Hi, my name is Margaret. I write the blog Figuring Out Fulfillment – a blog about finding a career, finding fulfillment, and finding yourself. I met Tracy through the blogosphere; we connected over a recent post she wrote. I invited her to write a guest post on my blog and she invited me to write a post for hers. Here is my story about breaking an engagement, moving across the country, and why life’s uncertainties and setbacks were the best thing that ever happened to me.
When I was twenty-three, I was engaged to a medical student. He was handsome, smart, kind, humble, and he had a great sense of humor. We were going to get married the summer after I finished my MBA and before I started a law degree. We’d have three perfect children, the perfect house with lots of beautiful antiques, and we’d have a Siberian Husky – that’s the type of dog he grew up with. Did I mention he had the perfect family, too? Why not try to recreate it?
My parents loved him. My friends loved him. The wedding was planned. The dress was ordered. The invitations were ready to be mailed. My mother had sent our engagement picture to the newspaper. And then I called off the wedding. Why? I didn’t know what type of dog I wanted. Maybe it would be fun to have a cat.
I felt like my entire life was planned out before I had a chance to live it – get married, follow my fiancé wherever he got a residency, work for a few years, buy a house, have children, be the perfect family, and then retire. There was no room for adventure, no room for anything unplanned. Not to be misunderstood – I wasn’t looking to build a life that was a series of responses to unplanned events, but I wanted a little room to explore, to have the space to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be. For all the other ways the marriage would have been perfect, in this way it wouldn’t have been.
My mother was devastated. The neighbors told me she told them I had bipolar disorder. I confronted her about it and she said it seemed I was having trouble making decisions. My grandmother had been diagnosed – I think likely misdiagnosed – with bipolar disorder. I am quite confident this was the only mental illness my mother knew by name, and to break an engagement to my fiancé, in her mind, definitely signaled mental illness. My father was upset I was upsetting my mother.
I had a friend who lived in San Francisco who said I would love it there, and she and her roommates happened to have an extra room. I packed up a few boxes of clothes, a box of books, and my bike, and I moved across the country by way of UPS ground.
A few weeks after my move, I found a job through craigslist. Actually, if I remember correctly, they found me. It was 2000 and the dot-com bust hadn’t fully imploded. Post your resume, enjoy your latté from the neighborhood café, and wait for the recruiters to call. I had money saved up, but I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t found a job sooner rather than later. I was so set on getting away, getting out, and recreating my life, and I was so convinced that moving to San Francisco was what I was supposed to do, I guess I just assumed it would work out.
Armed with my naiveté and a bit of luck, things did work out, at least for a few months until I got laid off. I was reselling software for a web development company when the share price of the company that manufactured the software dropped beyond recovery. My company wanted out. My position had been eliminated.
I remember standing outside the building right after it happened, trying to decide if I should let myself get upset, or take my usual approach and tell myself to get on with it. I settled on a combination of both. One minute of emotion and then I called a friend from my recent employer, who met me outside. We went out like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I remember her commenting I was handling this well. I told myself this layoff was just a blip; I wasn’t going to let it define me.
I posted my resume on craigslist and got another job three weeks later at a web development company. All of their business had come through referrals, and referrals were starting to trickle. I was there for six months before they folded. I knew it was coming. One of the founders had been kind enough to take me out for coffee and lay it out. “We’re going under in two weeks and everyone is going to get two weeks’ severance, or we’re going under in three weeks and no one is getting anything. Either way, you’re getting laid off.” The CEO opted for three weeks – no one got anything.
I posted my resume on craigslist again. This time, no one called. The economy had turned. No one was getting jobs. Everyone I knew had been on unemployment at least once. The neighborhood cafés were full during the day. Rent prices started to drop.
Almost a year later, I found a consulting job through a referral and then a more permanent job through another referral. Things were back on track, until that company started priming themselves for a buyout and laid off a sizable portion of their staff to reduce operating expenses.
I fell into temp work through a friend and used it as a networking opportunity. I researched every new company where I temped. I introduced myself to people. I took people to lunches. I wrote thank you notes and bought small thank you gifts. Eventually, one lunch led to another, which led to another. Finally, I got a call for a job interview – it went well. I was relieved to once again be employed.
This would be the first job I left on my own accord. I moved to New York City to pursue my second masters at Columbia University focusing on workforce development issues. I wanted to translate my experience into something larger than myself. I wanted to do something I felt had a purpose.
I Googled my former fiancé recently. It appears he’s a successful physician who happens to live in the same Southern state my parents do. If we had married, I’m sure his career would have trumped mine. The trajectory of my career wouldn’t have influenced where he went. I would be living a few hours away from my parents. My mother would come for the weekend and we would shop at upholstery stores for fabric to cover a wing chair and for drapes.
I would have never gotten laid off, never had to worry about paying my rent, and I would have never been forced to think about what I really wanted to do, who I really was. I would have been comfortable, but unchallenged and unchanged from the way I started out. I would lack resiliency and the aspects of my character I now value most.