Originally published on LinkedIn.com

When we begin a new job, we walk in motivated and excited to make a difference. We’re ready to start fresh with a new role, and are ready to meet new people. We walk in ready to prove our skills and are eager to experience the great culture that we learned about during the interview. But, one thing that no one expects from a new job is to eventually be let go. Whether it is because of budget cuts, staff reorganization, or poor performance, the last thing we think about when we first walk through those doors is that we’ll eventually be walking out, without a backup plan.

I’ve been there before. In fact, I’ve been there four times. 

The first time I was unemployed for a short three months before bouncing back into a great company, with a great position. The second and third times weren’t so lucky, leaving me unemployed for over a year before I was able to land even just a part-time position. By the fourth time, I was a pro at being without work. At one point, the only work that I could land was as a server in a local restaurant, and boy was that an eye opener! 

Being unemployed can do quite a bit to a person and their self-esteem. There’s nothing worse than worrying about how bills are going to be paid or how employers are viewing you as a candidate when you’ve been out of work for so long. Add having to raise a child to the mix and you feel pretty inadequate. However, I knew that sitting there and sulking over my status wasn’t going to change anything. I was the only person responsible for myself and for making something happen—it wasn’t just going to be handed to me. 

Therefore, when I wasn’t revamping my resume, applying for positions, and networking, I would take advantage of the time off to enjoy time with family and friends, and to travel. I would take the time to work on myself by really thinking about where my career was, where I wanted it to be, and to think about where my true passions lied and how I was going to achieve my short and long-term goals.

The overall experience resulted in me learning a few important things that I know will benefit me in the long run in both my personal life and in my career:

  1. Rethink my decision-making process. No longer do I just jump up and make decisions based off of what sounds good at the time, but I’ve learned to evaluate the pros and cons of my choices and how they will affect me later on down the road. Just because a job is offering a much larger salary than your last one doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. I’ve also learned the importance of “following your gut”, because that feeling is usually there for a reason.
  2. Have an open mind when it comes to career choices and employment. Being a server was something I used to swear to myself that I would never do. However, it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. As someone who had to deal with hundreds of people on a daily basis, I was exposed to endless networking opportunities. I learned to work with as well as to truly appreciate different people, including their backgrounds and personalities. I learned not to judge ANYONE, because at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make a living for ourselves and for our families. Finally, I learned the true meaning of customer service and therefore learned to adjust my own attitude whenever I walked into a restaurant as a patron.
  3. Learn to live off of less and be happy with less. This is perhaps the most important thing that I learned from my unemployment experience. After being forced to literally give up everything that I had worked so hard for in my fully employed life, I quickly learned to appreciate the small things, no matter what they were. I learned that material things were just that—material things, and that they had no real value at end of the day. I learned that life actually is the most enjoyable when you have the basics to survive, coupled with supportive and loving friends and family. All of the things that I once thought were important turned out to be just “extra”—but they weren’t necessary.

While being unemployed was a difficult experience that I wish on no one, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not only did it influence my career path and development, but more importantly, it influenced my development as a person. I learned quite a bit, and am happy to have gone through it. I now face every situation prepared for the worst, but ready to give my best. I face every situation ready to let my new colors shine, and ready to succeed, no matter what may be in store.