I was saddened to hear about yet another company down-sizing. This one hit close to home—it impacts my former colleagues and friends. Most of the people I worked with will be losing their jobs when they close that particular R&D facility.
The news brought back memories when I received my own “departure notice” a few years ago. It was a meeting I’ll never forget. I was told how everyone had nothing but positive things to say about me and how my clients praised my work, (I held my breath as I waited for the other shoe to drop) but the HR role continued to evolve and I was not strategic enough to fit it.
My head knew it was just another business decision, but it felt very very personal. I’ll never forget walking out of that conference room and going back to my office. It was business-as-usual for everyone else—but in a few short minutes, my world had completely changed.
Two months later, as I swiped my employee badge for the last time, I wondered, “now what?” I had worked ever since I was 16—first in the summer months while going to school, and then full time after college. Other than a few leaves of absence due to having my three babies or having a gall bladder out—work was something I always did.
A few days later someone said hello and asked, “And how are you today?” Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to recite the expected reply, but this time was different–I hesitated. Do I tell her–”fine”–or should I be honest and admit I lost my job and hope I don’t cry? Maybe I should wait until the next time she asks? Eventually she’ll know the truth either from me or someone else. Will she be upset that I hadn’t shared my news with her sooner?
I began dreading meeting people and being asked, “What do you do?” What should I say? “I used to work at – – – but I just got laid off from my human resources job.” Was that TMI? (too much information)? Did that sound like whining or asking for sympathy? I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me—I was already doing that quite nicely for myself.
There are lots of people who don’t work outside the home. I never think twice about it—but not me. If I’m not working, then who am I? I began to understand just how much we identify with our label du jour.
Identity, labels and titles, oh my. In addition to work designations, we can be a student, mom or dad, husband or wife, married or single (you get the picture). When we are stripped of our protective label/cape, we often struggle with the whole concept of, “Well, if I’m not a – – – – , then who am I?”
There are labels and titles we gain or shed easier than others. But then there are some that are loaded with emotional baggage. Soon after my divorce, I can remember that outsider feeling so many times listening to my married friends. I’ve heard from my childless friends that they have had moments like that as well when we chat (and complain?) about our kids. There are empty nesters and the newly retired. It’s not just the label, but the inner changes we need to make—sometimes needing more of an adjustment than initially thought.
An inside-out story. A hundred years ago, I went from being an HR Secretary on Friday to being an HR Director of a non-profit agency on Monday (literally). I remember starting my new role and feeling like a phony. “They are expecting me to know what I’m doing. Little do they know I’m clueless.” Well, I rose to the occasion. I knew more than I gave myself credit for; because I did find the right answers. But I learned first-hand how powerful “fake it ’till you make it” can be.
The reverse situation happened many years later when I first moved to Asheville. I was a part-time agency temp in an HR department doing filing, processing benefit packages, taking photos of new employees etc (you get the picture—excuse the pun). It didn’t pay much, but I appreciated earning a little money while I was building my new coaching business.
When Jennifer was at lunch, I would sit at the reception desk, answer the phone and greet visitors. When I told my daughters I was relieving the receptionist, they laughed, “Mom, do they know you could run the whole department?” The department managers who came by to ask for the HR Director, seemed to look through me–like I was invisible. As I smiled and went to get the Director, I had finally learned I was not my title.
Self inflicted titles. It’s bad enough to have all the titles and labels we have or we get from society, but have you ever listened how we label ourselves? I’ve heard people describe themselves as: lazy, stupid, fat, old, tired, shy to name a few. I confess I’ve even said a few of them to myself. Whether or not we ever utter such words out loud, those labels are there–floating around in our minds.
It’s amazing how powerful our own labels affect our actions and thinking. I’ve recently been observing on how people think about or act their age. While I occasionally think I’m a bit nuts to be starting a business now in my sixties, my passion continues to energize me and I am finally experiencing fun with my work. Who could ask for more?
Another lesson from Adele and Jack. Many of you will remember me talking about my dear friends, Adele and Jack, who were killed in a tragic car accident last September. I was honored to give a eulogy to celebrate their lives and share how much I loved them.
As I listened to everyone else’s eulogies, I was struck that despite the fact that none of us knew what we were going to say, we all seemed to repeat the same things. So much so that Pastor Dan actually made note of it.
Isn’t it interesting that people who hadn’t known them in their younger lives were able to “see” the very same qualities they lived–in their later years. It wasn’t their job or their title (although Adele and Jack’s work had been very noble and notable) that we remembered—it went much deeper than that. We experienced their true legacy.
What’s your legacy? Brad Swift, in his book Life on Purpose,says that “life purpose isn’t ever about what you do, but is instead more about who you are.” I love the reminder that we’re called human beings, not human doings.
- How do your labels or titles serve you? Listen—really listen to what is going on inside your head and heart? Do your labels increase your motivation or hold you back? If you gave yourself another label, how would that change your beliefs and actions?