Friday, February 01, 2008

Fresh Starts

It's interesting to hear people in different phases of their lives talk about how the layoffs at my company are affecting them. We're in the sort of unique situation of knowing our fate months in advance, so the place is abuzz with networking, sharing of strategies, wishing of luck. It's a fascinating dynamic.

My situation is this: My husband is in college as a full-time student, due to graduate in June of 2009. We can't afford for him to have a setback -- he needs to finish. So I need to make enough money to support us both. I'm fortunate to have followed a fairly straight career path, have marketable skills, great references and, perhaps most importantly, a good idea of where I want to go and what I want to do.

A group of younger people here, in their early 20s, were talking today in the lunchroom about moving someplace exciting. They're going to couch-surf with friends in San Francisco, in New Orleans, in Tampa, and they're going to start building a life down there. Many people are exploring what they want to do with their lives, if they are secure in their careers or whether they want to change careers. What's most interesting to me about this whole layoff is that while there's so much variety in everyone's personal story, the parents seem to all be doing the same things.

1. Reluctantly preparing to move their families from Chicago to rural Wisconsin, where the office is moving and complaining that they're not going to be able to sell their homes in this market.
2. Reluctantly pleading with other branches of the company in the area to take them in while complaining at what a crap company it is and wishing they had more options.

Even though I'm the breadwinner right now, I have a great deal of options. If I can't find a new job, we can downsize. We can move to different areas of the city, we can eventually leave the city if it comes down to it. I can take a lower-paying job if I must and still only have to worry about feeding and clothing the two of us. Of course I feel pressure and often more than a little scared at the uncertainty of the situation, but I'm nowhere near as scared as those who are the sole breadwinner for a partner AND kids.

It's in the eyes of these people -- moreso than the single people with no second income, moreso than my gay coworkers whose partners rely on the domestic partner insurance offered by my company, and moreso than the women who are just a couple years short of retirement and probably won't find another similar job -- that I see fear, and that makes me sad. It also makes me feel fortunate.

Financial stability is a big motivator in our decision not to have children. I know the reason we're going to be okay with this layoff has little if anything to do with our parenting status. But watching the way in which the parents I work with deal with the situation as opposed to those of us who have different circumstances has intrigued me this week.

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