The agony losing of your job at 59
My birthday had arrived. the practice run for one of the biggies. Fifty-nine. a year off the Silver Surfer Club at the cinema, and not far off a bus pass.
a year off an age i’d never given much thought of getting to, as though it was something that happened to other people and not me. i’d never be that old surely, because i’d just stay 40 for ever.
My partner took me to Stockholm on a mini-break to celebrate. in december. Surely the equivalent of a neon sign that i was somewhat aged — reindeer and snow up to your ankles, dark at 3pm — hardly a teensrUs hedonistic getaway.
but still, i was hanging on to the idea of myself as cool and relevant. Up until i came back to work and got called into the boss’s office. he was apologetic and regretful, but the message was the same — my job was being made redundant. then i felt old. really old. and useless. What’s worse, i cried. all professionalism flew out the window with the last vestiges of my pride. ten years into a job i loved, with people i genuinely liked, and poof, the niche i’d carved out for myself was no longer deemed necessary. My job was surplus and thereby i was, too. and at my age, it felt like enforced retirement.
it was like the end of my marriage. in many ways it was the end of a marriage — it’s just i’d unwisely wed myself, and a huge chunk of my self-esteem and identity, to a company. i loved it, but it no longer loved me back.
Nonsense, of course. it’s a business, not ‘day care for adults’ and cuts needed to be made. it just so happened i was one of the people at the sharp end of the scissors.
i had wielded those scissors myself, so i could hardly crawl into a corner and bleat ‘poor little me’. but, heck, i did it anyway. i went home and snuggled up with a bottle of own brand vodka and a loo roll (i was classy in grief). i wailed. i worried.
i counted up my iSas, while imagining the gleeful schadenfreude felt by others whose redundancy letters i’d had to type.
Of course, none of those people would care one way or the other, since they were all off living their mostly happier, more lucrative lives in other companies with morning pilates classes and sabbaticals, but i still had to find a way to hold on to a sense of my own importance. that was the hardest thing to swallow. My dispensability. Not essential. Not needed. Weakest link.
YOU don’t need a course in psychology to know that when these sort of events befall us, they are not self- contained and of themselves, but also act as a trigger to all the real and imagined times we’ve felt irrelevant.
in my case, the list is long — when my husband of 25 years shuffled off with another woman; when all my kids went to college one after the other like a tag team; when my former agent didn’t like my book, or rather, when her assistant didn’t; when i lost a previous job as a columnist on a newspaper and practically every friend i’d made while doing it.
but i was 42 then, and could still lift the phone and call on my contacts. My novel was as yet unwritten and unpublished. i had a good chunk of energy and verve left to reinvent myself. but a year off the big 60, i felt washed up. rubbish. Not even recycled rubbish, but plain old, stick it in a landfill dross. i was also consumed by despair. Who would i be now? Who wants to employ a woman with the beginnings of arthritis?
it’s all fair and fine for the Government suddenly to decide i have to work until 68 to get my state pension, but they didn’t pass this on to my employer, who needed me to slip gracefully out the door.
after a decade of being pliable and fitting into the spaces that fall empty because nobody else wants to fill them, my role was like a custom-made suit by Vivienne Westwood, but with odd tucks and pleats and uneven ends — it fitted beautifully, but was quite indescribably different from anyone else’s. i had come to see myself, possibly erroneously, as the mother hen of the office, albeit with a rather sharp beak. i knew where the bodies were buried, along with the old files, the company history, and what was frowned on.
i felt central to the place in a way a mother runs a home — with all the responsibility, not too much respect and none of the power. i liked it. i felt lucky to have it. but overnight i became peripheral.
My job was redundant, but there was good news. Of a sort. i could stay on in a much- reduced capacity, cut my hours, my responsibilities, and, effectively, gain a small seat on the sidelines.
Pride wouldn’t let me. My bank balance disagreed. better to have some money coming in than none. and it meant not going cold turkey with unemployment.
yes, i had to suck up a loss of status, if only in my own head, but the deal was fair, the desire to have me do less and differently came from a good place, and if i could manage to stuff my diminished ego into the same place as the deserted wife and failed author, i could make the best of it.
i’d clean the house (ahem). i’d lose weight. ( i didn’t, on the contrary i ballooned.) i’d walk everywhere. (i sat on the sofa a lot.) i’d write another novel. (didn’t even open the laptop.) i’d travel. (have you seen how much a return to Edinburgh costs?) time trickled through my fingers like pound coins when you break a twenty.
HOWEVER, a month in to my reduced hours/ wages/responsibility and i was rolling around in the lovely free time like an oiled up sunbather on a lilo.
Work became the equivalent of a weekend activity, with the week free to do whatever i liked. i did cognitive behaviour therapy (Cbt) with a psychologist. i signed up for life coaching to force me out of the rut (which has me writing again). i did an embroidery class. i made a quilt. i began volunteering to improve child literacy, and next month i’m getting a puppy.
in fact, eight months on, i’ve never been happier. Money is still a concern, but as psychologists acknowledge, more time makes you happier than more money.
it has been a good lesson to me on humility, and i now recognise what i truly value and the foundations of my self-worth — it certainly doesn’t come from making a fine spreadsheet or getting the away day organised.
it comes from creating a beautiful garment or listening to the birds in the garden that i have the leisure to enjoy — and the ability to do all those things i always promised myself i would do if i only had time. Except cleaning the house. that’s still a bit of a tip.