While working as a content manager for an abusive attorney who reminded me so much of my father that I went to my primary care physician for an antidepressant after swearing them off 10 years earlier and began binge eating in public, wolfing down entire boxes of Little Debbie Banana Twins at my desk, I often stared at the lake, wishing I could work from home as a freelance writer. I didn’t research how to find clients, I didn’t evaluate how much I should charge, I didn’t draft a contract to protect myself — I just wished.
At the end of the year, my wish was granted when the firm’s partners flew to Florida to mull over raises and realized they’d been paying a website company thousands of dollars to do nothing for months. The marketing partner had locked the firm into a contract with the website company shortly after hiring me, and our in-house IT guy had threatened to quit if anyone from the company touched our website again. Two weeks before Christmas, the managing partner sent me home with a severance check, and the website company began writing content that was probably just as bad as its design services had turned out to be.
For the remainder of December, I kicked myself. Two months earlier, I’d bailed on a second interview for a dream job — content writer for a travel bureau — because it was 45 minutes away, and my abusive boss needed me to transcribe a video that he was eager to upload to YouTube.
The guy I would’ve been working for really liked me, and he was friends with the magazine publisher I’d freelanced for while I was in college, I kept thinking to myself. I should’ve just gone. I would’ve gotten that job.
After my anger wore off, I wallowed in depression and self-pity for four months until one of the firm’s competitors looked me up on LinkedIn to write for his firm.
In hindsight, I should’ve started looking for additional clients when that attorney stopped asking me to come in for marketing meetings. During our last meeting, I had asked him to let me proofread the newsletters his paralegal was writing and mailing to former clients to stay top of mind in the event of a slip and fall.
“I’ll even do it for free,” I said. “It’ll take me two minutes. Just let me look at them.”
“Penelope’s been doing a good job,” he said.
“Penelope’s been misspelling things like Malcolm X,” I said. “She left out the second L.”
He made a face.
“The first rule of journalism is: you never misspell someone’s name,” I said. “And if I were a client getting newsletters with misspellings, I’d wonder what else you weren’t double-checking.”
From that day forward, he let me run the website without his input, but he never sent me newsletters.
Fifteen months later, he called me while I shopped for groceries my first day of vacation on Kauai. We talked for five minutes, but the only words I remember him saying are, “John’s dissolving our partnership,” and, “I’m putting all marketing on hold.”
In five minutes, I’d lost $4,000 per month — and my only paycheck.
I headed straight for the frosting aisle in search of cherry frosting, my crutch during every crisis I’d had since high school, and left with lemon, its runner-up.
As I watched a never-ending series of waves roll toward my balcony, I contemplated walking into the ocean and not coming back. My mom killed herself, her mom killed herself, and my father’s sister killed herself, so the older I get and the more that I have to go through, suicide instinctively seems like the optimal solution sometimes. I had zero desire to see how bad things were about to get, especially since I’d become a Christian four months earlier and knew this was some sort of test. But I love my cats too much to leave them in the hands of a stranger who might hurt them, so instead of drowning myself, I spent the rest of the day kicking myself for not seeing this coming. Something had told me to stop wasting money during my trip to Maine a month earlier, and Joyce Meyer had been talking about worry a lot lately.
What’re you gonna do you if you lose your job? she’d asked one morning.
I remembered jotting her, “Worry’s like a rocking chair,” admonition in my phone notes. “It keeps you busy, but it gets you nowhere,” she’d said.
Same goes for being broke, I thought.
Unable to afford a catamaran trip to see the wavy green mountains along the Na Pali Coast or anything else I’d intended to do, I turned on the TV and learned that I could take a shelter dog on field trips. Knowing that God wants us to focus on others instead of ourselves, I went to the humane society the next day, determined to help a dog find a home.
The first day that I took Jelly out, I buckled her into the passenger seat, closed the door, and rounded the car to my side. As soon as I got in, she climbed over the console, sat on my lap, and rested her face against my collarbone, leaning all of her weight against me as if to say, “Thank you.”
I bawled every day after I returned her.
November 4, I came home Jelly-less and jobless, not knowing what to do. I was great at marketing lawyers, but I’d double-majored in English and communication to become a magazine editor. I didn’t have the first clue how to market myself without coming across as cocky.
This brings me to two more important points from Dr. Darrell Scott’s sermon about gifts and talents.
First, “[I]n order to be a success in life, you can never stand still,” he said. “You can never become complacent. … If you’re not going forward, then you’re going backward. … You need to make sure, if you’re desiring to be a success, saints of God, you need to make sure that every day, you’re advancing. Every day, you’re making progress. You’re doing something today a little bit better than you did it yesterday. You know a little bit more today than you knew yesterday. You have new ideas, you have new ventures, you have new endeavors, you have new horizons … you have new mountains to climb, you have new rivers to cross, you have new initiatives, you have new projects, new activities that could potentially advance and enhance your quality of living.”
Second, “[Y]our gift will make room for you in the sense that your gift will gain you an audience. Your gift will get you the interview. But your ability is what will sustain you when your gift is not being used.”
For example, he said, Joseph’s gift got him in the room with Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. His plan to stockpile food for seven years so that when the famine came, Pharaoh would be all set, earned him the role of prime minister.
“If he’d have had a gift and no plan, he might’ve [gotten] sent back to the cell after he interpreted the dream,” Scott said. “[H]e had to have a plan. You know what this tells me? Your gift can only take you so far. After that, you’d better have a plan, baby. You’d better have a plan for your life … you’d better have a plan to go with that gift.
“So.many.gifted.people who did not or do not have a plan for their lives wind up broke, wind up disgraced, wind up frustrated because they did not have a plan for their life. They just rode the gift,” Scott said.
And that is partly why God allowed me to become homeless.