Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stop Telling Me Not To Be Mad!

I have my MBA in marketing from a highly ranked full-time program in the midwest.

I have taught at a few universities and was accepted into an invitation-only conference designed to recruit business background professional to enter the PhD program.

I've ideated brands, products, and directed or produced shows, posters, billboards, and print ads. My career has not allowed me to do television or radio yet, but I did conceptualize and produce a PSA on drinking water.

I've written articles, essays, papers, poetry, situational analyses, marketing plans, press releases, and brand identity statements.

I've delivered speeches before high ranking officials in several states and have mentored children to increase their love of literature.

I was looking over the body of my work, over the more than twenty-five years of experience and realized, I was mad and didn't want anyone to tell me to not be angry anymore.


Fifteen years ago, I made a fateful or fatal decision.

Instead of pursuing a few opportunities that were knocking down my door and calling the office of my graduate placement office, I opted for the safer option because my then fiancé was finishing up his doctorate and hadn't been placed at a university yet, he opted to take on a research fellowship instead.

I also got married and after having lived alone with my boys for years, merged households, literally purchased my first home, and settled in with the safe midwest company that believed in family connection, that literally made it's money off celebrating life's milestones. We were told they never laid anyone off and since they went to such great lengths to recruit me, it was a sure move.

I was wrong on several fronts.

Not on getting remarried and perhaps not even on buying the house, intentionally on the less expensive side of that bi-state region, or even in choosing the company at the time, but on decisions I made while at the company, again, taking the safe route.

For the first eighteen months (including time off to have my daughter, unexpectedly a parent of a baby again), I was an internal marketing consultant working on important, high visibility projects. I was in a coveted program that was a trajectory to upper management.

Then the economy dipped and opportunities for that permanent product line were dwindling.

My options were limited in the city where I was located.

My credentials were wanted with two subsidiaries that I'd worked on projects with in a previous assignment with the company. Both of them were in different states, literally a few states away in either direction than where we were living.

My now husband was still a research fellow and making about two-thirds of what I was making, the benefits were with my company, we had the house, we now had four kids, school had started, so I declined the invitations.

It was a wrong move.

This was just after 9-11 and the country was in a panic. People were cocooning and hyper-patriotism had gripped the midwest.

And I had a tiny devil bully woman for a manager.

It was a death nail in my career

My options of transferring ended with declining both job opportunities. The in-house transfers were over, several of my cohorts in this highly coveted management program had already been laid off, one had just been six months into his rotations and had just built a house.

We all felt like we were screwed.

MBA student loans were looming ahead and opportunities were scarce.

Then the shoe dropped.

I had just finshed a huge ideation and exploration project for a new product line. I had just flown back from California, worked with creative, developed the vision board, wrote the situational analysis and competitive analysis, and was doing the quantitative analysis when the little devil threw the arrows at me.

My life was wrapped up in my family and in trying to make this first assignment successful. I had two years, including an internship, of successful, highly rated reviews and a great reputation. Surely, I thought, I could weather this mean-spirited little woman who literally hated MBAs.

No one told me.

I take that back, one of my cohorts in the management program with me told me about this mean little woman who was trying to sabbatoge his rotation. He was in the class right behind me and during one of our coaching lunches was asking my advise on how to deal with her, come out alive, and what next rotation to take.

It wasn't until I was in that department that I realized I had just stepped into the hell he came out of.

There was no survival.

I was laid off along with several other women.

I look back and like we all sometimes do, examine what could I have done.

There was literally no where to go within the company.

I thought I would be able to land on my feet, I had a decent severage package and we had savings, we had lived below our means for over a year and he was now at a university in town. I was pregnant, again, unexpectedly, with my second daughter, and thought I could just wait it out unitl the birth, work on some freelance projects, and get back to my corporate life.

I had never, at that time, aspired to be stay-at-home-mom, I had always worked from the time I was a nineteen-year-old college student. In fact, I worked full-time and went to college full-time in the evening for years.  It was absolutely unheard of for me to not have my own salary, car, benefits, savings, and securty. Long before my previous life left me divorced and with three sons, I had alway maintained my independence and ability to have progressive career opportunities.

Two months after I left that corporate job, my office was already packed up from all personal items, my files had already been organized and my computer had already been cleaned out of anything that was mine, my husband lost his position. Now,looking back, I'm thankful for that urging in my spirit that lead me to do that two months  to being laid off. It was also when I had unexpectedly found out I was pregnant again. I walked out alone, without the corporate shame of carrying boxes.

I came home and told him, at the time, we thought we would be ok.

Then, two months later, he came home and told me he lost his position.

Just like that, we went from high six figures to zero income.

The bottom dropped out and I didn't get mad.

We each had a shared faith, savings, a COBRA plan, and actually, friends who stepped in to fill in the gap. We were each confident, with our shiny graduate degrees, that we would be fine, we would emerge from this unscathed.

We were wrong.

He took a couple lower paying opportunities. They happened to be in research, that looking back again, helped him prepare for the door that opened up for him two years later.

I couldn't get hired, especially as my pregnancy became more and more evident and more and more recruiters kept telling me that marketing departments in my city were laying off en masse after 9-11. A college friend at the big telecom company in town told me she had had six new managers in one year and being laid off from her position. Lucky for her, she was in accounting and landed safely at a company several states away.

We were rooted and grounded where we were.  We thought we could weather the storm.

I started my company, took some small marketing, advertising, or communications gigs with local businesses, all too small to pay what I was making before. I thought it was fine, we were doing ok and my pregnancy was advancing. I supplemented that with obtaining my insurance license and trying my hand at health marketing while I was waiting for the baby to get a little older and figure out what company was ramping up their marketing department again.

He was laid off from a second university and was flying around the country interviewing for upper management positions.  I thought, we will be moving anyway, I could have taken the position that I wanted in another state.

I didn't, and I wasn't mad, then.

As one can imagine, a new marriage, despite our five year relationship before marriage, a growing family, and financial uncertainty, all put a strain on our marriage.  I was wondering if it was all a huge mistake, how did I, one who had never been out-of-work, end up in a space of dependency.

The years went by with him obtaining a great position with a university that would allow him to hone his administrative skills and remain with his first love.

It did not fare so well for me and my career.

Like a lot of couples in an economic downturn, decisions had to be made. For us, it was moving across state that meant a death nail, of sorts, for my opportunities.

We had two sons that were now young adults and launching out into the world, so armed with the last three, a house packed up, and the rest in storage, we set out for new adventures in a new city.

It was good for him and the kids, not so good for me.

My field was virtually non-existent at the level I needed and yes, my pride, prevented me from dialing back to an entry-entry level position in retail, customer service, or sales. It was not my forté and after I calculated the expense of now two that would need daycare, it was not financially feasible.

I made some decisions that made a direct impact on the ten years that followed.

First, I embraced being flexible as I built my boutique business.

Second, I started writing even more.

Third, I helped usher my daughter from near death, though multiple surgeries, a rare illness diagnosis, and now, finally, remission and an ability to live with several life-long illnesses.

Fouth, I became less introverted and found my voice, used my penchant for research and study to back-up my growing social activism.

Fifth, I began using my flexibility to have opportunities in educaiton, in non-profit marketing, in community engagement, and even in ministry.

The years have been a challenge, to be sure.

I no longer have my enormous house with the third-of-an acre lawn to be mowed.  We have moved to a rented downhouse that is half-the-size.  My adult children are thriving and my remaining two, both those girls, are honors students in middle school.

There is much to be thankful for, like watching my youngest son receive multiple scholarships to pursue his dream. He is a senior opera major and will graduate without debt.

My other son returned from the Navy and is now a happily married man with an at-home-wife caring for my now one-month-old grandson.

My forever muse and artist son has remained independent with his music and artistry, choosing to take a slow build and not sign away his recordings. He has chosen his own path, recovered from a couple near-death experiences, and has come out on the other side of wisdom.

I have traveled to many places, met wonderful people, wrote two children's books that are awaiting illustration, saw my name in a byline both online and in print. I've worked on some great marketing campaigns, advocated for those less fortunate than me, elevated voice for black lives, managed an ad hoc school, been a sought-after interviewee with agencies from Canada to Paris.  I've fundraised, crowdsourced, and got the ball rolling for several community projects. I've planned major events, wrote poetry, took pictures, and watched the sunset.

All-in-all, I'm ok with the last decade-and-a-half.

So, why am I mad, one may ask.

I'm mad at the powers-that-be that ruined the economy that forced many of my Jones Generation and even Boomers to make hard choices that some still haven't recovered from. I'm angry at the homes lost, the choice of staying or leaving being the only choice, and I'm made that I'm in the midst of an assault on black bodies and women that was completely unheard of durng my upbringing in the 70s and early 80s.

The racial upheaval that was unleashed after electing the first black president, the tension before that of watching black people hang onto floating cars, their blackness being a death nail for them after the levees broke, living through fear and ignorance, more and more bodies turning up, both male and female, with no end in sight.

I'm angry at the still stagnant "recovery" that left many of us seasoned professionals standing outside with our policed résumés only to be told to go an jump through more hoops. We've weathered recruiters seeking us out, opportunities presented in other cities, and a region that is so stuck on stupid that it can't move forward.

Mad doesn't even describe what I feel for the "new" way of job hunting that includes sites that want you to become "premium" members in order to gain access to those 5782 jobs for MBAs in marketing. The cost for the premium access is precisely the amount I'm waiting on one of my clients to remit for a marketing communications project I contracted to complete. My question to myself, then, was do I remain a small boutique that contracts out graphic design work, or do I just say, good decade run, go back to corporate, pay the outrageous fee, and hope for the best?

I'm angry that as a black woman professional that I still have to wade through questions of my hair, my voice, my appearance. I am far away from that once straight past my shoulders hair that was part of my uniform at my midwest corporate position. Sometimes, I think it was doing what this generation calls "the big chop" and then, as it grew, styling it in two strand twists, is part of why I was laid off. Maybe it wasn't professional enough, it certainly was not the norm in the early part of this century.

Questions greet me more than answers.

I've had sessions with other professional black women who are in this sti-new-to-me city who are trying to navigate the murky waters of nepotism and diminished opportunities.

There are those who are like me, self-employed, freelance, or consulting, deciding how long they can wait until their children graduate, or pondering a move across state.

We have talked through the landscape of what the "movement" means to our careers and if we, all of us with natural hair, all over forty, stand a chance at making our former corporate salaries.

Some of us are "fine" with a position at a university or non-profit that is solid or as my husband says, "beneficial."

I realize my tiny bit of privilege with the decision to stay flexible and a husband who has been able to weather the financial choices. He is now a provost and nearing retirement, declined a wanted presidency, and looking forward to being able to breathe through the girls high school years.

There is a part of me that is a bit angry at the thought of being older and in one field, being told I'm too old to bring my insight, experience, education, and near-new-masters from my MOOC, to bear on anything happening in marketing or advertising.

I just smiled and reminded my millennial friends that they will one day look up and twenty or thirty years will fly by and the generation behind them will be telling them they are too old.

In other spaces, I've been sought out for my knowledge and expertise. Even had offers that were significantly less than what I made before, and wondered to myself if it was a compromise to my soul to be seen as worth less.

So, I was mad that I even had to think these things.

Mad that I have consulted with small businesses that are thriving and I'm struggling to get a client to pay the invoice. Mad that I'm in a city that seems more bent on resurrecting the divisions of the generation before me instead of embracing the diversity that fills spaces all over the metro.

I'm mad that my flexibility afforded me the space to be present and hold a young mother whose son had just been murdered.

I'm mad that I have a gallery of photos from a movement that started after the state-sanctioned murder of a teenager. Mad that this stuff my parents told me was happening in my life time and that my now teenage daughter told me she marched because she didn't want to deal wiht this when she is my age.

I didn't want anyone to tell me or the daughters around me to stop being mad that our bodies are being legislated against, our culture is appropriated on others and deemed beautiful on them, unprofessional on us, mad that I could now buy a house with that continuously forebeared student loan, mad that one recruiter didn't understand that marketing strategy and integrated brand communications is not sales or entry-level call center work.

In acknowledging that I'm mad and demanding that others not tell me to stop being mad, I'm also giving rise to voice for several of my cohorts that are feeling the same thing.

We want to contribute.

If one old lady, also a grandmother, can throw her hat in the ring for President, than surely there is still some meaningful, financially rewarding, contribution we can make.

Like my daughter said, she didn't want to have limitations placed upon her because she was a girl that didn't look her age.

I don't either.

And I don't want to be mad.

But for this moment, it is right, it is truth.

So, stop telling me to not be mad.

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