Getting Laid Off From Ogilvy Was the Hardest, Best Thing That Happened to My Career

Losing a job can be disorienting, but also liberating

Science and technology writer Gemma Milne lost her agency job when Ogilvy London cut its innovation team.
Courtesy of Gemma Milne

Last week, I celebrated my redundaversary: two years since I was made redundant from Ogilvy London. And I do mean “celebrated,” as, honestly, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Over the last few years, the advertising industry has seen huge waves of redundancies—better known as layoffs in the States—hitting agencies big and small. My role was in a “back office” department, the innovation team, so it wasn’t entirely surprising that my job—along with the rest of my department—was one of the latest to be cut.

Being let go at age 25 wasn’t exactly part of the plan. Ogilvy was the second corporation I’d managed to work my way into, and I’d been promoted within the company into a role that meant I was traveling, speaking and working all over the world. In my mind, I was dead set for a long, fruitful career at the agency, if I were to so choose.

I was fortunate that I was let go as part of a team. It meant that at no point did I feel like the redundancy was anything personal, and I had a few people around me in the exact same position whom I could express all my anger, hurt, disappointment and fear with.

But it was also a lonely time. I was put on three weeks of gardening leave and was told not to tell anyone about the redundancy, so the days when I wasn’t hanging out with my old team felt empty, directionless and long.

Most of the time, however, I managed to see the redundancy as a huge opportunity. My meager statutory payout at least was enough to cover me for six weeks, and so the world felt like my oyster. Never before had I been given six paid weeks, where I didn’t have to work, to explore whatever I wanted and re-decide the direction of my life from scratch. I could now do anything! I felt like I had an excuse to try a new industry, retrain, start my own startup—the options felt much wider than if I’d decided to jump ship while still employed.

The blank slate was enticing, if a little overwhelming.

I was lucky in that my job at Ogilvy had enabled me to build a large international network over the years, and once the news of our department closing went public, I was overcome by the outpouring of support from friends, ex-colleagues and people I’d met at random conferences and events.

I had many kind, compassionate people get in touch with similar job opportunities to offer at other agencies, but nothing really stood out as something I fancied doing. I’d be lying if I said the redundancy didn’t turn me off working in advertising again. But then the freelance offers came in, the short-term consulting contracts, the offers of writing thought pieces in publications (this piece you’re reading, in fact, was one such example), and my mind was opened to the idea of working for myself as opposed to another firm.

If you’re working for someone else, you have no financial stability at all: you are at the mercy of someone else’s balance sheet.

Being made redundant is not exactly fun. It rips from beneath your feet your idea of financial stability, clear career path and self-worth. But strangely, at the same time, it flips all three of those concepts on their head.

If you’re working for someone else, in fact, you have no financial stability at all: you are at the mercy of someone else’s balance sheet. If you work for someone else, you have to wait to be promoted by fitting into their often arbitrary framework of growth. If you work for someone else, you measure—and define—yourself using the job title they have awarded you, as opposed to the many attributes you have beneath that headline.

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