When You Lose Your Identity

Losing my job a few weeks ago meant more to me than losing an income.

Most of my identity was wrapped into my career.

I’ve spoken to several people who have experienced the same and it’s not a pleasant place to be.

I identified primarily as a wife in my early years of marriage.  Making a home and pleasing my husband were my top priorities.  During my 30s and early 40s I identified mostly as a mother.  This was easy to do when my children were so young and requiring all of my time and attention.  I was always working full-time, always looking forward in my career, but the kids took priority.

I loved those years, being mom to small boys.  I felt so successful, fulfilled and rewarded.  All the time.

Just before my mother passed, about 6 years ago, I knew change was on the horizon.  My marriage was failing, I needed to find the career that would pull me to the next level of responsibility and gain more financial independence.  I wanted to assume much greater accountability at work.  I knew I could do it, but certain sacrifices would need to be made, primarily the time I was enjoying with my children.

I made the decision to go for the career.  I knew my mother was dying, the people I was working for knew me for many years and were supportive of the time I would need during her end of life and the pieces seemed to fall into place.  My x said “don’t do it if you want time with your children.”  He wasn’t much help.  I had already debated that argument in my head for some time.  He added no value in my decision.  It was also around this time my x made it clear he never intended to work harder or move forward (he had just completed his MBA with my support).  His preference was to live with less income and not be challenged in his work environment.

My x simply gave up.  He was fine with a decent career, at a decent salary for the rest of his life.  He didn’t care if he had more.

Not me.  I wanted more.

I wanted to travel, I wanted to take vacation, I wanted to purchase what I wanted to purchase when I wanted to purchase it.  I didn’t want to think about my grocery bill every week anymore.  I knew I couldn’t live that way the rest of my life.

He could.  And that’s officially when the breakdown of the marriage was insurmountable.

I wanted more.  He didn’t.  And he didn’t care that I wanted more.

My more was only partially about material things.  I liked my home and didn’t need bigger.  I don’t need to be driving a Mercedes.  I don’t need fancy jewelry.  But I wanted to be able to spend, and I was incapable of doing so, on anything, without a battle, my entire marriage.  I am a big experience person and wanted my children to have exposure to more life experiences, especially travel.  And, you know, I wanted to buy some shoes since I had never purchased anything of value for myself.

I knew I was making the right decision.  I have always been too ambitious to just sit back and drift.  I became resentful of his attitude and was determined to make the change.  I took a job that was challenging and high paying.  This was the career that would provide the lifestyle I saw myself living.  This was the job that was going to pay for college.

Until last week.

I did everything right along the way.  I was promoted often and well-respected.  My income increased.  The challenges increased.  While I didn’t love a lot of things about the situation, I could see myself sticking with this job over the next 10-12 years until the kids were out of college.  By the time I received my last promotion 2 years ago, I had finally achieved the single largest career milestone that I had set my heart on.   I was ok here.  Like all jobs, it had its up and downs, but I was willing to ride it out.

I was made redundant, all the reasons why are irrelevant.  They are not reasons that make me question my contributions or my abilities.  I know my skill set.  My job was simply eliminated along with a large % of our workforce.  Many good people were let go and I was in very good company.

What’s scaring me is how much of my identity is wrapped into the last 15 years I have been building to this point in my career.  I am highly specialized and niche and finding a job is not going to be easy.  I am virtually certain I will never earn the same amount of money.  I don’t need any platitudes around this, I know my situation and industry and I know this to be true.  I have a very tough road ahead of me.

Part of my identity was wrapped in the title.  Partially in the brand identity of the company.  Lots in the income as it afforded me opportunities I wouldn’t have earning less.  I was able to divorce and manage a household on this income.  I was going to be able to pay for kids college tuition, in full, on my own.  I was going to be able to travel around the world at my discretion.  I was proud of my achievement and part of it is certainly vanity.

It’s not to say I can’t be successful on less, but I am proud and have worked my entire career for what I have just lost.

Part of me is embarrassed though I tell myself I shouldn’t be.

The other thing is that too many people around me just don’t understand my role, my industry and what type of earning potential I had.  Too many of my circle are thinking what’s the big deal about someone who is that skilled finding a job.

They just don’t understand and I’m not here to correct them.

And then….dating…. it feels all wrong to admit I am out of work – what is it I will do all day, every day?  And for how long?  Friends of mine who lost their jobs in the past 2-3 years are still struggling trying to regain career traction.  As I near 50 years old, this is frightening.

Now is not a time to recreate myself or go to school.  I have 3 teenage children.  My focus can’t be on too much change during these formative years.  I simply need the income to keep my family afloat and hopefully provide some support while the kids are in college.  Right now, the challenge is simply to find a similar paying job which is going to prove to be difficult at best.

I’m not fussed about taking a small step back to move forward, I have done it before, just not under such circumstances.

I’m worried.  I’m trying not to show how worried, but believe me I am scared to death.

The best I can do at this moment is one step at a time.  I can’t think too far ahead, I was never a good long-term planner in any case.  I need to think short-term and just how I am going to keep my home and my family afloat.

 

 

Author: Madeline Harper

My journey through divorce and an emotional and sexual reawakening. Love, laughter, friendships, family and heartbreak included. And there is sex, lots of it, so close your eyes and turn the page if that's not for you! While I started this blog as an endeavor to journal my thoughts and feelings in an attempt to better understand myself, it has become an amazing platform from which I have met some of the most interesting and wonderful people in my life. My path is often crooked, but I hope you will share in the journey with me.

35 thoughts on “When You Lose Your Identity”

  1. You are right. You are thinking and saying all the right things.This is going to be a difficult time and you must set your priorities, and just focus yourself on the short term to get your skin back into the game. it seems to me your focus should be 1) the job 2) your health (and exercise) . Of course your health is your #1 priority, but I’m thinking you have that on the proper track and your focus should be on job/career hunting 3) and a distant #3 … the whole dating thing. I know it will be easy for you to get wrapped up in #3, but right now you can’t let that happen.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Interstingly enough, the dating scene has taken a natural back seat. At least I have proven to myself that I can prioritize properly when absolutely required! I’ve gotten myself together this week and the resume is ready to go and contacts sorted…now it’s a little bit of a waiting game. You can’t job hunt all day every day.
      I have been awful with my exercise Marty, I am just physically exhausted. I started the iron infusions this week and hopefully that will kick me back into gear by next week…especially in the lovely weather.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good … the priorities are in order. Don’t sweat the exercise at this point. The body can only handle so much stress at one time. Now that you’re cv is done, that load is off your back and I suspect that even only walking will alsohelp relieve the tension. One thing at a time M. Focus. Focus. Focus.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes the CV was interesting. I couldn’t do it the first few weeks. But it just came to me naturally this week and I knocked it out. It need finesse but it’s fit for purpose at least. I needed the break from the job loss and I’m glad I took 3 weeks for myself.

        And I will start walking again next week AND signed up for the gym!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. The truth is tricky. Sometimes we lie to ourselves. Sometimes we believe our own lies. Sometimes we believe the lies people tell us about ourselves.

        What is true is not as simple as saying what is on your mind. It is often a journey. I can hear in your words that you are walking that path.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I spent 21 years working for a company, chasing my career goals, raising not only a family but an extended family. I was the best at what I did and with enough alphabet soup after my name to make me blush and that all-important title that proved that I was the best at what I did. Then the company I gave 21 years of my life to decided they no longer needed my services, that I was costing them more money than they wanted to spend and wanted to let me go like a badly used paper towel.

    And I said, “Fuck you – I’m retiring!” And I did and still managed to line up an even better job, legitimate six-figure salary… and then a stroke took it all away. It was bad; I lost everything but I never lost my identity through any of it, never lost my sense of purpose even though it had to be redirected to being stress-free so that I wouldn’t have another stroke and one that just might end my life. My life, everything I worked and strived for, was in tatters; a messy divorce, on the verge of being homeless and still my identity remained intact because I knew if I lost that, I was truly doomed.

    And ten years later, the kid is just fine and dandy because I never forgot who I was and what I was capable of doing; my job, as great as it was, didn’t define me even though it played a major role in accomplishing the thing I had to do as husband and father. The new job, had I been physically able to do it, wouldn’t have defined me either; the job – any job – is what it is but it’s the person doing it that defines it, makes it better than the job description and, yes, if you one day find you have to reinvent yourself, you do it… because the alternatives are damned unpleasant.

    I had to reinvent myself and, if I may say so, I didn’t do a bad job. I had to work the short-term stuff as well as keep an eye on the long-term stuff as as much as I didn’t want to look at any of it, well, it’s not like I had a choice in the matter; again, the alternatives are damned unpleasant. But it got done, Madeline, because I never lost my identity and I can never lose it because until I die, I always know who I am and if I know that, I can keep moving forward.

    Remember who you are and that YOU define who you are and what Madeline is all about; remember that it’s not that you will fall down but what you do after the fall to get back up again that matters – and no matter what made you fall.

    Improvise, adapt, and overcome… because the alternatives are still damned unpleasant. Take a moment to reassess things, then remember who you are, get up, brush yourself off, and move forward.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Well, I would like to say that statements like that are helpful but they are not. I identified strongly with my role. My ambition fulfilled. It did define me for many years and grew me into the person I am today. It allowed me the freedom to make other changes in my life.

        So my job did define me and I need to understand how I want to/need to be defined next.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks KDaddy, I wish I had that clear identity the way you do. Maybe it’s because I am struggling with motherhood as well as career and I feel a bit lost at sea at the moment. Having an x who says “how the mighty have fallen, now you will see what it’s like to have to live on a budget” didn’t help my current state of mind.

      I am already up, brushed off and moving forward – this is entirely unlike the breakup and subsequent heartbreak – I know I can do this…I’m just unsure what/who I am coming out the other side.

      I guess I need to take a better look at who I think I am.

      Like

      1. Oh, don’t pay your ex any attention; he’s clearly an asshole of the highest order. I have no doubt that you’re up against it being a mom and all that but you still need your identity intact and in good working order. So if you need to get back in touch with who you are, I’d get on that post haste.

        It begins with a question or two: Who are you and what does the person you need to be look like? Why does Madeline want and need the things she needs? What are those things? What is she willing to do to be the best Madeline she can be?

        I’d love to spend a few hours talking to you…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes you are right and I’ve actually struggled articulating it to myself. I am clear that the past is behind me and I no longer have to hold to the image my parents or my X had of me and I can be who I want to be. That in itself was a massive self realization.

        That post is in my drafts for weeks but I can’t articulate myself yet.

        Like

      3. I understand; we all grow up believing that we have to be the person our parents want us to be or we become the person a spouse wants us to be and the problem with this is many of us stop being the person we really are; we give up our identity for someone else’s idea of who and what we should be.

        But, dear Madeline, you can’t be anything unless you can be yourself first. There was a time when even I lost sight of this important fact but, thankfully, I recovered early enough as not to screw myself up being anything other than who I really am.

        Before I was an employee, I was me; before I was a husband and father, I was me. And if you’re not gonna be who you are, well, that’s insane to be someone you aren’t or don’t want to be.

        Like

  3. I’ve been struggling with the need to make a huge career transition precisely because of the fact I identify so strongly with my vocation, so much so, as to be my entire mindset (not uncommon in my industry). And to consider walking away from my secure permanent job, doing what used to be my passion (leaving my family in a more precarious financial position) is a difficult choice to make.

    But like you, I want to fulfil my ambitions and would dearly like to have an impact before my time and vigour runs out.

    But I’m confident we’ve got this. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LB I love the lioness in you and the courage you demonstrate on and off blog….I have some of that while I am secure, but when I am floating like this, I tend too lose too much of it.

      I really am not fussed about the next job…it’s all about income, fortunately or unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, M — I can so relate to how you are feeling! It’s like a physical blow and it leaves you disoriented and reeling while you try to sort it out and figure out who you are now. I worked in radio for 16 years and, when I was pregnant with my son, I quit to finish up my degree and we also moved to a new state two months later. I wasn’t sure how to define myself with all of the changes and is was disconcerting, to say the least. When my husband left a few years ago, I know that some of the angst was because if I wasn’t his wife anymore after 26 years — what was I? I’m still trying to come to terms with the fact that while I still feel young in my mind, my body is insisting on aging — the disparity between the two (and the fact that I have no control over getting older) is forcing me to redefine who I am every day. Financial worry and job concerns are incredibly stressful — so I’m sure that adds even more for you. I think it is perfectly normal to feel scared to death — but I think you’re handling it well. One step at a time is all any of us can do.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, exactly like a phyiscal blow, Jana. The whole thing about feeling one way in your mind and body insisting on doing something entirely different is unfair, right!! My close friend said to me I look like I am in my early to mid 30s even without makeup (I’m in my late 40s) and I jumped up and hugged her….she said they will think I fit right into any fashion environment because I don’t look my age – while that is epecially kind and sweet – isn’t it sad for a woman to be concerned with this at all?

      Like

  5. Your identity was wrapped in the career that allowed you to redefine life on your own terms. That’s huge. But losing the job doesn’t change what you already accomplished, and success is not defined by a job – but by a life well lived. You will land on your feet, I am sure. You definitely have more chutzpah than me, who has been drifting for a long while.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Tara – I love that first line. Yes, you are articulated exactly what I feel: redefining other areas of my life. My job was a platform for many things and the years I held it offered me success and freedoms I hadn’t enjoyed previously. Thank you for identifying that so well for me.
      Chutzpah is relative, we each have to find out own. I don’t want to lose what I’ve gained in terms of confidence and a lot of positive self talk is keeping me afloat at the moment.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. My Like is in support of you, not your situation. I too was let go from a company that shaped my professional identity. New manager, new philosophy and SHE really didn’t like me, so out I went into the cold. It wasn’t the first time I was fired under a change of regime, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

    Being pushed out of a job is ego-bruising at best, so I completely feel your mixed feelings and embarrassment is understandable (but wrong). My two cents: 1) let people help you – prior colleagues, vendors, friends, clients. If people volunteer it’s because they want to help, so let them. 2) think about what you really want going forward – is it the Big Job with all the bells and whistles or is it a lower profile, but more free time job? You need to decide what YOUR priorities are, what are your work-passions (we know your extra-curricular ones 😘) and all that other stuff.

    Take a deep breath, listen to Marty’s advice and attack your career head-on. If you get out-placement as part of your severance, take advantage of it — especially the opportunity to go into an office for the seminars, etc. because it gets you around folks which can help calm your anxiety.

    Hugs to you because you are in a rough patch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Maggie. Yep, ego bruised 🙄. I can live with that and I’ve bit the bullet and reached out to people in my 1000 LinkedIn contacts – might as well use that network. Agree people are very kind and helpful and general.
      I want the big job and big salary. I’m sure I don’t want a life change. Not yet. My goal is kids through college and keep the house and it’s my only focus. Not worried about work passions. I can do a job I don’t love and so it exceedingly well if it is at least engaging mentally.
      Outplacement can start once the separation package is negotiated. I’m on a non compete in any case. I will totally do the outplacement. Anything to keep me busy!!
      I appreciate all the support.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You know, I can’t say I perfectly understand what you’re going through but I kind of do. I was in a career field for 10 years that I worked hard for and then left to be a SAHM with 2 kids once it just started getting too difficult to juggle two small kids while being two working parents.

    When I left, I thought I’d be relieved of the responsibility but I missed it. I missed feeling important and needed and a boss. I missed being the leader who handled stuff and interacted with important clients, etc. I missed the millions of emails and having a team and being proud of what I did. Somehow losing that, that job that made me feel so independent and strong, made me feel like I had lost a part of myself. I finally understood what a person going through retirement must feel like. No real purpose or direction until you find something to fill your time with. (Not saying all feel like this but others have said this to me.)

    So, yes, as a mom I felt fulfilled as I knew I was giving my kids their proper care and time and involvement, etc. but as a hard working, intelligent, self-sufficient woman, it was a very depressing time for me. And no one understood. And I felt like an ingrate complaining about it. So I didn’t.

    I’m glad you are sharing how tough this is on the psyche and your sense of identity. I get you. I haven’t reached the levels you have but I understand how important your achievements and success were to you. It’s a scary time and you might not fall into the same position again but don’t let it stop you from steamrolling forward to blaze a new path elsewhere comparable – or that makes you happy. Good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks DWM, I stayed home for 2 years in the midst of baby-bearing and I recall looking at my home and crying that I would never be a “domestic engineer” and that I was incapable of raising 3 under 3, keeping the house clean, gardening, and cooking. It wasn’t my thing and I know I made the right decision to be a working mom, but I understand where you are coming from. It totally affects your psyche and it probably has al ong adjustment period.

      I will enjoy the summer at home with my children – that much is a gift from above.

      Then, God willing, the right opportunity will arrive in the fall and I will be ready to go and able to refinance the house etc.

      Thanks for your support and encouragement.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hello again! Just wanted to say that since your blog glows of awesomeness, I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine blogger award! You can read all about it in my latest blog post:

    https://survivednarc.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/the-sunshine-blogger-award/

    Participation (writing a similar blog post) is voluntary and there is no pressure to do so. It is just a lot of fun when people decide to participate and spread the sunshine. 🙂 Anyway, congratulations, well deserved! Your friend/SurvivedNarc

    Like

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