that I had jewels of information saved in my phone about juicing and being in the juice business. It was surreal.
Making it happen. I floated the idea of The Nourish Spot with people to test the waters. Not many were complimentary or convinced it was a good idea, but I did not let it deter me. I was convinced it would work. I partnered with my children, Owen and Jade Duncan, to get things done. Using my savings and severance, Owen purchased all the restaurant equipment and got the logo, business cards and t-shirts designed and procured. Jade helped with Legal Zoom to get the business incorporated, create the menu, keep the books, and cultivate strategic partnerships with nonprofit community-based programs to build a pipeline of young culinary interns. She also sourced interior decorator, Cecilia Cipriano. I set up the bank account, found the location. I found and fought with the contractor, engaged with essential city agencies including New Business Acceleration Team and followed my counselor’s advice on getting necessary licenses and permits. I signed up for the food handler certificate training. I visited SCORE and York College Small Business Association and received invaluable insight and advice that we put to immediate use.
Challenges: The demand for our menu offerings is growing so much that our inventory depletes during the day and we are forced to go back to the the food distribution store to replenish. As they say, it’s a good problem. Coaxing new staff into the culture and unit has been challenging too, but we are smashing goal after goal.
Current life: Life is full, fun and interesting. I’m making it and I am full of gratitude and amazement of how life has turned out since the fateful day in 2015. I’m stable financially and my bills are being paid. Business is growing by leaps and bounds through word of mouth and promotion on social media and me getting up, dressing up and showing up at MWBE fairs, meetings all around the City, and connecting with folks.
Best thing about being fired: I believe the job elimination liberated me from the box others and I had caged myself in. God knew there was more for me. After grieving for my awesome role for seven months, I realized I was free, for maybe the first time in my entire life.
Current Job: Chief Communications Officer, Bacardi Limited
Reason for Termination: After 18 years working for Starwood Hotels & Resorts we were acquired by Marriott and I was let go.
Moment of Panic: To their credit, Marriott made clear from the moment we announced the deal that they would be sticking with their own senior leadership team. I was as prepared as one could be, but it still was pretty shattering when I got the official word. I absolutely loved my job, my company and my colleagues. I really had no idea what I would do next. I never told anyone, but I secretly thought I would spend the rest of my career at Starwood, retire with lifetime SPG Platinum, and travel the world with my husband. I hadn’t even updated my resume in 10 years (which makes me cringe now). The day I got the news, I had a cathartic 24-hour pity party with plenty of tears and then I got out of bed, took a long run and got myself revved up for whatever was next. I came up with the mantra that would see me through the transition–make it count–meaning turn this upheaval into a great change and embrace the uncertainty of the journey with total positivity.
Next steps: The very first thing I did was reach out to a professional resume writer. She gave me a homework assignment that immediately cued a dramatic eye roll. It was “What are your 5 to 10-year career goals? What are your lifestyle goals? What are your ultimate life goals?” I was going to totally blow it off but then I told myself to just give in to the process. Turns out this super simple document was a game changer for me. It really made me stop and reflect on what was important personally and professionally.
Deciding what was next: I realized at this point in my career and family life, my lifestyle goals were as important as my professional goals. For example, I didn’t want to do an hour-long commute anymore. My family was open to relocating, but only if it meant a big adventure, somewhere overseas or somewhere outdoorsy. Also, Starwood was a company of Type A+++ leaders, which was exhilarating, but also super stressful and exhausting. I wanted to go somewhere where I could work hard but turn down the volume a bit.
Job hunting: It was important for me to feel some sense of control, so I reached out to the key headhunters in my sector to get the ball rolling. The job market was hot and I found interviewing to be a really fascinating experience. Within four months I had two job offers. One was a big job leading communications for a Fortune 50 tech company based in San Francisco, and the other was with Bacardi, one of the oldest family-owned companies in the world. On paper, the tech job was the logical choice. However, I went with my gut and my lifestyle goals and chose Bacardi. The company is based in Bermuda, a place my family and I love. As one of my old CEO’s told me at the time to always go with the fun job. It was liberating advice from a serious guy. My choice even surprised me – it was the first time I made a huge professional decision with my heart rather than my head.
Current work life: I love our new life. Bacardi is truly the most special company, with gorgeous premium brands and phenomenal people. It has a warm family vibe that is a perfect anecdote to the stress of a big public company, activist investors and a hyper-intense culture that had left me drained. It has been fascinating to learn a whole new business, especially one that is as fun as spirits.
Current family life: There is something so special about embarking on a family adventure where you are all experiencing something new together. The fact that we live in Bermuda has been a huge lifestyle uptick. The kids come home and snorkel or surf after school. We for sure made the best lifestyle decision. Recently, I visited my longtime doctor in New York and he just looked at me and said, “I have never seen you so relaxed, even your posture has changed. It is like you’ve released a whole lifetime of stress.” The funny thing is that I don’t think I even knew how stressed I was, until I wasn’t.
Best thing about being fired: We feel so fortunate that we have had this unexpected jolt in life. I feel proud of how resilient and positive our whole family was when faced with unexpected, and at first unwanted, change. I cannot express how important it is to be positive when faced with a professional upheaval your mindset is everything. There are points in life when we just have to embrace change and see where it takes you.