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A Job Lost, An Identity Reshaped

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Turn on any of the three major cable news networks, and you're sure to be greeted by somewhat hysterical anchors frenzied over AIG, Bernie Madoff and Tim Geithner, among many other soundbites to wrack our collective nerves. And what follows is usually the maniacal calls from the right, especially Eric Cantor, Rush and a slew of others, nitpicking at every single move made by the White House. When the New York Times' Thomas Friedman spoke recently of Republican House Leader Eric Cantor's exploitation of the AIG crisis, and asked, "Do you not have children?", that pretty much summed up my feelings on the behavior of many of our elected officials, both republican and democrat. This crisis, fiasco, collapse, end of the world, whatever you want to call it, is far too big to be wasting our time on pedantic and sophomoric diatribes from the likes of Cantor. And on the cable news front, they're equally culpable (yes, that includes Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow) for doing everything imaginable to paralyze a nation for the sake of ratings. They scoff and howl at corporate greed, yet the end goal in what they're delivering falls right in line with what they condemn. But lost in this all are the many aspects of this new reality that are never covered. This past weekend, I was able to witness one firsthand; an experience that I'm sure can be understood by millions of Americans.

Early last week, while visiting my sister in New Jersey, I awoke to an e-mail from my girlfriend with the subject line "bad news." Given the topic of this post, I'm sure you can guess the content of that e-mail. Five months ago, I lost my job, and now, she had fallen victim as well. But her situation was different. Whereas I was with a company for a short period of time and hadn't felt my identity shaped by this employer, she had worked for this company for over twelve years. Although she graduated near the top of her class from a top west coast university, she certainly didn't have your typical "drive for the top" mentality that, for better or worse, has been the American way, especially under #43. She was proud of her work, but work was only a small part of her life, a personality trait that played a large part in drawing me to her in first place. Unlike many overly-caffeinated Americans who constantly look to fast-track to the top, her interests extended far beyond her work life. In the past year, she finished up another degree in floral design, a field in which she has won national awards and she's an incredibly talented photographer and jewelry designer. I'm sure that if given full "career" focus, she could excel in any of these areas. And with free time now in front of her, she may do just that.

This past Sunday, we drove downtown for one last visit to her office. After twelve years, she had a lot of boxing up to do. It had now been six days since she'd been laid off and up to this point, she had been calm, clear-minded and accepting. I figured that the trip to the office would be your run-of-the-mill filtering through files and drawers, copying of data to disc and the other stuff we quickly do when our tenure at a company swiftly ends. As we turned the corner that led to her office building she said that she wanted to do this alone. She asked if I could drop her off and return later in the day to help her haul her stuff out.

After dropping her off outside her office, I found parking and decided to pay her a quick visit before leaving for the day. As we rode up the elevator, I could tell that some reality was finally hitting. It wasn't the financial stresses that were now building in our lives or fear of not being able to find work in the near term. Whatever it was, she remained quiet. As we stepped into her office and moved towards her work area, I saw the years of files, accomplishments, office Christmas cards with her photos on the cover, and knick knacks that adorned her workspace. These were projects and memories built over a decade. And in just a few hours, they would all be swept away.

She started to cry. It wasn't a flood of tears, but rather a slow release of a few tears that seemed to be an acknowledgment of all that she'd experienced at this job. She'd made many friends, felt pride in her personal work and the work of the organization as a whole and respected her colleagues immensely. And these few hours would be her last.

When the tears dried up, I thought it best to leave her for the day. As I headed for the door, I said, "By the way, you never even told me your exact title in marketing. What are you going to put on your resume?" She turned and after considering the question for a second said, "I never cared about that."

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