November 20, 2013

How Getting Laid Off Helped Set Me Free. ~ Andrea Charpentier

One of those “It’ll never happen to me” things happened to me: I got laid off.

I wasn’t terribly heartbroken by it. Quite the opposite, actually. Being laid off, though worrisome, was a blessing of sorts, allowing me to have the precious luxury of time to figure out how I want to live my life on this planet. Now that I’m not chained to my desk at a job I have little enthusiasm for past paying the bills, I can finally take the necessary steps towards my dream and desires.

Allow me to backtrack a tad:

I was born and raised in the Deep South and came to California simply for a Christmas visit in 2008. I stayed with a cousin whom I idolized in my youth, even dedicating an entire diary to her while I was in junior high, starting every new entry with, “Dear, Becky.” My three weeks in Los Angeles flew by and it was time for me to board a plane back home to Georgia…but I didn’t. With $500.00 to my name and a suitcase filled with hand-me-down clothes, I decided to stay in LA and make a new life for myself.

“You’re crazy…you’re stupid…you’re desperate…didn’t you hear, the state of California just declared bankruptcy…you’ll never find a job…”

Yes…I’m crazy…I’m stupid…I’m desperate…I heard the news…I’m staying anyway.

The fact that I had recently ended a nightmare relationship with a misogynistic nutcase didn’t hurt my decision to stay (think murder/suicide attempt with people ending up in prison and being institutionalized—yeah, that kind of nightmare). I figured if I could survive that horror show (one of his favorite things to say was, “If I knew everyone on the planet would follow suit, I’d shoot myself in the head right now”) I could survive life in sunny California.

Piece. Of. Cake.

In one month, I had three jobs: the Art Center in Pasadena, the library in Calabasas, and a warehouse for home décor in Chatsworth. A gnarly drive, but I made it happen; six months went by and the warehouse job asked if I wanted to go full time—not in the warehouse, but in the front office.

I took the offer and quit the other jobs that were located on the complete opposite ends of the city. I was so relieved not to have to do that drive anymore and glad to finally have health insurance.

I also had a new boyfriend that wasn’t a misogynistic nutcase, who knew how to drive (I was so thrilled not having to be someone’s unappreciated personal chauffeur all the time anymore), had a job, his own place, no drug addictions, no huge chip on his shoulder against the entire freakin’ world. He seemed like a walking, talking miracle to me. When we eventually broke up, it was pleasant and civilized—another miracle. He even helped me find my new place and assisted with the move, saying he wanted to know I was safe and in a good area. I’ll always remember that.

He made me realize that it wasn’t selfish of me to expect kindness, that I didn’t deserve pain and misery.

This was also one of the reasons we broke up.

After spending years lost and sick with Mr. Nightmare, I decided that I needed to take time to hang out with me for a little while. This newly ended relationship was like an oasis after being laid to waste in a desert of despair and I was ready to venture forth and find my own path. I had never lived on my own before, was always living with roommates, a boyfriend, etc. I wanted to experience this independence because I needed to know I could do it.

It took a leap of faith to decide to stay in California and I felt I landed it well; now, I was ready to take another leap and be completely on my own.

Time went by and I ended up learning something pretty ugly and surprising about myself: I was scared to death. As my 30th birthday approached, all this self-actualization “me time” revealed with growing horror that I was single, had no children, had no college degree, owned no property, had no investments, no real savings. I felt like a failure with a capital “F” and bitterly chastised myself for ever entertaining my secret dream of becoming a globe-trotting novelist. Ha! Me?! Please. How could I possibly expect to travel the world and write when I didn’t even have a credit card?

I was a joke of a grown-up.

So I did what any other cowardly person would do: I threw myself into another new relationship and my job; I hid from my fears of failure. This worked for a little while. The new guy was nice, but also had a lot of baggage that I was only too happy to try and help him with, while he was just grateful that I was so kind-hearted and pleasant to be around (some of his ex’s weren’t that great, either; we were both incredibly relieved to learn neither of us were the type to throw things and break shit when angry).

How could I spend time worrying about me when I was too busy trying to take care of him? How could I spend time trying to achieve my dreams when I was too busy being complacent with my cushy 9-5 office job with health benefits? It was so easy to hide behind these things. It didn’t help being told on all sides how lucky I was, how great my life was, how envious everyone was; I had it all, a car, a cool apartment in Hollywood, a handsome boyfriend who remembered my birthday, and all of Los Angeles to use as my personal playground. I visited exotic destinations with my vacation days and saw every concert performance I felt like going to. I rolled with it.

It was a cake walk…so why was I still unhappy?

Always, I wanted to write stories and, if I felt particularly ambitious, illustrate them as well. Always, I was told this was a pipe dream. That only rich people can do that; that only people who know other people who are already rich and famous can do that—to be appreciative of my job and grateful for the roof over my head and the food on my plate. That it was selfish of me and unrealistic to want more.

Practical advice.

But no thank you.

Upon being laid off, the other ladies in the office and I decided to celebrate with a trip to the driving range and booze.

As we smashed balls, we chatted about Life, the Universe, and Everything, and I realized I am completely free to do whatever the hell I want. My past fears of having no husband, no children, no degree, slowly turned into relief. I realized what all this simply meant was that I have no obligations to anyone but myself. I have zero debt. I have a clean slate…I have the world.

And, hey, I also have a credit card.

I want more and I’m going to get more. I’m already in a way better place than I was when last I tried to reinvent my life. I’m still crazy (seriously, who isn’t), I’m still stupid (hey, one can always learn more), but I’m no longer desperate and for that I am grateful. I am no longer fearful, at least, not as much as I used to be; instead of being scared that I’m a failure, I’m now giddy with excitement of all the possibilities out there for me.

The only sickness I now feel is “motion-sickness” from my inner-compass spinning out of control. Go here, go there, do this, do that? It all sounds great! I want to do it all!

I still get overwhelmed and freak myself out; those old demons start to creep up again. They whisper to me at two am that I’m fooling myself, that I can never get a job as a writer without a degree, that no man will ever marry me if it hasn’t happened by now, that whatever country I decide to visit next will collapse in political/religious turmoil, leaving me dead on the side of a burnt road.

Now, instead of saying, “I know, you’re right, I suck” I tell those horrid little demons to hit the bricks and I register for a seminar that’s about teaching abroad, I list the names of authors that never spent a single day in college, and I wear lip gloss and contacts instead of my glasses when I go out.

I thumb my nose at life. I’m buying the ticket and I’m taking the ride, ‘cause when the going gets weird…the weird turn pro.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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