Learning humility by losing your job
Job-seekers wait in line for assistance at a government-run employment center, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Tess Vigeland: Finally some positive news on the employment front. Employers added 192,000 jobs to their payrolls in February, but that is just a teeny sliver of the unemployment problem. Behind each and every statistic is a person. And for the next few months, we're bringing you some of their stories in a new series called "The Job Chronicles." You'll hear about losing work and looking for it.
And this week, Samantha Barnes describes what it's like to readjust to a new identity along with a new job.
Samantha Barnes: After being laid off, I would pine after the memory of my job like a lost lover. It was a cushy executive sales position at a behemoth of a multinational corporation. Our client base was major U.S. banks and broker/dealers. We had an image to upkeep in order to blend in with our clients. We had lax expense accounts.
In late 2008, when the banks started having problems, so did our business.
I was one of those women you see in the airport wearing fancy suits and flying across the country for client meetings. Checking e-mail on her Blackberry, calling her support staff with follow up items. After my layoff, I would see them in the airport and want to yell out, "I'm one of you! I was important! People used to ask for my opinion during meetings!"
I was the breadwinner of my family and I was proud of it. I liked being able to pay the bills and buy things my family wanted but maybe didn't need. I liked being the provider. It was part of my identity. So, I lost more than just the sales meetings at the beach and status shoes. I lost a part of who I was. No longer was I the successful career woman I had been so proud to be. It was a massive blow to my ego.
Once my job search began, my ego didn't fare much better. I realized that there were thousands of people like me who had also lost their jobs. All well-respected in their previous positions and qualified for the positions I wanted. I felt very ordinary.
The job I settled for was also very ordinary -- definitely without the status to which I had become accustomed. My six-figure salary was cut in half. Worse, I barely made more than my husband. I couldn't pay the bills, let alone buy my family what they asked for. I had to relinquish being the provider and the status that went with it.
I know that there are other people trying to redefine themselves now that they are no longer the family breadwinner. Perhaps that's the upside. I learned that I am one of many people whose egos have been bruised along with their careers. Losing my job has given me a humility I won't lose.