The day I was laid off from a six-figure corporate job, my car was stolen from the Mobile station on the Merritt Parkway. I was driving back from my morning meeting with my boss in New York City, where he told me that my position was eliminated. I'd pulled off the road for gas -- and for my customary of comfort food -- cheese doodles. I called the police from the cashier’s phone, my cell phone dead due to the numerous calls I’d made that morning earlier, putting feelers out for a new job. The police didn’t find my Prius. “Were the keys in it?” the officer had asked. “Yes.”
My husband picked me up at the gas station and when I got home, I immediately checked LinkedIn for new job postings. I was frantic; in my 22-year corporate career I had never been let go or laid off. I scrolled through the listings. Though my boss had told me my position was eliminated, my colleague had already updated his LinkedIn profile, listing my old title as his new one. I fumed.
I went into my bedroom at 7:00 that night, my husband and five children empathetic but not at all helpful. I considered my options, and by the time my husband came in the room I was describing my plan for a high power comeback.
“I’ll make even more money this time,” I said. My husband, a good man who understands me, simply said, “Do what you love.”
At the time, that seemingly stupid comment set me off, made me more irritable, more irrational.
“I’m practically 50,” I said.
“You just turned 40,” he countered, calm as he always was.
“It’s the same as 50,” I said.
“Write your novel,” Eric said.
“I need to make money,” I said.
“Not that much,” Eric said. And you’ve got a 6-month severance package. Take some time.” That was true, my company had been generous.
“I can’t write a novel, sell it and make money in 6 months, not even in 6 years” I said, crying now, my emotions escalating.
“Sleep on it honey,” Eric said.
I didn’t sleep. I considered my corporate life. The life I was used to, the work I was good at, but I also though about how being an EVP of business development was never my plan. I fell into it. Despite being the shy writerly type, I was good at doing deals, even multi-million dollar ones. I realized then, lying in bed, that I’d rationalized 22 years of my life, went for the money, the stock, the savings, the 401K and put off my real passion for writing.
Why and when had money become so important? I wondered, though it should have been obvious. I’d grown up with my father, an inspired entrepreneur, who started up companies as quickly as one lights matches. His income, ever unpredictable, tinged my childhood with a low level anxiety over money. When my father went on business trips, it was a toss up whether my mother would treat me to fine dining at Fontanella’s or if we’d have to haul out mom’s stash of rolled quarters and head to the grocery store with the bright yellow specials circular.
I was determined to make my own money – steady and surely -- and would not have to roll quarters for dinner money. By the time I was 12, I was waitressing at my uncle’s luncheonette. At 13, keeping the books for my grandfather’s beauty parlor. Once of legal working age, I never stopped. I went from job to job sacking away my “mad money” as I called it. The Monday after I graduated college, I went to work as an editor in New York City, then got into public relations, then online marketing when the internet boomed. As I thought about it I wondered when the last time was that I did not have a job. But no matter my paying work, I always got up at 4:00 am to write, no matter my job.
Do what you love, my husband’s voice went through my head. Two years have passed since that day I lost my job and my car. I did what my husband said. I used my severance sparingly, got by with less and gradually built a life I love. My second act: I work from home now, I consult, I freelance, I teach, and most importantly, I write.