Finding My Way In An Economic Downturn
By Guest Blogger, Tamara Arbeiter
I was recently laid off from my job.
The Record of Employment I just received in the mail stated “Economic reasons” for my departure. As company policy goes, I was asked to leave immediately. Comforted only by the fact that a handful of very senior executives were also laid off that day, I packed up my desk, grabbed my kids’ photos and artwork and left, without time for goodbyes.
To someone like me, who has worked for the past 14 years, through 2 pregnancies and back again, this was a big one to swallow.
My career began in Toronto in the mid 1990s. I left Montreal shortly after the last recession hit, and so many young Anglophones exiled for more promising futures elsewhere. I desperately wanted to work in Advertising after finding my niche in a post-graduate certificate at my University. At first I worked as an unpaid intern, then landed a job at a big firm and worked my way up to Senior Account Executive. When the dot-com industry started to take off, there was suddenly a shortage of talent in the Agency world in the US, so I transferred to my agency’s global headquarters in New York City. I was promoted to Account Supervisor within 18 months. My career was moving swiftly and I had just gotten married. Life in NYC was incredible and full of promise.
Then September 11th happened. Needless to say, the pull to be with family and friends was palpable, and my husband and I returned home to Montreal for a simpler life. My husband had a family business waiting for him, and I began working as a Senior Manager at a Montreal based retailer’s headquarters.
I worked my way up to Branding Director, but after the birth of my second child, I sought a more balanced schedule, and took a step back to a Senior Manager position at another retailer working 4 days a week. I jumped into the work with confidence, and enjoyed the extra day each week with my children.
I sacrificed a lot to keep my career, partly because I had no choice financially, partly because working was always a part of me, and as a result, I think it made me a better parent. But as any working mother will attest, there’s a lot of guilt– at home, at the office, all around. You never feel you are giving enough.
After years of sacrifice and guilt, I took a risk and requested a restructured work week, whereby I would work 5 days but until 3PM, for a sizeable salary cut. To my surprise, the request was approved and I felt I had finally struck the perfect balance – working while my kids were in school, home when they were home. I was still completely dedicated to my work, and considered myself a valuable asset to the team.
But then that precious bubble burst. In truth, my “downsizing” didn’t come as a tremendous shock to me. The economy has not “bounced back” as they predicted, and the retail industry continues to be hit hard with the reality of decreased consumer confidence. I have friends in the industry who have also been laid off. The fact that I went through 3 or 4 rounds of layoffs unscathed feels somehow victorious. But I believe that my switch to part time in today’s economy may have been equivalent to digging my own career’s grave.
Long ago, one of my mentors said to me, in these words literally: “Companies will f*ck you. At the end of the day, if they have to, a company will dump you, without a second thought”.
After last fall’s economic crash, I am living proof that my mentor was bang on (sorry if I sound a little resentful). I know that while I may be an extremely valuable employee, I am like so many employees, totally dispensable. It’s a crushing blow to the ego, but it’s also a lesson learned to many women.
So, where does a 30 something woman, with two small children, who is highly capable, qualified, efficient, and thorough, find satisfying work in her field, without sacrificing her family life and herself? Is there such a thing as the perfect balance?
I believe there can be. As the saying goes, when a door closes, a window opens. I feel this is my window of opportunity to branch out and do what I’ve wanted to do for so long… work for myself. I’ve decided to work freelance, primarily as a writer, but also a project manager, PR strategist, event planner, and communications specialist.
I am getting off the fence. Wish me luck!