Two intelligent, capable, accomplished women more or less the same age, living on two different continents but working in the same business, recently shared with me how losing their jobs affected their lives. Neither job loss occurred because of the recession – one of them went through this traumatic experience a few years ago – but they were the unfortunate results of personality clashes. Yes, when you reach a certain rung on the ladder, such things do take place. Someone above, simply, doesn’t like you much, for no reason related to your ability or your performance. Or else, a new “chief” comes in and can’t be bothered to see if things can be worked out with current staff and would rather clean house, in the mistaken belief that the “old guard” might not be as eager or faithful as the one he/she will bring in.
Both women are financially fairly independent and, luckily, didn’t have to worry about how to put the next meal on the table. Regardless, both were left with more questions than answers on why they found themselves jobless and wondered if they could they have done something different. Worse, both started questioning their capabilities, despite two decades of impeccable and appreciated work.
It’s hard not to be defined by what we do. I didn’t work for a whole year at one point in my life and in any social circumstances where I met people for the first time, I dreaded the “And what do you do?” question. My answers were convoluted tirades on why I wasn’t working and what it is that I used to do as if being me wasn’t interesting enough. And it wasn’t. When I tried the tactic of simply saying I wasn’t working for the time being, people quickly lost interest – and I don’t think it’s because my conversational skills were so sub par. Especially in social settings, most of us can’t be bothered to go past the initial tidbits of information a stranger will offer and we quickly form an opinion based on what someone does.
After years of ramming into our heads the belief that our independence is worth any price, we (women) still let others define who we are. If self-reflection and analysis of why a situation went wrong are important, letting that situation creep into our subconscious and inform our decisions for years to come is a very feminine trait. Sometimes people don’t like us, for a million reasons beyond our control, and if a man is typically at ease with such a state of affairs and doesn’t ponder on the whys, a woman is more likely to mold herself to fit what is expected of her or will start questioning her self-worth. Reflecting on my conversations with these two women, I realized I am just as guilty. Aiming to please and accommodate, I find it hard to believe that someone might not like me as I if were the only one allowed to find myself insufferable at times.
Getting married, having children, moving, a death and losing a job are deemed to be the most stressful situations defining a life so I am most certainly not trying to belittle the trauma of being let go, of having to overhaul one’s established routine at a moment’s notice. Suddenly, what we think as the most interesting narrative about us disappears which is probably why older people have a hard time with the idea of retiring.
I met these two women through work so I am familiar with how they conducted themselves on a daily basis in their professional capacities and how much they gave of themselves to a job they had true passion for. But the reasons I love them don’t have much to do with their work – what I got out of the daily grind we shared is their smarts, their determination in all walks of life, their compassion and the fun we had (and still have) together. And I know I am not alone. Aside from a couple of guys who didn’t take the time.