Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Own Personal Invictus: Then and Now

July 21, 2009 e-mail to friends: "It's finally official. I've been given the word I will no longer be employed after September 30 . . . In some ways, I'm relieved to be 'set free', but in other ways I do have concern about the future . . . Very mixed feelings . . . Quite frankly, it's a huge relief to just know what's going to happen. I have basically been in limbo since last November so just knowing—even if the news is not great—is better than limbo. Please keep me in your prayers as I figure out what's next in this adventure that is my life! It will be exciting . . . "

And, so went the e-mail sent to my closest friends one year ago today when I definitely knew my job was gone and my earnings—at least for the foreseeable future— would be the dole.

From November 2008, when I learned this outcome was likely, to the day the fateful news was finally delivered was torture. I was a wreck—a big ball of worry and stress—wondering if I would have a job and what the future held for me. All the while, as part of executive management, I was forced to plaster on a fake smile and play a key role in the operational transition I knew would lead to my own job loss.

Like my father, I've always been a planner.

Like my father, I don't like surprises.

Like my father, I like to know what will happen next.

In those hectic days when I had a career, my friends used to laugh when I penciled in "spontaneous times" on my daily planner. "We'll meet at 6 PM," I used to say. "And, we'll be spontaneous until 11 PM, and casual clothes will be required." (And, no, I'm not kidding. I have actually said this.)

I mean it when I say I am a planner. Seriously.

Being unemployed at all was not in my plan. No way.
Being unemployed for 10 months with no end in sight? Inconceivable.

It's been 10 long months since my final work day and—more importantly—my final paycheck.

At times the uncertainty has been overwhelming.

There've been bleak moments, too: when appliances died; when my 2009 tax return dictated paying twice as much in taxes as the entirety of my 2010 dole checks; and when I received rejection e-mails turning me down for jobs for which I knew I was a perfect fit.

But, bleakness has been the rare exception rather than the rule.

Before living on the dole, I prided myself on being a little cynical and slightly cranky. Of all the things that I've learned during this time, the thing that has surprised me the most is that—dare I say it?—I'm an optimist. Yes, after a lifetime of being told how like my father I am, I have discovered in myself that undeniable bit of my mother: optimism. Who would have thought it?

Could it be that I'm turning into the person I used to be in my pre-employment days? The pre-career days before I became a stressed-out mess trapped in an office prison and tasked with handling other people's problems, mismanagement and bad judgment?

And, the farther away I get from one of my biggest life crises to-date, I realize I'm daily becoming even more optimistic and excited about what my future may hold—in spite of all the job search futility, dole checks, broken appliances and frequent setbacks that have happened in the past 10 months.

With each passing day, I see a clearer reflection of the woman who emerged from the shadow of that stressed-out employee who received that bad news on July 21, 2009. I feel my "unconquerable soul" marching bravely—and, dare I say it, happily—into the unknown. 

And, it actually feels these days as if I'm on the brink of reclaiming my life. Not the structured (and strictured) one I had before but a better one: a life purposely shaped by me instead of one shaped by others around me.

Yes, I have experienced my own personal Invictus, learning that, indeed, I must be "master of my own fate":


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
—William Ernest Henley (1849–1903)
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Photo credits:
Ship in Storm:
Sea Storm:,_Claude_Joseph_-_A_Seastorm_-_1752.jpg
Ship Captain:


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