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Lessons Learned: A Recap

For those of you keeping score, a few years ago I got Laid Off. After that I took a giant (for me) Leap, which led me to having 2 jobs, 1 nightmare, and precipitated a not-so-triumphant Return to Corporate America, where my tail may or may not have been tucked between my legs. That’s all well and good. What the heck did it teach me?

Yes, life totally kicked my butt. This is not the success story of someone who gave up the trappings of their consumer life, took a huge pay cut and was all the better for it. I did not got skipping off into the sunset with 1/3 of my previous income.

No, for two years, I struggled and fought against former spending habits, small paychecks, and uncertainty.  Mostly against uncertainty. For whatever reason, I refused to accept my reality as the ‘new normal’, and not some grand experiment I was deigning to participate in.

I planned this great Leap. My departure. To leave on my own terms with my head held high and my world intact. When it didn’t turn out as planned (inevitably) I was faced with all this unanticipated risk. See up until the Layoff, we’d lived a pretty blessed existence. An existence, I’d largely took for granted. The Husband being unemployed for 9 months, was not even in my realm of possibility.

When all this risk landed square in my lap, it paralyzed me. It rendered me incapable of making any other decisions. Clearly, I’d screwed up. My desire to lead a different life had compromised our security.

The only thing I could think to do was retreat. Go back. Recapture the blessed existence that had treated us so well. Seek audience with your corporate overlords and beg for mercy. Ok, maybe that’s a little dramatic.

I returned from wist I came. I didn’t reinvent the wheel. I didn’t change my life. I went right back to the old one, a little wiser for it. I’ve been here for 3 months, collecting ridiculously large paychecks, and spending quite a bit of time being bored at my desk. After all that I am back to sitting on my butt. It seems somehow anti-climactic.

As it turns out, The Husband is back at work. Has been since shortly before The Return. Maddening. The deus ex machina I’d waited for, happened when the ink was still wet on my offer letter. Ain’t that the way it goes.

So, did I fail? I’ve spent an awful lot of time in processing this experience. As I’m rocking the path of least resistance. Sitting on my bum, back at my corporate job, finally having a bit of time to reflect on “What the heck just happened?”. Retrospect, its a beautiful thing.  Here’s what I’ve come up with.

1. Appreciate what you’ve got. This is easier said than done. Whatever crisis you’re in, it’s going to look different to you after you’re through it. It very easy to think the grass is always greener somewhere else. It’s not. The grass is a different, equivalent shade of green. As much as I loathe Corporate America, it affords me a lot of flexibility in both time and money. Yes, I enjoyed the Pet Store subject matter on a day to day basis. However, the car situation? The Grocery Budget? Both would have been much more difficult without my corporate sponsorship.  Take a moment to appreciate the Devil you know. Try to do it while you are shaking his hand.

2. We would have survived. For all my doom and gloom, sky-is-falling thinking, we were obviously making it. Unemployed Husband, Pet Store job, Big Fat Mortgage and all. We could have continued to do so. Sure, it wasn’t the easiest existence in the world, but we did it. It’s only now that I can even acknowledge the success of that. Again, this is a reminder to live in the moment. Yes, I fought against living on 1/3 of our regular income, but I did it.

3. I don’t want to open my own business. At least, not a retail one. I would be tied to a brick and mortar store, married to a bunch of employees who drive me nuts, committed to Holidays, weekends, and long hours. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. It’s just not what I want my day to day life to look like. While working at The Store, I spent too much time marginalizing my home and social lives for the sake of whatever was going on there. Opening my own would be worse. I consider this a very cheap lesson in business ownership. Most people, actually have to do it. That costs a whole lot more.

4. I don’t want to work 40 hours a week. Sitting on your butt or running a store, whatever you’re doing, 40 hours is a lot of time. Before I took the Leap, I thought work felt long because I didn’t love it. Turns out, work felt long because it was. As I’m formulating this idea of what I want my existence to look like, I keep coming back to more freedom, less hours.

5. I’m so happy I did this. True, my life was total chaos for more than just a minute there. But, whats that saying about having rather loved and lost, than never loved at all? Ayup. I can relate. This was something I yearned for, for years. Then I stopped yearning. And did. Even if it didn’t turn out like I expected, I learned so much about myself (see above) as an employee, as a manager, as a wife, as a friend, and  as a consumer. I tested my metal. I would not trade this experience for anything.

6. This is not the end of the road. I’m re-grouping. I’m pondering. I’m writing. I changed my existence once. It wasn’t how I wanted it to go, but it may be worth trying again. I’m a little wiser. I have different expectations. You can guarentee I won’t spend all my days sitting in a cubicle.

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Miser Mom

The BBC did a great series following many kids over many years — check out “The Up Series”. (The name comes from the first segment, “7 Up”, when the kids were all 7 years old. Rumor has it, “56 Up” is coming out in 2012).

At any rate, one of my heroes in this series is the scrappy Tony, who has low income and large dreams. He dabbled in his dream of being a jockey; he futzed around as an actor; he returned to being a cabbie. The interviewer asked him, “How does it feel to be a has-been?”

Tony just shot right back, “Better a has-been, than a never-was.”

It’s good to have followed your dreams for a little while, rather than just wondering what might have happened.

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