Two weeks after I was told my job was safe for at least another six months, I lost it. My boss called to break the news and I sat, slumped, listening on my purple couch while he explained why it was a solid business decision, nothing personal, that he might be able to get me other work somewhere, yadayadayada.
I’m a crier but I kept it together until we said our goodbyes. Then I sobbed. Then I lay in bed for a few minutes with my partner who wasn’t feeling well and could just barely console me.
Then I got up and marched back to my computer to email a good friend from college who has become my career counselor over the years. We both work in media, though it should be noted that he’s at rockstar level and I’m more like a roadie. Within minutes, he replied: “Don’t panic, lots of opportunities, especially with your background.” He told me to polish up my resume and send it to him so we could workshop it ASAP and he could start sending out inquiries.
That sounded like a solid plan… if only I knew how to not panic and also could avoid the dreaded polishing-up-my-resume part.
In those early soul-crushed moments, I thought about how this was the first time in my life I was finally (though rather late) making enough money to feel like a real adult—which was nice since I’m married with two kids and a mortgage.
I wallowed in my impostor syndrome and its main symptom: the fear that I never deserved this job anyway and I’ll never luck my way into another that pays so well—especially not when I have to work remotely from a small Southern city. Then I cataloged the reasons why I’m ill equipped to capitalize on “lots of opportunities” especially with my “background,” which, even though my friend has known me for sixteen years, I’ve obviously completely snowed him on.
A week passed this way but, lucky for me, I had a deadline for a Pride-themed essay for APW to put me out of my self-defeating misery. It was going to be about how occasionally people refer to my partner and me as friends even after we clearly identify ourselves as partners and this is a bullshit micro-aggression that needs to end.
But I had trouble mustering up my indignation. Instead I got stuck on the word pride. I read Meg’s essay about feeling proud of her past choices, even the ones that seemed to defy logic. I thought of my tumultuous late teen and early twenties years and my mood lightened, if only a little, when I compared me now to me then. Then I remembered something my littlest kid did a few weeks ago. Following one of the first in a series of successful pooping-on-the-potty experiences (sorry, non-parents), my son put his hands on his hips and said, “Fwee-year-olds are ALWAYS pwoud of ourselves!”
At the time, I thought this was super adorable. But now, in my job loss malaise, his little voice rang in my ears.
Man, I thought, it must be nice to always be proud of yourself. I wish I could feel more like that instead of always zeroing in on my failings. But I was three once. When did I go from feeling pride on a regular basis to feeling it fleetingly, if ever?
I could write a whole book on the how and why that happened. But the more significant revelation to me was this: my three-year-old feels proud of himself so often because he’s comparing his achievements and abilities to what they were yesterday or last fall. Meanwhile, I’m comparing my achievements and abilities to what I wish they were or what I thought they’d be by now. And that, clearly, has not been working for me. If I follow his lead, though, my entire outlook changes.
(Cue the opening piano notes of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”)
Not only did I too learn how to use the potty, but I also learned to read and write. I survived grade school bullying. I graduated from high school early to go into a treatment center to fight like hell against my anorexia. I took control of and ended a toxic relationship with my father when I was seventeen, after which I spent two months working on a sanctuary for rescued farm animals clear across the country in the middle of nowhere where I assisted in the round up of escaped Brahman (read: very large) cattle by having them chase me and a feed bucket back through a gate, I pried grumpy arthritic pigs out of mud pits, and I helped castrate eighty-some sheep.
I went to college, fell in love with a girl, and came out to my family—even the ones who were anti-gay—and didn’t feel bad about myself for it. I shaved my head. I survived my devastating breakup with that first love, mostly on the floor and with lots of alcohol, but I did eventually get up.
Later, I recognized my self-destructive drinking and drug habits and quit them. Then I ended a three-year romantic relationship with an older, emotionally abusive and pathologically manipulative girlfriend. I beat a relapse of my anorexia like a boss, plus I set out on a long path of healing from a sexual assault that occurred in my teens. I finally found a healthy romantic relationship and I graduated college with honors. Then I willfully ignored disapproving family members, the state constitution of Georgia, and the opinions of the majority of the American public to plan and pull off a glorious big gay wedding to celebrate my unlawful marriage to the love of my life.
I started a business with no business-starting experience and supported myself and my grad student spouse with it for almost four years. At the same time, I battled infertility. Then I became a mom… after three days of labor… to a kid who didn’t sleep longer than two hours for the first year of his life. In this fog, my partner and I mutually acknowledged our serious marital problems and sought therapy to address them. Also, I rescued an injured hawk from the middle of a busy street, pressing on even when she woke up, mad as hell, just as I was getting her into a box to transport her to the vet.
After that, I had another baby in the drug-free, water-birth delivery of my dreams (no judgment there—this was just my own goal that I wasn’t able to achieve with my first) and moved with my little family of four to a new, much smaller city where we knew no one and I withstood full-time, stay-home mothering to a two-year-old and an infant for a year in what sometimes felt like near total isolation before I got a part-time editing job and was promoted twice in short succession.
I found my own skin cancer before it spread. I pulled myself out of a panic-induced nervous breakdown following said cancer. Then I wrote about my summer of panic and that essay was published in a book.
ALL THE WHILE I NURSED TO LIFE AN AVOCADO TREE FROM A PIT. (That takes patience and dedication, people.)
Today, as I sit typing this abbreviated list of my life’s accomplishments on my purple couch a week after my boss’ bomb dropped, I feel better. I may not be able to put “proficient in ending toxic relationships” or “got gay-married before gay marriage was cool” on LinkedIn, but resumes are a selective accounting of our achievements and abilities, and the selections are never the most important ones anyway. And, lest I forget this lesson, I’m printing out my list and posting it in my home office (where I plan to also get to work on polishing my resume—soon!).
I know I’m lucky that I never felt shame about my sexuality—only frustration and anger with people who are idiots about it. But I have felt shame about pretty much everything else, and I’m tired of those same old, painful, and useless thought patterns. Losing my job in the gay-sacred month of June turned out to be just what I needed (along with some help from my loved ones) to relearn how to feel proud of myself for more than just my rainbow connection.
Plus, yesterday, while waiting for showers to pass before we got out of the car, I asked my boys the classic question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My rascally five-year-old responded exactly how I expected: “A police officer with a big GUN!” My confident little three-year-old’s response? “A MOMMA!”
I bet you can guess what I felt in that moment.
Happy Pride, y’all!
Author’s note: That picture above is one of my favorite photos from my wedding because I think I look like a badass. I’ve always felt weird about sharing it before so I haven’t. Till now.