This story was written and performed by Coretta Turner for the live personal storytelling series Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales) at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, Texas on April 17, 2012. The theme of the show was "Have a Field Day."
Oral Fixation creator Nicole Stewart offers, "I'm inspired by how Coretta turns frustration to fulfillment, following an organic path to discovering her purpose after being laid off by her corporate job.
Three days ago, I celebrated the third anniversary of my lay-off. My marketing position was unceremoniously eliminated. I can recall the walk to the elevator with the Human Resources Manager. I don't know how many people she had delivered the bad news to before me, but she seemed relieved that I was taking it so well. I wonder how many people said "thank you" to her as I did when they were being escorted from the building.
"Are you glad it's over?" she asked. "Not for the reasons you think," I replied. I remember smiling and thinking, "I don't have to come back here...ever." After three years of listening to my brain cells deflate, I could have sworn I heard them begin to expand again. I was free.
I didn't open my severance letter for three days. I needed some time to think. Being laid off four times in 10 years taught me that a short rest period is needed to refocus. After a couple of weeks, I was back to my post-lay-off habit: volunteering. Volunteering has been an important part of my work/life balance ever since I was in college, when I volunteered at Girls & Boys Inc., an after school program for low-income families.
After my first lay off the week of 9/11, I began volunteering with Attitudes and Attire, an organization that promotes self-sufficiency for women in transition. I continued to volunteer there for eight years on and off between layoffs. I even randomly selected vacation days to volunteer because it helped me maintain my life balance and sanity.
Little did I know this lay-off would be different. While I looked for my next marketing position, I spent so much time volunteering it could have been a part-time job. I worked with an arts organization, a food pantry and believe it or not, I even coached and encouraged people who had been laid off from their jobs. I loved seeing the difference I was making in people's lives. I was having a field day.
It wasn't until nine months later, still no job, no possibilities and dwindling unemployment benefits, that I realized the activities I enjoyed most were not marketing related. It became clear I had to pass through marketing while en route to my true field.
I had been at Attitudes and Attire for a two-hour shift helping clients pick suits for their first interview. As I was leaving, I saw a young Hispanic lady in her early twenties sitting in the boutique, clutching her new suit and handbag. She wasn't smiling or talking to anyone. I walked across the room to her.
"That's a nice suit," I said to her. "Show me how you walk when you're wearing that suit." She looked unsure of how to respond to my request. I repeated it. She stood and walked across the boutique shuffling her feet.
"I would hope you wouldn't walk like that in that nice suit. That was kind of awkward. Tell me what you're rocking today," I said. She looked at me curiously, "What?" she said. "Tell me what you're rocking today." Another curious look. "Tell me one thing that you like about yourself," I said. "I don't know. I mean I have low self-esteem." I was shocked at her response. I don't know that I'd ever heard anyone say it so matter-of-factly before.
"I don't know. My shoes?" she offered. "Well, I need you to walk like those shoes are made of diamonds and tomorrow when you get up, I need you to find something different that you like about yourself. Every day, you need to look in the mirror and find something to like about yourself. You don't have to publicize it to everyone; it's just for you. I looked at myself before I left this morning and said, 'Girl, you are rocking that lip gloss.' Understand?"
"Yeah," she said. I put my arm around her shoulders and walked her to a private area. "Do you know that when you tell someone you have low self-esteem, you give them permission to walk all over you? I want you to go home tonight and write a list of everything that you are. You are smart. Beautiful. Kind. When you finish that list, I want you to make a decision that you will not accept being called anything that is not on your list," I told her.
She started to cry. After the tears dried, she hugged me. I couldn't shake that experience. I felt a combination of anger, frustration, compassion and accomplishment. Before, I heard a brokenness in her voice. After I spoke to her, I saw her light go on. She handed me a thank you note before she left the building.
May God Bless You! It has been my pleasure to have met a beautiful, encouraging woman like you. I can hope that one day I could be just like you. Thank you for just taking the time to talk to me.
I went to the Program Director and recapped what happened. "Coretta, that's why we've been trying to get you to do a workshop," she said. She had been trying for almost eight years. Each time she would approach me, I'd explain to her that I don't do public speaking of any sort. But in that moment, I thought about Jacqueline and said, "Put me on the calendar."
I did my first workshop presentation called the "Definition of You," an exploration of self-definition and self-esteem. That same week the Program Director referred me to a middle school counselor to be a featured speaker at the next Girl Talk seminar.
The more I thought about the girls at the school and the women at Attitudes and Attire, the more it became clear to me. My purpose and greatest joy came when I could spend time encouraging them, and offering some new insight to help them heal in some way.
Two years later, I know without a doubt that I am now in my intended field. With the support of friends, an amazing family and a number of strangers, I have redefined and discovered some wonderful things about myself along this journey. Not only am I a marketer, I am a coach, a mentor, a trainer, a public speaker and a writer.
I still don't have a marketing job. I don't need one. I am a new business owner with a mission to empower children to discover their authentic voice. Whether I'm talking to the girls at a juvenile detention center or a runaway shelter, I challenge them to think differently about themselves. I hear the confidence in their voices when they describe themselves with new, positive words. I see the difference in their smiles when it finally clicks.
I helped them do that. I empower women and girls. I wouldn't have guessed that when I stepped off that elevator for the last time, I would step into a place in my life that is truly worth celebrating.