1. The gap in my employment history
I feared this like the plague. Having graduated college in a time when just getting an interview was a cause for celebration, I’ve gone through the pain and disappointment of not getting a job for a year. This post-college employment mess was one of the most painstakingly difficult times of my life. I vowed to never dive into the unemployment deep end ever again if I had the choice.
Funny thing is with all of these vows I’ve “taken,” life seems to throw a curve ball right when I least expect it. I decided on many sleepless and tear-filled nights that I would leave my job without a new one lined up.
I was lucky enough to have no attachments and could walk away unscathed. Had I not been unemployed I would not have been able to ride horses in Argentina, eat homemade focaccia in Italy, and surf waves taller than myself in Tahiti. Like my grandfather always says “There’s a seat for every ass.” If I choose to go back into corporate life and the interviewer asks with intrigue what happened between x and y, I’ll politely tell him I was character building in the South of France. They may not offer me the job, but they sure as hell can’t take those experiences away from me.
2. Moving back in with Mom and Dad
Never moving back home was definitely high on the list of promises I made myself. The minute I moved out on my own felt like I had finally made it into adulthood. I was running on a shoestring budget, but was so happy to be all on my own.
Sad reality is, when I got older, I needed some sort of a nest egg to live off of for a time, the smart and responsible thing to do was live rent free…with my parents. Explaining to a potential male suitor that I have roommates both above the age of 55 doesn’t exactly have the gentlemen lining up. Besides the social factor, I felt this option was a regression, not progression. I was giving up on adult life and going crying back home to mommy. Not ideal.
Within moments of stepping back into my family home, my mother hugged me and said “I’m sorry you feel like this is prison, but you know you’re always welcome here for as long as you need. We understand.” Shot right to heartstrings! It wasn’t their fault I was miserable, and making it seem like this was the absolute worst option wasn’t fair. Some people don’t get the choice to go home and start fresh, but I did. And after a while, the fresh laundry service and home-cooked meals made it seem more like a vacation. Now when people ask where I live, I don’t roll my eyes and explain in depth why I’m back home. I smile and say I’m in a subsidized room by the water on Long Island, and it’s not too shabby!
3. My professional title
I used to scour the internet for different ways to hide the fact I was a salesperson. ‘Pushy’ and ‘sleazy’ used to immediately come to mind when I heard the word ‘sales’, yet I was neither. When I decided to leave my position it dawned upon me that not only would I be out of work, but I had no idea of what I going to put on my LinkedIn. My lack of title ultimately meant lack of purpose to me. This was a hard pill to swallow.
Shortly after leaving the corporate cubicle, someone asked me what I do. I went into a whole song and dance about how I used to do sales, wasn’t happy, but used to write on the side, blah-blah-blah. The person on the other end of this conversation then said something that made perfect sense, “So, you’re freelancing then?” Well, yeah, I guess I am. Duh. I realized I was not this lost little titleless ex-worker, I was still me, and I was freelancing, and LinkedIn won’t mind at all.
4. No company to call home
One of my most favorite pleasantries used to be selfishly asking people what they do in hopes they would return the gesture. I enjoyed being asked because I was so proud of the iconic media company I worked for at the time. To the outsider they saw longevity, history, and establishment. Little did they know the place was falling apart at the establishments seams. To not be able to say I belonged there anymore was just as bad, if not worse than lack of title.
Having a company association defined me to a lot of outsiders, whether they worked within my industry or were just a curious stranger inquiring about my profession. And losing the company association meant a lack of team.
When going back and forth over whether or not to quit, I called an old coworker from my company. He politely pointed out that this wasn’t a funeral; no one is gone forever. He also pointed out that finding a new company with a reputation I would be proud to represent was just something I would put on my ‘must-have’ list. Being without company can be scary and lonely, but it can also be empowering and freeing. I wouldn’t trade the solitude for even the nicest of business cards.
5. Investing in clothes that were only wearable to the office during the 9 to 5
There is something to be said for dressing the part. A black power dress or suit could do wonders for my self-esteem. But when did working become a fashion show for the ill-fitting pants suit? Belts, heels, tuck-in, hair done, nail polish; the list goes on and it’s exhausting.
While working in sales, I invested in my workwear and was proud to rock the work chic look. The uncomfortable pencil skirt was worth the image I was presenting to my clients. The day after I left my job, I woke up to go get coffee and do some immediate life strategizing. When I walked to my closet and looked at my workwear shirts and pants, a huge grin crept across my face. On this day, and so many days ahead, I could wear whatever I wanted! Hands to the sky emoji. Don’t get me wrong, I like to dress up and never leave my house without triple approval of my hair, but when it came to workwear, I had enough of feeling like a dress up doll. Button downs are hung neatly in the closet for now, but being able to walk past a store and not having to buy pantyhose – now that to me is success.
6. Keeping Up With the Joneses
For as long as I can remember, I have compared myself to others. How they dress, what they scored on their SATs, where they ended up going to school, etc. It was all about appearances for me. I wanted to portray to the world this picture of success in every endeavor I undertook. The title, the company, the apartment, it all had to fit into this mold I had created in my head. Quitting a job for the unknown was so not etched into this masterpiece of a life I was dreaming of.
Reality is that I could plan and plan, but life happens while I’m planning. I worried to no end what if xyz doesn’t happen, or I make the wrong mistake in my career? The ‘what if’ ate me alive. The deep metaphysical questions I was asking myself were taking me way down the rabbit hole until I realized this: yes, I am in control and can make decisions, but life will happen anyways. The projection I put out into the world is all on me. Good, bad, or ugly, I will still be the same person. Do I like that person? Am I happy with where I am and what I’m doing?
When the dust had somewhat settled and I was back in my childhood town, I thought of all the negative thoughts I previously had. They’d come creeping back in my brain at night, or when someone asked ‘how’s life?’. The more time went on, and life moved, the less these thoughts came around. Sure, they weasel their way into my head every now and again, but life has gone on, and I am happy to report: I’m a work in progress and that’s totally fine by me.