Penniless to president: How I went from laid off to the boss in less than a year

Michaela Alexis

I'm writing this article while lounging in my new office, gazing at my notice of layoff. It's bordered by a delicate frame after months of being tucked away in a dusty closet.

It was sandwiched between a stack of other embarrassing mementos from throughout my lifetime, a yearbook from my days of Sun-in and DIY bangs, a hardcover copy of a First Communion handbook that my mother convinced me to model for, and a stack of photos from the disposable cameras I took on nights out during college.

But months after I landed my dream job at Grade A, and began writing articles on LinkedIn, I found myself digging through my wreckage of regret for that layoff notice. It became a tangible symbol of how quickly things can change and continues to serve as a reminder that failure can teach you more about your strength than success ever can.

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Around this time last year, I was laid off from my previous job. My 30th birthday was quickly approaching, and instead of having a stable career, and a growing family, I had an over-drafted bank account and had officially hit rock bottom.

In a spontaneous moment of "what the hell do I have to lose" style courage, I sent a LinkedIn message to an idol of mine, not expecting a reply. Not only did I receive a reply, but he sent me a box of books to help me start writing again.

My writing fueled my confidence, which led me to landing my dream job at Grade A in two weeks. That article went viral, and changed my life instantaneously. I was hooked. I spent my weekends furiously writing and sharing my experiences.

I had discovered my purpose.

After the most adventurous year in my career, I'm happy to announce that I am now a Partner at, and President of Grade A Digital, a digital marketing branch of Grade A.

It is nothing short of a fairy tale to be partnering with my former bosses, who took a chance on me when I needed it most.

Over the past year, I've had to question everything that's been taught to me about success and happiness. I was following advice that was designed to make me blindly accept that good fortune was not in the cards for me. I had to ask myself, "Why the hell NOT me?"

And now, I am asking the same of you. "Why the hell NOT you?". Here are the 5 lessons that I've learned that have skyrocketed my success in less than a year.

1. Life is too long

I've recently decided that I really dislike the notion that life is too short. Of course, it IS true, but life is also too long.

When you are working in an unfulfilling career, life is excruciating slow. It's a constant waiting game, waiting for the weekend, waiting for your next holiday. If your day feels like the equivalent of those painful 30 seconds before that Youtube video plays, or a microwave minute, you're in the wrong career.

Life is not meant to be lived like a countdown.

2. Autopilot is the enemy

When somebody tells me that they were laid off or let go from their career, they're always puzzled when I respond with "Congratulations!". It feels terrible in the moment, but being laid off can be a pivotal moment in a person's life. If you let it, failure can snap you out of the spell of mediocrity that you've been enraptured by, and redirect you down a totally different path.

No, those aren't the people that I pity. I feel for those that have never been afforded one of those stunning moments of clarity. The ones that, when asked about work, answer, "Well, you know, work is work.". The ones that switch onto autopilot early in their career, and choose safety over purpose. I was that person for thirty long years. I dismissed those that were passionate about their careers as reckless.

The truth was, I was afraid. Sure, I didn't jump out of bed in the morning to chase my dreams, but it was a tolerable life. It was like settling into a relationship out of fear that maybe it's all that you deserve.

3. Leadership is so much more than the title in your signature

The most simple way I can explain what makes a real leader, regardless of their rank, is when you're speaking to that person and you're thinking, "I want to be just like you.". You can't put your finger in why exactly you feel that way, but the person just motivates you to want to be a better person.

I had never felt that until I met Mat and Allan, the owners of Grade A. Mat can energize an entire room of staff, and would sacrifice whatever he had to help one of his employees. One day, I was in a strategy meeting with Allan, and Mat brought him a chai tea latte from Starbucks. I smugly asked, "Where's my tea, Mat?", and Mat immediately offered his own, closing the door behind him to make sure I couldn't return his gift. Mat has no reason to be this kind, except that he believes that his purpose is to empower others.

Allan is a guardian. He is a bodyguard, a motivational coach, and one of the most sincere people I know. If you ask Allan about anybody that works at Grade A, he won't just tell you what their position is, he'll go into detail about their strengths, their personality, and how much faith he has in their potential to succeed.

4. You do not need permission to go for it

Most of the messages I get from people are seeking approval to chase their dreams.

Here's my advice:

You do not need permission to go for it. Write the damn article, it doesn't matter if anybody reads it. Paint the damn canvas, it doesn't matter if it's a masterpiece or garage sale reject. If the career is slowly crushing your soul, quit the damn job and start putting your happiness first.

I know that it's comforting to get advice when you're afraid or unsure. But when I publish an article, I rarely send it out to friends and family beforehand. If I did, I would never have gotten past the first draft. Your crew is there to love and protect you, but the price tag that comes with creativity will always be criticism.

But you know what burden is tougher to bear than criticism? Regret.

5. Make fear your passenger, never your pilot

I am not fearless. In fact, my husband, who is a horror movie buff, would tell you that I am the world's biggest chicken when it comes to anything spooky. The scariest movie I've ever seen was "Ghost Dad" with Bill Cosby, and it's technically categorized as a comedy (although, I still argue that the bridge scene at the beginning was terrifying)!

The point is, I'm often scared as hell. I'm terribly, horribly, heat-rash-up-to-my-earlobes frightened about running my own company. But the point is, that I'm doing it anyway. Wobbly knees, sweaty palms and all, fear and I are walking hand in hand down this new path together. Courage doesn't mean being fearless, it means that you don't let fear run the show.

A year ago, when I wrote about landing my dream job, I couldn't have imagined I would be writing this one year update. Heck, I would have been cool with just updating you all with "Hey, guess what guys? I haven't gotten fired yet!"

To you, my story might seem too good to be true. A year ago, I would have felt the exact same way. But if, like I did, you can learn to embrace your worth, get out of your own way, and find just ONE reason why the hell not you, then go forth and chase that glass slipper, my friend.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Michaela Alexis is a writer, content marketing expert and President of Grade A Digital.

Laid off at 48, he rebounded by making $300,000 miniature race tracks
Laid off at 48, he rebounded by making $300,000 miniature race tracks
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Laid off at 48, he rebounded by making $300,000 miniature race tracks
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