I have been accused of being authentic. Of having integrity. I have been accused of having heart and being so very nice.
But, to me, I was just being myself.
In the face of shocking circumstances, maybe people believe that the self you share regularly will fall apart. Will dissolve. Will crack and reveal a new persona, one who is vindictive or bitter or angry or violent. But I’ve never heard of a personal brand that is one thing in one place and another in another.
Part of the brand is surviving the feelings that make you want to shout and be vindictive and, when shocked by circumstances, you find an ability to reason. Calmness. Get past the face of it and crack later, in private. This could be a well-refined personal brand or just Midwestern.
When I got laid off in late October, I thought of two things. The first, as always, was the scene in Working Girl where our heroine is fired and packing her box to leave.
The second was the lyrics to a Miranda Lambert song, describing a terrible break-up with a man, the voice of her mother, advising “hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady ’cause I raised you better, gotta keep it together even when you fall apart.” That was my mother’s voice.
The good fortune here isn’t what people told me “Wow, now you get this time to mentally reconnect, to take a break.” I don’t. My family can’t afford a break of any kind.
The good fortune here is the test of my personal brand.
In each encounter after I heard the news, my priority was to put a bow on each of my projects, to make my work easier for someone else to discover and complete. I am proud of my work; I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want another to pick it up and run with it. But those around me were confused. One man called my last week, “the week of long lunches.” I would call it the week of tidying the files, making our work and content easy to find. Putting those final meetings together so people could move forward. Without me.
I spent the week checking on the emotional well-being of my team. We were breaking up the band and of course they’ll be fine, but as a manager, my role is and was always to check. Why would I give up that concern now?
People were kind to me, too. There was so much empathy, so much allegiance as I left. I appreciated it all, but a strange invisible wall emerges when you’re laid off. There’s an unspoken “better you than me” and an unspoken “I’ll come back here on Monday, you won’t.” Cries of foul, admonitions that it’s unfair are kind, but unfounded because no one jeopardizes their own remaining role to truly protest you losing yours. And good, Darwin would be proud.
The most surprising and saddening of it all was so many people responding with awe that I was kind and respectful, that I cared what I left behind. I emptied my desk and asked if I needed to clean it further or use a Clorox wipe. My HR director laughed and said no one had asked that before. I wondered, why not? The people who decided to lay me off were not the people who would inherit my desk. Another innocent team member, another among the ranks of the workers would take my desk. I cared that they were cared for.
And in all the work I did as a marketing director, email marketer, content creator, communication specialist, team leader, manager, coach, spokesperson, public relations guru, media relations whiz, publicist; in all that work, I was crafting messages for others that talked about authenticity being the only way to go. I wrote a speech about authenticity. I helped develop micro-content for our leaders that proclaimed the virtues of authenticity. Of how good creative had to come from an authentic space. Of how brands and leaders needed integrity. How audiences crave integrity.
So the amount of shock and surprise that someone can be dealt the most impact of their career and still respond authentic to their personal brand and with integrity frustrated me. Who are we as a culture? And what did you miss about me that causes you to be surprised at my reaction? What had you expected? Our industry’s mantra is integrity. Authenticity. Realness. But when it’s before you you’re surprised. Are we more usually fakers? I’m disappointed in this realization that advertisers are maybe the problem the world thinks we are, magicians filled with fakery. I never thought that. I drank the Kool-Aid. I thought we were in the knowing people business. But the saddest revelation of my exit was how few of our people really knew people. Or me.
I will have a next adventure.
I’ll be excited about it soon. Right now, I’m in a bit of disarray. I am worried about car payments and prescription cat food, dog medication and paying for Christmas. I have time to find myself, a bourgeoisie luxury, but not a lot of it.
I’ve spent my entire life always having at least two, if not three, jobs. From serving and bartending (where I was also a prep cook) to NCAA tutoring to nannying and bartending, to alumni foundation phone calling to fork lift driving and babysitting, even now, I teach a class or two at Marquette and earn a meager bit staffing Comedy Sportz shows and waiting for my turn to perform. I freelance write for a few bucks occasionally while I wait to have my books published. I have never kept my light under a bushel, I’ve scraped together cash for its glow whenever I can. My personal brand is that I’m a hard worker, always working. ALWAYS.
But my current career temporarily ended last Friday. My loyalty wasn’t rewarded, it was severed. It is a bizarre and somewhat hopeless feeling that I’m quite sure many have swum in before. I haven’t. I love manifesting what’s next and that’s the condolence others offer me. I appreciate that, but it’s a feeling I can’t fully capture right now. I’ve stacked up experience and qualifications many would be jealous of. I’ve learned and embraced and absorbed so many workplace cultures and needs, digital trends to writing, leadership and management to legislative and regulative understandings. I had my own TV show once. And now, I have no job. This is me, being authentic. I’m sharing it where normally, like Miranda Lambert’s fictional mother and my own, I would keep this quiet. I would swallow it up while I quickly fix it. Maybe it’s more important to share it.
Feminist, activist, outdoor advocate, animal lover, chocolate shake lover, reader, watcher, talker, actor, speaker, worker, writer, urban adventurer, hustler, involved, passionate, excited, ready.