Saturday, May 30, 2015

I'm Awesome! (or what I learned from being laid off)

You might have noticed an extreme dearth of posting this spring. Let me just say, I wasn't feeling much like doing anything except eating burritos and watching TV, largely because my workplace was going through a round of lay-offs - and waiting to hear if you're going to be laid off is worse than actually being laid off, it turns out.

When they told me that my "role had been eliminated" I felt a surge of relief at finally knowing what was next for me. I know a lot of people don't feel that way when they hear those words, and that's OK too. I'm in the camp of: feel what you feel and don't feel guilty about it.

Except I did kind of feel guilty about it, because I FELT GREAT. Other people didn't, and I felt really weird whenever someone asked me (in concerned, parental tones) how I was doing. 

"I feel great," I'd say.

Then they'd look at me like I was their brave little toaster, just trying to make others feel better.

I'm no brave toaster. I just feel like this happened at the right time for me, and brought into focus a few life lessons that had been floating around in my brain but hadn't coalesced.

Life Lesson #1: I'm awesome. (and you are too).
It's a little bit of a joke in my family that false modesty (or any modesty) is not really my jam. I'm pretty honest about my flaws (loudness, clumsiness, a caffeine addiction, overuse of parentheses), but I believe in being just as honest about my strengths. Even so, it's really easy, when you've been working someplace for awhile, to forget your strengths, and focus on how what you're doing isn't good enough. I was working in a place where the culture was hyper-critical, and so I often questioned my gut. 

I'm fortunate to work in a field where good people are always needed (I completely get that this is not most people's experience of being laid off), and so being on the job market was like a booster shot of positivity. People WANTED what I had to offer. They thought I was great. They told me I was great, repeatedly. It reminded me that all of us should get to feel this way, because each of us is doing our best with our strengths. It doesn't mean that constructive criticism isn't necessary, but as a manager and educator, when I've leaned into people's strengths, things always turn out better.

Life Lesson #2: Your values are critical to your happiness
Over the past year, I'd begun to feel a disconnect between my values and what I was doing. I work primarily with low-income communities and families, and I believe deeply in the autonomy and strength of these communities. I believe that to do this work well, I must try to be anti-colonialist, anti-patriarchal, and anti-racist. This is hard, and I often fail. But I was feeling as though more and more often I was swimming upstream in trying to do community work in a way that honored people's lives and experiences.

I was at a conference when the presenter said something like: "Who you are at work isn't necessarily who you are in your anti-colonialist, anti-patriarchal work." I began to realize that I was being asked to work in ways that I felt weren't aligned to my values, and that the work I was doing outside of my actual job was more aligned to my beliefs. In looking for my next role, I was committed to finding an organization that firmly believed in the power of communities, not as an afterthought, but as a foundational principle.

Life Lesson #3: Burritos make anything bearable.

Life Lesson #4: Save money!
As soon as I knew being laid off was a possibility, I started saving more scrilla than I ever had before. Feeling like I have enough money to save was a bit of a new experience for me, but I learned that I can put a lot more away than I thought. If you haven't always had money, finances can seem like a big mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a blanket covered in question marks. It's meant to be that way -- our financial system thrives in a world where many of us don't understand what our money can do, so we don't make the most of it and threaten the privilege of those who do.

I still have a lot to learn about finances, but this situation has increased my commitment to do so - and it's less boring than I thought it was.

Life Lesson #3: Have faith
I don't talk much about religion or faith, but I do believe that if we listen to the universe, our path becomes clear. Of course, getting laid off is a shout from the universe. "Get out of here!" the universe said. 

The signs of what was to come next were a little more subtle, but no less there. A particular conversation happened at a particular time, certain people appeared to take this journey with me. The next adventure is about to begin, and of course I'm a little nervous. It feels like I'll be where I'm supposed to be, though, to learn the next set of life lessons.

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