Today is the spring equinox, when the day is roughly the same length as the night. But it’s also the herald of spring, the season when everything turns fresh and green. It’s a time of new life, rebirth and reinvention.
Here, Fortytude exemplar Lisa Wysocki shares how she shifted from the corporate world to a more rewarding one, literally by following her bliss. She didn’t necessarily reinvent herself, but rather listened to herself, and her heart, and in turn, reinvented her life.
As I transitioned from my forties into my fifties, the word accomplishment became synonymous with “sense of purpose.” When I was in my forties, I was faced with a challenge that forced me to examine what accomplishment meant to my life. My exploration began when I lost my job at 45. It continued for almost ten years, during which time I tried to jumpstart a new career and reinvent myself, but I felt as if I was just spinning my wheels. I would like to share my journey with you and explain how I found peace by thinking of “accomplishment” in terms of “sense of purpose.”
I was a working girl for many years, 24 to be exact, and much of my identity came from my various jobs. I did not get married until I was 36, then divorced and remarried at 38. I had my first and only child two weeks away from my 40th birthday. I took the standard maternity leave, even though I had a terribly rough pregnancy (I was hospitalized for 10 weeks, all of it in intensive care) and had a c-section. When I finally recovered, I was not ambivalent about going back to work. I enthusiastically re-entered the workforce expecting to leave on my terms, which I hoped was when I was in my late fifties.
Unfortunately, I worked in telecommunications and in 2002, the industry was in turmoil, so I was downsized. I had been downsized before when I worked in the computer industry, but this time was different, I was in my mid-forties and “age-ism” and the expected gender bias set in. There was no reason for me to be in denial, since I received a certificate during an unemployment workshop stating that it would be “highly improbable” for me to find another “position in my industry or profession.”
Fast-forward almost ten years. I was still looking for jobs and took the advice of the unemployment counselors and tried to reinvent myself. I wrote a book on personal finance, taught at the Learning Annex in New York City, certified to be a public school teacher, tried professional organizing, and piled on tons of volunteer work. Nothing seemed to stick, including the prospect of finding a teaching job during a recession. That was a big surprise; teaching was supposed to be a safe and reliable employment opportunity, and particularly kind to middle-age women. I felt stuck trying to replicate my work experience and grew increasingly disappointed with my prospects. All this changed when I joined my spirituality group.
First, I figured out that I should not focus so much on getting a job, but rather, what I got from a job. For example, there are more men in my group than women. I really enjoy their company and that helped me to realize that perhaps it was not just the job I missed, per se. I also missed the companionship, and particularly the friendship I used to enjoy with my male co-workers. Once motherhood in suburbia took over my life, I was immersed with other mothers and my single girlfriends. Having the opportunity to interact again with men in a setting that was intellectuality stimulating has been a real joy in my life.
Additionally, my job gave me a sense of purpose and structure. So what I had to do in order to come to terms with the loss of my job, which I experienced as grief, was to try to reframe my situation. I needed to find out what I really wanted to accomplish and try to figure out if there were other ways to do it without a paycheck.
So I stopped thinking about accomplishment in black and white terms and focused on finding a sense of purpose. I had to ask myself: What do I lose myself in? What would motivate me without a salary? When I am older and look back on my life what will I feel proud of and make my life seem worthwhile? Yes of course, motherhood is part of that, but again this is not a story about being a mother.
Again, my spirituality group helped me think about the word accomplishment in a new way. I had to let go of the traditional job search and instead do a soul search. I kept thinking of what made me happy. Soon, with the help of my patient friends in my spirituality group, I realized that when I gave (or served), I was instantly in a better mood and place.
Also, anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I am passionate about animals, especially cats and dogs. I am proud to be the unofficial crazy cat and dog lady of my town, and that has become part of my new identity. It is easy for me to give time and money helping animals. I volunteer with many organizations and my endeavors have been a source of great joy. It is empowering and fulfilling for me to see a cat or dog that was supposed to be euthanized be adopted by a loving family. My direct involvement has meant the difference between life and death for these beautiful creatures – viva la sense of purpose!
My group helped me accept that this was my calling and helped me get on the right path. With their supportive feedback and caring insightful questions and guidance, my wheels have stopped spinning. In the last month I have officially co-founded Fido Fixers Inc.: a not-for-profit organization that will offer spay and neuter services for dogs and cats in economically distressed areas. My two close friends who are involved in this organization with me and I have decided that we can save more lives by dealing directly with the overpopulation problem.
I am so grateful that I could finally shift from the frustrating and futile job search to take another path, which is already bringing me great happiness and a tremendous sense of accomplishment. When the economy picks up, maybe I will get that teaching position that I spent years preparing for. Or maybe not: The cats and dogs need me and I need them.
Lisa Wysocki is a certified State of Connecticut Family and Consumer Sciences teacher. In addition she has four degrees, a M.A. from Columbia University in Organizational Psychology, a M.B.A. from Fordham University in Marketing and two B.A.s from Carnegie Mellon University in Economics and Administration and Management Science. She has over twenty-four years of business experience working for large multinational corporations in sales and marketing. Lisa currently lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with her husband, teenage son and two rescued dogs and six rescued cats.