Working Girl Me

When I signed on to my computer that morning, an instant message popped up from my boss: “Please call me as soon as you get to your desk.”

He was not given to chitchat or small talk. We both worked remotely and when we communicated, it was via email or instant message. Before I could consider why he wanted to speak to me, my phone rang.

“This is going to be a difficult conversation,” he began.

Fifteen minutes later, I was unemployed.

It didn’t matter that I was being laid off because of a corporate restructuring at a foundering company or that my boss said he had pushed hard to keep management from eliminating my position.

I had lost my job and, along with it, a crucial chunk of my identity. What if I couldn’t get it back? I needed working girl me. She kept me sane. She was confident, self-assured. She paid the mortgage and car payment. She provided her family with health insurance. She showed her daughter the importance of working hard, being respected and standing on her own. She was the me I wanted to be.

I had willingly given her up once before to stay home with my young children. I thought I would be happy without her, that I would find the personal fulfillment I needed in being a mother. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted her back. Slowly, I worked her into my new life as a parent. I did some freelance writing and editing for a few years, and when my son started kindergarten I took a part-time job working from home.

She was back, and I was happy. We all were.

Then my husband lost his job. I was able to expand my position to full time, which helped, but it was still a frightening, stressful period for us financially. At the same time, it made us refocus on our family and our marriage, and it brought us closer. It also motivated my husband to start his own company as he had always wanted to do. Out of what he had perceived was failure came success. She, working girl me, helped make it possible.

And now she was gone.

How could I tell him? Could we get through this again, without her this time?

As I climbed the stairs to the master bedroom where my husband was dressing for work, I felt like a child coming home with a bad report card. I had failed, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. I was afraid of what he would think, what he would say, how he would see me — the me without her.

I saw the shock in his eyes, the fear, but he was there for me. It was his turn to be supportive, and he was.

“We’ll get through this,” he told me, as I cried into his T-shirt. “You’re good at what you do. You’ll find another job.”

I didn’t believe him. But she did.

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53 thoughts on “Working Girl Me

  1. Oh what a scary place to be. I can totally relate to needing that part of my identity, just like you do.
    It sounds like you have a wonderful marriage and I’m with “her”. I think you’re going to be just fine.
    Thanks for sharing this story!

    • Thanks, Dawn. It just happened, on Friday the 13th, in fact.

      I’m kind of excited about the prospect of starting something new but terrified at the same time. We shall see…

  2. Beautiful stated. One great thing that has come out of this unexpected turn of events is you have more time to do what you love, write!!!!

  3. What a wonderful guy! You’re obviously talented (including in the picking-a-husband department) and you will get through this and on to something even better.

  4. I have been in your shoes and felt that fear. Doesn’t sound like Working Girl You is going anywhere, so get ready for the next chapter. Although it’s scary to not know what that will bring, I hope it is even better than what you lost.

  5. Ugh, that stinks. I’m sorry. It is so hard when you feel like you are losing a part of your identity. You are lucky to have a supportive husband. It will all work out.

  6. This post is so wonderful for the following reasons:
    1. I keep wondering if I can ever get back. My kids are 3 and 1.5, so your post gives me hope.
    2. I love how you loved your working girl self– it’s inspiring and good for kids to see that. I believe that 100%.
    3. I love the tenor of your marriage and how you are talking about the support and love that is there through all of it, even something scary like unemployment.

    You’ve got a lot of heart. I can tell.

  7. I love that closing. Even when you were unemployed, working-girl-you was still right there, trusting in you when you felt your weakest. And also, kudos to your husband for being supportive.

  8. I can relate to this. I am self employed because of an anxiety disorder and panic attacks costing me a job. I decided to pursue writing because it’s what I always wanted to do and because I didn’t want to feel helpless and like a victim, either.

    You’re resilient and you’ll get through this. Good luck to you!

  9. I hate the cliche of “everything always works out,” but sometimes life does make decisions for us. You’ll be great. And I loved this.

  10. Read this with tears in my eyes as I’m going through this wanting to be a working girl thing, too, and not sure how to get back on my feet. My husband is exactly like yours, and I am grateful.

    • We are lucky women, Holly. Thanks for your comment. It always helps to know there are others out there who understand, who’ve been there or are there right now. Sending good job thoughts your way. We’ll both get through this.

  11. Oh boy can I relate! I’ve been through that difficult conversation, and while restructuring (which is what happened to me) helps ease the pain of being let go, it doesn’t help the panic of what will I do now? Really great post.

  12. Okay, you’re making me a little nervous to return to work when my boys are in kindergarten! 😉

    My husband and I have both had adjustments and challenges to our working selves. It’s not easy, but it has to be normal. Right? And, I admit, when he said he wanted to try teaching instead of engineering I cheered him on while wanting to tell him, “No!”

    • I totally get that. When my husband wanted to start his own company, I was terrified. But I knew how much it meant to him to pursue his dreams, so I supported it. Four years later and he is happier professionally than I’ve ever seen him. I’m glad I put my fears aside and believed in him.

    • Thanks, Christina. It’s been less than two weeks since it happened, so I guess I just needed to “write it out.” It was definitely cathartic.

  13. I am very sorry you lost your job but very happy you wrote this post since I enjoyed it so much (not that my enjoyment should come at your expense!). Being that I lived in the land of layoffs (SF bay area) for most of my life, I totally get this. I gave up working girl me when I moved to NJ two years ago. Sometimes I miss her but other days, not so much. Good luck with new opportunities!

  14. I’ve been there, mama, and feel for you! I hope you are extra gentle with yourself and let your husband be the rock for you during this time. Here’s to enjoying your newfound writing time and treating us to more of your wonderful writing. Well done!

  15. Why do I love this? Because I could have written it. When I was laid off it was a bit of a blessing b/c my husband was moving across country and it made life easier in some ways but more stressful in others. I very much missed Working Girl Me and we are reuniting now.

  16. Great piece. I’m glad you recognize what you need (so many women don’t want to say that they NEED to work for themselves). I hope you find something soon that fulfills you. Your husband sounds so supportive and it’s great that you have each other.

  17. Excellent post, Kathleen. You are a beautiful writer (and editor!) and I felt like I was there with you and D.

    I, too, will never forget that feeling hearing it two days after getting back from my honeymoon. As I look back now, it was defining moment for me and I know it will be for you. You’ve heard it all before but I truly believe you will be in a better place very quickly. I promise to cheer you from the sidelines.

    Go, Kathleen, go!

  18. My lower lip came out at the end of this…. out of sweetness and awww over your fella’s selfless love and comfort. So well told and I see in comments how you’ve bounced back already. We’re cheering you on!

    • Thank you so much, 50Peach. I love all you Yeah Write folks already — and it’s only been a few weeks for me. Such a great group of people!

  19. I have so many friends who have been through this – first one spouse, then the other, losing their jobs, their identities, careers, finances. I’ve been amazed that the strong couples back each other up so well – each balancing the other when needed. The others fall apart, each looking and expecting so much more than the other can give. You guys – perfect balance, perfect strengths.

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