My Story, Part 1

My Story Begins With a Job Layoff in 2002

write2002 was a big year for me. In mid-January, near the end of the 1st quarter for the company employing me, I experienced a corporate layoff. But, I was among the survivors. The day started like most others. My colleagues and I sleepily wandered into the office, said our hellos, and quietly moved to our homes in the land of cubicles. We logged into our computers and opened our email client to start catching up on all of our electronic communications. This was before the days of Blackberries and iPhones, when only the most important people in our office had cell phones and pagers. Suddenly, the welcoming, homey work environment I was used to felt strange. And I could hear whispering from the other side of my cube. Then, two of my friends came into my work space and asked “Did you get the message?”

Apparently, a meeting had been called by our HR Manager and the executive in charge of our building. I wasn’t called to this meeting. And I wondered what that meant. Should I be scared? Should I start packing?

The meeting started at 9:00AM and was over by 9:15AM. And in that time, meeting goers were locked out of their computers and could access nothing more than the items on their desks. Turns out they were let go. Laid-off. Just like that. I immediately started backing up my files on zip disks. Thumb drives and online back-up companies like Carbonite didn’t exist, and CD burners weren’t standard for anyone’s computer. Since the people that just lost their jobs were billable employees without projects, I figured I was next on the chopping block as a non-billable Marketing Communications Manager.

It really was just a matter of time. Eight months and eight layoffs later my number was up, and I was out of a job. I honestly wasn’t surprised. By the time the company got to me, there weren’t many people left to pick from. I was was a little shocked it took them as long as it did to get to me, because I was literally doing nothing everyday to earn my paycheck. All of my responsibilities had been relegated to the corporate office anyway, and I spent more time surfing the web than doing anything productive. Little did I know how much my life would change after that layoff.

My Story Continues With a Struggle to Claim my Identity

When I lost my job I felt like I lost myself. It suddenly became clear to me how true it was that we Americans define ourselves with our jobs. Think about it: how many times have you been to a networking event or business meeting listening to introductions that go something like this:

Hello, my name is Susan and I’m a Marketing Communications Manager for the second largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer next to Lucent.

How many times have YOU introduced yourself with your job title and company name?

Suddenly, I felt like I didn’t have an identity. Who was I? I didn’t have a job anymore. What was I going to do with my time? How was I going to answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” when I didn’t have a job? Would I admit failure because I’d been let go? Would I make something up to make it sound like I had more going on than playing happy housewife? Not yet. I would wallow in my sorrow for a little bit, dazed and confused.

My lay-off came just before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. My husband and I agreed that I could wait until 2003 to start looking for a new job. It was really the only way to keep my severance pay anyway – because if I found a job before it ran out, I’d have to forfeit it. So I gave myself time to try and figure out what I wanted to do next.

For about 2 months, I was bored out of my mind. The townhouse we lived in was clean. I arranged lots of doggy play dates for our canine children. And I decided that despite a lifetime of imagining myself as a stay-at-home-mom when the time came, there was no way I’d be able to keep my sanity based on how it felt to be home and jobless after the lay-off.

I decided to make a career change.

I took a job as a floating assistant in a day care center thinking that, when the time came, I could take my future children with me so that I would not ever have to deal with the feeling of loss and boredom from not having a job. And I enrolled in a child growth and development course at Howard Community College in an attempt to earn my 90-hour certification for child care providers: a crucial requirement which could ultimately earn me more money. I should clarify: I wasn’t at just any day care center, I was at a pricey pre-school for children aged 6-weeks to Kindergarten. And as a floating assistant, I went where ever I was needed – and cared for the littlest of babies to pre-schoolers in the process of learning to use the toilet, to Kindergarteners who could read.

After about two months of being told when I could eat lunch and go to the bathroom (it certainly would have been bad for the school if the state conducted a surprise inspection and found that for the five minutes it took me to go out a bathroom break the classroom I was assigned to didn’t meet its mandated adult-to-child ratio)  I’d had enough.  I learned that whomever I was, I certainly wasn’t someone who wanted that kind of micromanagement each day. It works great for some. Not me. And I walked away.

My Brief Return to the Professional World

In April 2003 I landed another Marketing Communications job with on of the top 5 accounting firms at the time. And I loved being back in a familiar environment. I was a little out of my comfort zone because I spent lots of time and energy editing and revising proposals. As I think about that experience, I can see how important it was for me to help people clearly, concisely, and effectively communicate. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how much that experience played a part in who I am today. Sometimes, it’s through hindsight that we learn our biggest lessons.

Shortly after beginning that job I became pregnant with my first child. While I hoped that I would be able to stay home with our baby, my husband and I couldn’t close any doors until the reality of parenthood set in. So, I planned to go back to work. But, when the baby came we learned that we could manage parenthood on my husband’s income. Besides, most of the money I would make would go to pay for day care, so it didn’t make sense for me to continue working.

Thankfully, I’d already experienced what it was like to suddenly be out of work, and I could spend the time learning how to be a new mother without dealing with the loss of identity that happened when I lost my job the year before. What was that about hindsight? How thankful I was for already had the loss of identity crisis.

And then it was 2015

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that life is an adventurous journey full of ups, downs, and all sorts of crazy. Sometimes it’s awesome and amazing. Sometimes it’s enough to make us want to bury our heads in sand and yell “I QUIT!”

But we must push forward