When I got laid off at 27, I thought I was too young to be laid off. I should’ve known better — no one is. I knew what was going to happen the night before, because the calendar invite sent to me, at 9 pm, was from HR and the venue on the invite was set outside of the office. There was only one reason why I had to meet with HR outside of the office. I slept that night thinking, “I won’t have a job after tomorrow,” and dressed my hair up in lovely braids the next morning. If it was going to be the worst day of that week, I believed I should meet it splendidly.
When I was 19, I published this status message on my very new Facebook wall: “If you can’t blind them with your bullshit, dazzle them with your brilliance.” I can’t remember what possessed me when I wrote that, but I guess I was in the similar frame of mind eight years later. Ish. I didn’t dress up as fabulously as I should have. I was laid off along with 1/3 of the office. Some of them who also lost their job just moved to Singapore a few months before. They were probably going to break their lease. It was a good thing I was only renting a room. Their circumstances seemed more unfair, but no amount of silver linings made me feel any less uprooted than that moment when my big boss handed me that getting-laid-off-letter.
Just months before, I was in the middle of an interview with Facebook. It was amazing. It was intense. It is a bit hard to describe the pressure and excitement, the pushes and the pulls in between rounds of interviews. It was the most time and effort I’ve ever put into an application for a job. And I failed my last round.
I was in London for a day, guzzling with adrenaline despite the jetlag from a 14-hour flight just so I could breeze through my on-site interview. I remember feeling so little, and yet so, so big all at once. That someone like me was able to pass through the first few rounds and was able to meet talented people, talk to them and present to them in person. For each interview round that I passed, I felt like I could do anything that I wanted just as long as I worked hard and believed I could do it. The thing was, I couldn’t work hard enough to make up for the lack of experience for the role that they were looking for (or such was the reason given to me for my rejection).
Months later I got laid off, and I failed interview after another. Tradeshift, Zendesk, Skyscanner, Indeed, and Riot Games to name a few. I applied for Spotify, and I saw that a recruiter viewed my profile on LinkedIn but I probably wasn’t good enough for an interview there either. Still, I dreamed of spreading my wings as far as the horizon went.
When I moved to Singapore from Manila, everything had been easy. I had a cousin who lived there, I had friends to reconnect with, and the city was familiar and dear to me since I studied there for a short time before. I was deep into startups at that time, and landing the job was a chain of coincidences that worked in my favor. I was introduced to them by a friend, and a recommendation came from one of their VCs who was a client I freelanced for in the past. I still remind myself how networking works wonders every now and then.
Working at a startup that was poised for hypergrowth was as exciting as it was soul-crushing. By the time I had left, there’d been nights when I cried myself to sleep before going to work the next morning. But most of the close relationships I made in Singapore were friends from that startup. They continued to be amazing people that have been so supportive of me, as we still are to each other, even after we all left the company. Some of them knew about my application for Facebook as it was happening because I felt like I wouldn’t feel embarrassed if things didn’t work out.
Startups usually sell themselves as some kind of ‘family’. The truth is, they’re not. They will and always be an employer first, unless you’re a co-founder yourself. This was a lesson I would’ve loved to teach to my younger self. It will take me a much longer time to understand that, and to be more cautious around people at work (no, they’re not family or friends), but at the end of the day I did happen to make a some very good friends there. My friendships are so few and precious that I can honestly say that I miss my friends from there. Some of us had plans of moving away to join a bigger company, maybe overseas, and I just happened to be the first to leave.
When I think about my three years in Singapore, I think of it as three years on my resume. After all, it was my work visa that tied me legally to that country, and I had no choice but to leave when I lost my job. Singapore is a city for the hustling, and I was slowly feeling exhausted from my hustling.
My soul was dead after I left the startup, but my heart was still too trusting. I worked with a brilliant UX team in my next job, and met equally fantastic people. I found senior designers from whom I learned soft and hard skills from. I made new friends, and new drinking buddies. The last time I drank so much was back in Manila, and then again with some cool people at this shiny agency. I learned to love wine — but only white wine.
Agency people seemed different. Different from the super young, fresh-grads from my last startup. When I was in university, I was the drinking type. I had friends who were and weren’t, so I can easily fit in both. My job before the agency wasn’t a drinking type, but the agency was. They were also a bring-your-dog-to-work type. The office
dog husky brought us clients until her owner left the agency, and so did the clients. (I’m kidding. The agency is still alive, and so they still had clients.)
I’d never imagine using “relaxing” to describe an agency, but that’s what it was like for me. Compared to my startup job and my double life as designer and product manager, my agency life was a bit more chill. Too chill that my role was eventually made redundant. But for the most of 2017, I was working with some very talented people that influenced how I approach my work today. My seniors were great and I admired how they communicated and presented to clients the most. From working in a UX team of 1, I was working with a UX team of 5. That was the biggest jump in (designer) team size for me, ever. Maybe the best thing about joining the agency was my UX director who wrote my recommendation for the Australian visa officer. Thanks, sir ;)
Because folks in the agency were even more diverse than my colleagues from the startup, I picked up new things. I enrolled in boxing class, because someone else went with me (and I enjoyed it because a coach was teaching me). I learned about even more non-Asian cultures and a more western way of working. I started drinking milk with strawberry jam inside to stave off hunger or satiate sweet cravings. I tasted SO MUCH CAKE in that one year with the agency than the previous two years I’ve been in Singapore (we were ordering cake for birthdays at least once a week, for some time). I enjoyed drinking (wine) with the team, and played through stages of Overcooked with at least 3 other designers. I also decided that, well, I prefer to work with team structures as diverse as the nationalities of my mates from the agency. We had no engineers, and I always enjoyed working with them. All the tech knowledge I had from sitting in the tech classes my developer friends held were rusting away into oblivion. So when it was time to find a new job, I said to myself I’m gonna go back in-house, back to Product teams.
The last three months of 2017 for me was stressful. When the layoffs happened, my friends asked me if my parents knew. I said, of course not. I didn’t want to worry them. I tried getting a job before I was forced to leave Singapore so I would only have to (casually) tell my parents that I left my job and joined a new team. Finding a job was taking longer than my permitted stay in Singapore. I got an opportunity at a consulting company, but I was feeling a bit scarred from the agency so I was hesitant. I wanted to apply for product teams. Things didn’t work out as I’ve hoped. I was going to turn 28 unemployed. I had to go back to Manila.
I ended up getting a job offer before my birthday. That was a gift, I thought. But the processes that happened after was a nightmare. But that’s for 2018. 28-year-old me was going to face that, and for a moment, just for a brief period, I was feeling hopeful and I was looking forward to the new year.
When I think about 2017, I mainly remember the highlights (Facebook) and the stress (getting kicked out of Singapore). But the most unforgettable will be my friends, who were with me through both. I visited Singapore right before I moved to Melbourne, but I wish I had more time to meet with friends before moving to a different timezone. Singapore was home for three years. I will come back to visit.