Two Texts: An Employee Essay From “Aren’t We Lucky?”
Mar 03, 2022 Natalie Mangan
The weekend before my twenty-fifth birthday, I received two texts that would cause my life to slowly unravel and make me reprioritize what matters most.
The first text came on Saturday from Catalina, my landlord. I’d only ever spoken to her on the phone, so when she sent my roommates and me a message in a group chat, asking to meet Monday night at the apartment, it raised some serious questions. While I didn’t love my roommates, who often partied well into the night when I was trying to sleep, our apartment was about $600 less than similar units in the Japantown area of San Francisco. Did I mention we also had in-unit laundry, hardwood floors, large rooms, a balcony with a garden view, various shops and restaurants within walking distance, and only a twenty-minute commute to the financial district? It was an amazing place for a first adult apartment, and one that had taken me six months to find.The second text, which I received later on Saturday, was from my coworker Natalia, asking me to come to the office on Monday. That was a change of plans, since I was supposed to attend a media dinner in San Jose that I had spent the past few months planning. Even though that dinner was scheduled for the evening of my birthday, I was committed to seeing it through. I was disappointed when I heard from Natalia, since I had spent a lot of time picking a venue, choosing and designing a menu, and drawing up various layouts for the space. This event would also have been a great opportunity to start building relationships with influential tech and business journalists from relevant publications.
Monday was shaping up to be a big day, even though I didn’t know exactly what to expect. As I got ready for work, I put on my favorite outfit and flatironed my normally wavy hair. When I arrived at my team’s pod of desks, I realized only half of my team was present today—an odd occurrence, since our team lead had a strong preference for in-person attendance and rarely allowed us to work from home.
At 9:30, I received an Outlook invite for a 10:00 a.m. meeting with Natalia, along with a list of names of my team members who were in the office that day.
When I walked into that meeting room along with the rest of my teammates, we were met not only by Natalia but by another woman, someone I had never met before, and a large stack of gray folders. We learned that the other woman was an HR representative from the company and that, as of that moment, we were no longer employed. I glanced around the conference room, noticing that I was not the only one who was a bit teary-eyed; my coworkers’ faces also showed sadness, shock, and anger.
At my desk, I sent a few hasty emails, one replying to the event manager, who had a last-minute question about the final attendee numbers for the media dinner I was no longer hosting, and one thanking my manager for all his help during the year I had been employed. He was one of the lucky ones who survived the cut.
As I finished cleaning out my desk, Natalia handed me my birthday card, which everyone on my team had signed and which included a voucher for the San Francisco Orpheum Theatre, one of my favorite places in the city. It was a touching but unusual gesture, given the circumstances. She asked me to follow her into her office, where she gave me a pep talk to try to lift my spirits. In that meeting, I learned that the CMO had laid off forty people on the marketing team, almost half of the department, to cut costs and reduce overhead. Natalia had been given a list of names, along with a promotion. She assured me that my performance had not been a factor in this decision and that she would do whatever she could to help me find a new job, although the prospect was too sad for me to process yet.
After I turned in my laptop and badge, I headed across the street to a local brewery with my newly unemployed coworkers. About thirty of us showed up. Since it was noon on a Monday, the bartender was certainly surprised to see us. Despite the morning’s events, the mood was relatively jovial. A few of my work friends felt bad that I had been let go on my birthday, of all days, and kindly paid for my drinks. We swapped favorite memories, horror stories, and plans for the future. I was glad that I wasn’t the only one who was feeling a little bit lost and unsure of her steps.
Later that night, my roommates and I met our landlord, Catalina. Catalina was in her mid-sixties, had gray hair and a kind smile, and worked as a lactation consultant. After introductions, she explained that she had gotten a new job at San Francisco General Hospital and needed to move back to the city in a few months to start working. We had until September to find a new place to live.
I felt as if everything I had worked for over the past few years was coming apart and there wasn’t anything I could do to change my predicament. My career had been my proudest accomplishment. I had learned from some of the best and brightest in the industry and didn’t mind the occasional late night or sixty-hour workweek. Losing this job really felt like a bad breakup, one that you don’t see coming.
After I lost my job, I took some much-needed time off to collect my thoughts and really think about what I wanted to do in my next role. One of my college friends, who lived in Oregon, was a special-education teacher and had summers off; within a matter of days, Phoenix and I had planned a girls’ hiking trip. Throughout our five-day adventure, we shared many laughs and had deep conversations about our lives and personal goals while admiring beautiful waterfalls and hiking the snowy hillsides of Mount Rainier. With no cell service, after our long days of hiking we listened to the piano player in the lobby of the rustic, charming Paradise Inn and played board games. At Mount Saint Helens, we enjoyed the ever-changing landscapes and colorful wildflowers sprouting up from the volcanic soil. At one point, while walking through a grove of trees, we were literally rained on by caterpillars falling from their webs. That experience was something we still laugh about to this day.
I had also preplanned a trip to Japan, a destination I had wanted to visit since high school. Now that I didn’t have to worry about what I was missing at work, I felt welcome relief. With my new friends in my tour group, I learned how to navigate the Tokyo subway system, composed of thirteen different train lines, using only a paper map; saw the shrines and temples in Kyoto; and sampled delicious foods, including Kobe beef and tonkatsu ramen.
One of the moments I remember most was on a ferry ride around Lake Ashinoko. On a clear day, you can see Mount Fuji in the background, but it was overcast, foggy, and slightly raining, so the mountain wasn’t visible. As the sun started to peek through the clouds, I climbed the stairs to the top balcony of the ferry to admire the view and the lush hills covered in greenery. At one point, the clouds parted and I spotted a rainbow off in the distance. At that point, I knew I would be okay.
While I would not wish what I went through on anyone, I did learn the importance of surrounding myself with people who genuinely care about my success and encourage me to learn and grow. Losing my apartment ended up being a blessing in disguise. When I told my roommates I had lost my job, neither of them showed any sympathy or compassion. Their reaction proved what I had initially thought about them but didn’t fully realize until after I moved out: that they weren’t really my friends after all. And the worst part about losing my job wasn’t the job itself but the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see my team and work friends, some of whom I had become incredibly close with, every day anymore.Those former coworkers have become some of my biggest cheerleaders in both my personal life and my career. They have taken time out of their busy schedules to provide job references for me and introduce me to their networks. We still regularly go out to dinner, for hikes, and on other adventures around the Bay Area. When I was promoted at Inkhouse in February, I received many congratulatory texts and nice notes from them. On my birthday this year, they sent me lovely messages and photos wishing me happiness on my special day. Despite what happened, I am immensely thankful that I had the opportunity to work with and meet such wonderfully kind people.
While I know that I will experience many unexpected life changes in the future, I also know that if I continue to surround myself with people who genuinely care about me, I can handle whatever life throws my way. I also know that when those same people encounter unexpected road blocks in life, I will gladly return the favor.
This essay appears in our book, Aren’t We Lucky? Stories of Resilience from the Inkhouse Community. Download your copy here.