Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Coping with the Unimaginable

I have been working since I was 12 years old. My dad had a restaurant when I was kid and it was there that I learned how to work hard and in a spirit of excellence. I experienced loss as a teen....we lost a significant amount of our home to fire. I think it was that experience combined with living through my parent's bankruptcy that placed in me the desire to give back to others who have struggled. As a college student, I worked my way through school. All of my jobs were the foundation for my career in nonprofit management. Since the early 1990s, I have been dedicated to helping others and trying to make a difference. I was blessed with the opportunity to go to India as a part of a documentary in 2008 with 7 women from Dallas to see how the women of India lived. What I experienced as a child was nothing compared to what I experienced and witnessed in Mumbai and Chennai. Even as an African American female who understood dealing with challenges, my life was no comparison to what I saw these women deal with on a daily basis. I came back more aware of the blessings I had and my responsibility as a global citizen. I returned to the states to start a new job. I had a house, a family, and a great life.

I never thought that those things I treasured would be in jeopardy. I was home ill almost two weeks ago when I received an email from my job. I found out that my position had been terminated due to funding. I was devastated. The job I loved, that allowed me to help others, was gone. For years, I had been the one giving, the one who was helping others. I am now in the strangest place in my life. I am now relying on others to help me. I have never had to apply for unemployment. When I received the statement of what my benefits would be weekly, I was floored. I prided myself on being a woman who has always worked hard even putting myself through graduate school. I think when people think of layoffs, they don't see how this economic downturn has impacted all walks of life. There are those of us who are professionals, who have helped others, dedicated our lives to making a difference who now need help.

In this short period, I've learned some valuable lessons. I've learned that in this economy, no one is free from experiencing joblessness. I thought because I am highly educated and a valued employee that I would be the last to go. I was wrong. I am dispensable. I have learned how to receive the help of others although it is hard. I have always been the giver and to be on the other end has been an usual experience. I am thankful that I have sowed into the lives of so many that now those seeds are blessing me. I haven't found a job and I am searching daily believing that something will come my way soon. I have also learned to reposition myself. I am looking at entrepreneurial opportunities that will not only allow me to help others but also take care of my family. I am learning to invest in me. It has been interesting in using this as a teaching moment from my nine year old daughter. She is watching her mother who has always been the do-er cope with an unfamiliar situation. I can not wallow in my pain because I have to show her that when times are hard, you can make it. You can't give up on people even though you've been hurt tremendously by them. You can't give up on yourself even though there are days when you'd love to stay in bed and question why me. She's watching me and I must show her that out of pain you can create possibilities.

My husband has been a great source of help. I think this experience is bringing us closer together. I have been through two layoffs with him--one while we were dating and the other a few years ago. That was a trying time for us. During that time, a friend moved in with us who was unemployed in addition to a lady from Ethiopia who was here to marry a man she had been dating. He died within the week of her being in Texas. This wonderful lady needed a place to stay and we opened up our home to her. My father was dying with cancer and I was going back and forth to Louisiana to help my mom. To most, I know it sounds overwhelming but in retrospect, this was a blessing to my life. Even in that situation, I was giving. This current situation has allowed me to accept my husband's desire to support me.

I thank God for my mother who has been my sounding board ALL of my life but I know this has impacted her as well. She is trying to support me and yet, I know she is concerned about my livelihood and well-being. I hope my story can be helpful to other professional women who are mothers, wives, daughters, friends that are dealing with this experience. So often, we define ourselves by what we do. This experience has challenged me to come up with a new definition of myself, of who I want to be when I 'grow up' and the way in which I want to live in the world from this point forward. I know that the pain and the uncertainty shall pass but right now, I'd be dishonest if I said that it doesn't still hurt. Bad.