Last week I joined the 5 million plus Americans receiving jobless benefits and/or emergency/extended payments under out nation’s unemployment insurance system.
I’m still processing my layoff. I was called in for an 11am planning meeting (for which I’d diligently prepared strategy and tactical reports) to be told that my organization was re-structuring. My department and my job was to be eliminated- effective immediately. In the fog of emotions that ensued over the next few hours as I transferred projects and packed up my office, I was thankful for my 3pm therapy appointment and pre-planned 5:30pm dinner with a good group of friends.
My first day post-redundancy was marked by grief and a self-dialogue that placed blame on my self and my skills. I’ve never been unemployed. Never been demoted. In school I was the “straight A” student, in college voted the “Woman of Achievement” and “Woman of Success” upon my graduation Summa cum Laude. I moved through graduate school and two Master’s degrees into non-profit program development- creating an innovative dating violence prevention program from scratch. Within 5 years it was fully-funded and grew successfully. That work landed me a “Woman of Excellence” award from Germaine Lawrence and a nomination for “Young Professional of the Year” by the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network. I became a Program Director by age 25 and a Director of Development by age 30. I was moving onward and upward.
But, on that first day of unemployment, I blamed myself first. Was convinced that my layoff was due to my shortcomings and overlooked the systemic issues that influenced the agency’s decision. I wallowed in that feeling for 24 hours- allowing myself to watch romantic comedies in bed.
On Day 2, I became angry. Angry for the process in which I was laid off. The lack of notice. Angry for the seeming shortsightedness of the decision. I care(d) about the organization and, despite being a member of Senior Leadership, was removed from any conversation about the agency’s fiscal outlook and possible solutions. I was angry for being left out of the conversation. Angry that I worked a 12-hour day on the day before I was laid off. Angry that on that 12-hour workday I met with my Board- all of whom had been informed of the decision prior to our meeting- and whom engaged with me with various levels of personal and professional (dis)engagement during the evening.
On Day 3, I stopped thinking about the job and began thinking about my self. I realized that this might not be the sad, angry, scary situation I was framing in it during my first two days. I accepted that my Board and boss followed one mode of best practice in lay-off. The “get rid of them quick” mode protects the agency from any information an employee might decide to take with them or destroy. Ethically, I wouldn’t apply that scenario to myself, but it’s the agency’s duty to work from whatever they think is the best case/worst case scenario.
On Day 3, I began to appreciate the outreach from the few Board members who offered to meet with and or support my transition- with their networks and skills. I also noted who hadn’t reached out and still wonder what that means.
On Day 3, I realized that I didn’t have to act immediately on just “getting another job.” I have time. Since age 16, I have constantly worked. I have constantly positioned myself for moving upward. And it’s been awhile since I’ve sat and thought about who I am, what I believe in, and what I’m passionate about.
So, on Day 3, I baked. Because on Day 3, what was most important for me was not my job, nor my unemployment, nor my questions about where I’m headed next, but rather how I needed to be in the moment. On Day 3, a Friday, I realized that what I needed to do most was to send love and light to myself and others dear to me. So, in the hours before Shabbos, I pulled out the bread flour, salt, eggs, oil sugar, and yeast and began to pray.
The first time I made challah it was with my boyfriend from his sister’s recipe. What stood out to me the most was her instructions that, while you are making the dough, you should send love, peace and prayers to someone(s) in your life. Dedicating this act of making challah – a loaf of bread representing the manna that G-d provided to the Israelites on the day before the Sabbath as they wandered in the desert after the exodus from Egypt – resonated
deeply with me. It filled me with thankfulness, love, and hope- for myself and those I dedicated the act of baking to.
That eve, just at sunset, I pulled out two candles, the challah, and stood in my kitchen alone.
I am not Jewish, and I do not know the appropriate prayers associated with Shabbat eve. While I am learning about and exploring Judaism as a practice, identity and culture, this journey is still in its infancy. As that is the case, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to recite kiddush nor a blessing over the challah- even if I knew it… But, I did pray. I lit the two candles and I prayed in the way that I know how. Asking G-d and the Universe for blessings for those I love. Asking for peace, grace, and love for those I do not know well but care about. Thanking G-d and the Universe for the blessings given to me – including this change in my life – and asking for the patience to move through this scary, dangerous opportunity with an open heart and gentleness.
Yes, last week I was laid-off. And I was sad. And I was angry. And I came to some peace. I’m sure more of these
feelings will ebb and flow over the coming months. What I learned in those few days was that I have an opportunity in this change- to look inside myself and think about what is most important to me- right now. Today. In the moment. For the future. And some days, that process might look like values exploration or career planning, and on others, I may simply be making challah and saying a prayer