The Unemployment Diaries- Identity Theft

What happens when you’re a woman without children and you lose your job? With what identity are you left? For me it feels like precious little. I don’t want to inflame or malign women who have children but societally it is the ultimate get out of jail free card. No matter how little else you achieve in life if you’ve procreated you’ve done something good in your life and everything else is gravy. If you haven’t but have a career you’re still stigmatized (don’t kid yourself- you are) but at least you’re contributing.

When the job goes so does the identity. I may be a wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend but those are labels not identities. I have always had a career and it is only as the kids thing became a permanent non-issue (no pun intended although that is freakin’ clever) that it became more important. It is who I am. To follow this logic through to the extreme- without a job I am nothing.

I’m not at that stage- although concerns about my value on the planet have started to manifest themselves in tension filled awkward dreams that are not technically nightmares but involve me being unable to do even the most basic of tasks, wearing shoes that don't match, and feeling useless in a job.

This is all compounded by the age factor. Never, in even my worst-case pessimistic musings about my future, did I see myself unemployed at this stage of my life. Nope, by now I was supposed to be Anna Wintour (but likable) or a published author. Fantasies aside, I did believe I would be an established professional in my field because I have always worked hard and excelled at my job. Knowing that I’m not alone in my economic situation (thank you subprime mortgage lenders and Wall Street financiers) doesn’t help. This is go-round number two for me (laid off and unemployed from 2007-2008).

So I’ve lost the identity I worked so hard to create. If I were following the Buddhist precepts I learned after my MS diagnosis I would accept that it is being not doing that is important to life. That what is truly me has nothing to do with what I do. Much easier said than done, as evidenced by one of the first questions we ask each new person we meet- “so what do you do?” It also doesn’t take into consideration the mortgage and healthcare costs which are very real concerns.

If the being belief won’t work for me at this stage I’m left to wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned?

The best I can come up with is that the lesson may be the elusive nature of identity and for those of us who don’t have one that can’t be taken away there is a different process. A matter of slipping out of (or being removed from) one identity and forced to find another. A challenge at any age but at an age when you’re supposed to be settling into the rewards earned by hard work it’s terrifying.

But here it is. I can fight or I can embrace it (or some combination of both with lots of whining and wine-ing thrown in). When I took the time to be still and breathe deeply my mind went to two women I admire who changed their lives later in life and it not only consoled me, it gave me a little bit of hope. Funny what will come to you if you simply quiet your mind and take a breath!

I’m stepping back and trying to let go and maybe, cut myself some slack (at which I am notoriously bad). Not surprisingly, I’m following my tried and true path of reading and learning to find inspiration and maybe even guidance. I’ll leave you with my reading list and will be back in the coming weeks with more thoughts.

My Life in France by Julia Child

I’d love to hear from any second lifers out there!  And to all, any women who have guided or inspired you when you were faced with big decisions? Or have you always gone it alone?


  1. I'm glad I came over to read your blog. I am a mum of 3 but I do get what you mean. I've always worked before, during and after children and the times I haven't, I have felt strangely lost. I have my children though and they are inextricably part of my identity now, as that of a mother. I guess what I am saying, in a roundabout way, is that I understand how you may be feeling right now. I look forward to hearing about your thoughts on your reading list.

  2. Julia Childs is a true inspiration and a testement to the power positive thinking.

    I'm in the process of starting a 'second life' and for a long while it seemed that there was just a black hole where my future used to be.

    Im begining to see that there may just be a light at the end of the black hole and in fact the future I could have is so much better than the future Id planned.

    I think the key is acceptance, once I stopped holding on to the past and regretting its loss I started to see it as an opportunity.

    Im still a long way off, but Im getting there, like you said, cut yourself some slack and embrace it (although a little bit of whinging and wine-ing sounds reasonable to me)

  3. I hear you. I had a conversation with my mum last week saying I was upset that I haven't achieved what I want out of life. She said "But, you're my most successful child." My response was, "Why? Because I met a husband who already owned a house, and then had 3 babies?" I long for an identity beyond being a mum. There's something about having a career, being able to win bread and love what you do, that appeals. I can see why you feel like you have no identity.

  4. You promised you won't get mad...
    Even though I'm not quite 30 yet, I do honestly get where you're coming from. I feel like I won't get a chance for a "second life" because I need security and feel stuck in the one I have now. It's not a bad gig, but it doesn't really leave me feeling that fulfilled.

    What's frustrating to me is that a lot of my (female) acquaintances are off doing their "passion" crap and starting their own small artistic businesses. Why? Because they have husbands that work and that gives them security. If they have kids, that's double security.

    I know people get mad when I bring up that point, but it's a lot easier to "find yourself" and build up a life when you have someone else there to help support you. With that said though, I don't think it's ever too late or too impossible. I'm in a similar industry as you, kind of, and there are so many changes happening that I'm not thrilled with.

    However, I have to either jump on board or jump ship. Either way, I can blog about it ;) Hang in there.

  5. @Sarah Mac- I'm glad you're seeing some light! Even having the feeling that something better is on the way helps so much.

    @Rhythm- isn't it weird? We exist so we must have an identity but it's not that easy. I've read your writing and seen your painting and I love both so I hope there is a path for you there.

  6. Abby- I totally get what you're saying about people having a safety net w/ marriage & kids. I was single until I was 39 so that used to really bug me. It still does because I still don't have that (hubby's financial situation is worse than mine). Yeah, I could paint and weave my own cloth and make jewelry but I HAVE to have a paycheck so not really.

    Curious about your industry now and changes. Mine is becoming obsolete which is so sad. And scary. I've been reading your blog and will continue to look for updates!

  7. Catherine,
    I'm in publishing, as in I'm an editor/writer in an industry that is quickly transitioning from actual publications to online interactive issues, Tweeting, Facebook, e-newsletters, etc. It's not that they're replacing the actual magazines, but are simply adding a million other things I have to do to keep up.

    This does not please me. I like books, magazines, etc. in my hands--not an iPhone or Kindle or whatever else people prefer for instant gratification. Sorry for the rant--it irks me ;) Feel free to email me any time to rant.

  8. What wise words of wisdom. Really!

  9. I felt a lot like you do when I recently took a six month break from working to be a SAHM. I went right back to work after my maternity leave was up and my career very much defined a large part of who I was.
    When I was at home, without that title, i found myself quite at a loss when people asked the very question you cited, "what do you do?"
    But I will say this, that time off allowed me to find fulfillment as an individual in other things - like writing on my blog and my volunteer work at a local animal shelter. It's actually been kind of liberating to no longer feel so defined by the work I get paid to do.
    Because while i'm employed now, there may come a time when i'm not, and I know there is more to me than that job.
    Visiting from Weekend Rewind at the Fibro

  10. A thought-provoking post - and some fabulous comments here. I understand exactly what you're saying about identity being wrapped up with career, even though I am a married mother of two. If I was not also a writer, who would I be? I don't know myself as a married mother of two. I know myself as a writer, who happens to have a husband and two kids. I would be lost without my work. I hope things turn around for you soon.

    Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro.

  11. Thanks for all the thoghtful responses everyone. It is a loaded issue and one I'm sure mother's struggle with as well. It's just the perception I've faced- that if you have children you don't need to 'do' more. Which, of course, doesn't mean you don't want to do more.

    Does anyone think men grap with this stuff?

  12. Found your blog via the weekend rewind.

    There is so much pressure for women to define and categorize themselves. Consequently it's a lonely place just to be 'you' and nothing else. Perhaps it's a little restful and liberating too - I hope?

    Anyway, you have my sympathy and I wish you the best of luck. I'm at a bit of a crossroads myself - I think a lot of people are right now - so you're in good company :)


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