On January 7th I was thrust into a period of change. I was stunned and sad. Relieved and unsure. I was no longer employed and it wasn’t on my terms and I wasn’t going to like it. How am I to be identified if not by who I am aside from as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, and friend? I have been in the workforce since I was 14 years old and it has mostly been an amazing ride. My first uniform was a long red skirt, black bodysuit, fishnet stocking and 2-inch heels, dancing for visitors at an old west theme park. I always tell people it was the best job I ever had.
The next summer I donned the red and white of a candy striper, unwittingly drafted into this by my mother whose vision for me was to be a nurse. Making beds (hospital corners!), filling water pitchers, running errands for nurses, each day inhaling the antiseptic scent of the aged and infirm. I was as miserable as could be. Our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Winterbottom was a long-term resident and I was afraid of her wispy white hair, crooked hands, and the general sickness of her. I was not going to be a nurse.
The following year I was back to dancing, a joyful carefree existence. I have so many stories tucked away in my memory from this summer. The girls I worked with, the people I met (real cowboys from the south!), the lazy days that only required we work for a few minutes every hour and then pose for photos with the guests. On our breaks, we swam in a nearby river, visited with other workers in their part of the park and listened to music by Prince and Michael Jackson in our makeshift dressing room. All good things come to an end.
Used to making money for myself, I followed that up by working shifts at McDonalds and bussing/dishwashing for the local country club. This wasn’t enjoyable work but the company was. I got paid to hang out with friends along with emptying garbage cans, mopping floors and dealing with sudden crowds of hungry visitors (which gave me all sorts of anxiety).
As I moved on to college, I filled my spare time working in a video rental store (this was so early in the video rental game that we actually lent out VHS machines as well), a high-end tchotchke store owned by my aunt, and in the summers a paper mill and road construction. I longed to have an on-campus job in the library but that wasn’t to be. My last part-time college job was as a runner in the ad department at the local newspaper which turned into a 20-year career.
I always say I fell into newspaper work. A guy I was dating got me an interview for the part-time gig that fit perfectly with my senior schedule. When I graduated, a full-time job opened up and over the twenty years, I moved from advertising to the newsroom to marketing. During the early years, I was a poor, post-college career girl and picked up extra money working retail, for a car dealer and waitressing. By the time I left, the heyday of newspapers was waning and the work they wanted (and needed) me to do was no longer fulfilling. I made my exit without a plan.
Thus followed my first foray with unemployment which was fun at first but fairly miserable after a while – I was resentful I didn’t get accepted for a buyout and because I left of my own cognition, I wasn’t able to collect unemployment either. But I had a three-year-old and I turned my attention to him as I perused the employment sites for my next gig. It took nine months of searching to find the right fit and I stayed for nine years.
Now I’m back among the ranks of the unemployed. I have a much different mindset than when I left my last job. I am more focused on doing the things I love as well as simply slowing down. The anxiety to do it all as a working mom has been lifted and I now let things go because I have time to do them tomorrow. I do have days when I’m unsure what to do. If I need motivation, there are plenty of Ted talks, podcasts and vlogs to fill the void. Right now I’m still settling into my routine, unsure how all this is going to shake out.