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Posts Tagged ‘downsized’

People talk about the difficulties of youth – their struggle to not only find themselves, but settle on goals and work towards them. Once done, they think there is nothing but smooth sailing ahead, particularly if a few darling little children have already rounded out and enriched their lives.

Don’t be embarrassed by your naivete. I felt exactly the same way at your age. Life was full of promise. Because we’d had some heartbreak in our first few years of marriage, I firmly believed our share was spent, that life could only get better from that point on. It was self-delusion in its grandest form and it predicted a perfect future.

I’m here to be a wet blanket, someone to tell you what you don’t want to hear – at least I didn’t want to at your age. The truth is this. You can set goals and plan and do all the right things, but if you grow too comfortable and rest on your laurels, your nice little life can all be pulled out from under you in the blink of an eye. In the worst of cases, your health or that of a loved one can fail. Sometimes, it’s one or two bad decisions on your part; sometimes it’s the people who decide you’re not “right,” and work to make a case against you. Often it’s the young up-and-coming executive who decide to protect his ass over yours. Yes, some people lie or choose to forget the truth, even people you thought were your friends, because when push comes to shove, the future of their career is usually more important than yours anyday, dear friend.

Hence, this poem written a few years back about a similar person who single-handledly started the 8-ball ruling that triggered the end of my husband’s corporate career.

MR. POLITICALLY CORRECT

He is really nothing special,
down deep feels it too, you know,
so he’s learned to play the charmer,
see how far the game can go.

His shoes are always shiny,
his suit pants nicely pressed,
his golf score breaks a ninety,
his very life seems blessed.

He flatters all the ladies,
he “yes, sirs” all he can,
finds a way to flee the radar
when the feces hit the fan.

He knows to smile when needed,
seems modest with his blush,
feigns innocence to save his hide,
maintains his Midas touch.

He’s young and climbing upward,
he’s old and scared to fall,
friend or not, you can’t trust him,
when his back’s against the wall

A year in employment limbo, a downsized positon where he was set up to fail, and finally, the pink slip. Six years later and we’re still feeling the effects, both monetarily anad psychologically, of that one momentous loss.

When you’re young, you can start out on a path where it seems you are invincible. Employers convince you that you have a brilliant future ahead of you as long as you “stick with the programme, and toe the line.” It’s a horrible thing to suddenly realize that you’ve planned poorly; that you’ve underestimated everyone else’s ambition and overestimated their loyalty to you. You’ve suddenly missed the boat; that in the game of musical chairs, you’re one of the people left standing. What’s even worse is knowing you’re 58 or 59, and your chances of regaining what you’ve lost are unlikely.

The one good thing we have gained, though, is that we’re much more realistic now. We’ve been through hell in the past six years and proven we are tough enough to endure just about anything. It’s a difficult transition, not knowing what comes next. We just have to rely on ourselves to make something happen, because it’s more and more obvious every day that no former colleague is going to turn this situation around and make it right for us. In fact, former colleagues seem to avoid us, perhaps victims of survivor guilt. For one or two people, it’s possibly even justified.

Everyone thinks it’s hard for young people who are just starting out in the work force, but at least they have years ahead, to win through trial and error. We have no time to waste, no time to completely fix what’s wrong.

I just keep telling myself “if it is to be, it’s up to me.” If we all say that, something good has to happen, don’t you think?

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weddingRight from the start, my husband and I realized we shared a similar philosophy towards money: it couldn’t buy happiness, but it was definitely meant to be enjoyed. Now, that doesn’t sound too unusual, until you consider the fact that together, we put a higher value on enjoying our money than we did on saving it. Until recently, I didn’t really consider the reasons for that shared view. To be honest, I was too busy just trying to make everything “work.” But in going through a situation like the one we’re in, you inevitably come to a point where you can no longer blame only circumstances. You begin to blame yourself. Self-recrimination is all part of the “mourning” process, but it can only go on so long, and once it was over, I had a lingering need to understand “why” we’d made some of our choices over the years. After all, we weren’t stupid. We weren’t extravagant. And to be honest, we weren’t terribly materialistic. So how did we get to this point in our lives, when we’re nearing sixty?

My perspective was clearer when I considered my husband’s beginnings.
His family had emigrated to Canada in 1957, in search of a better life than the one they’d left behind in East End London. Nothing came as easily as they’d anticipated, and my husband, just seven on his arrival here, learned quickly that it wasn’t fun to be one of the “have nots.” As soon as they were old enough, he and his siblings had to take on part-time jobs to help support the family, and much to the frustration of his parents, he usually spent his paper route money (on candy or cookies) the minute it was earned, sometimes even before he got home!

Those free-spending ways stayed with him through adulthood, the only difference being that with a wife and sons, there were three more people in his life to spoil.

Understanding my own situation took some serious soul-searching. I was the oldest of seven children, and my parents had to be frugal to feed and clothe so many. We were taught that wanting more was being greedy, and sometimes I found myself resenting the restrictions they lived by. Later, their financial situation improved, but to me, they didn’t reap the benefits of that as much as they could have. They didn’t ever seem to have “fun,” and it frustrated me because I could think of hundreds of things they could afford to do that would bring them pleasure: travel, dinners out, and entertainment, to name a few. I knew I wanted my life to be different. If I was going to work hard, I was also going to play hard. In many ways, the freedom to spend my own money as I wanted, to savour my share of the pleasurable experiences in this world, was a subconscious form of rebellion. And eventually, it led me to take too many financial risks.

The bad habits did not happen right away, possibly because credit cards were not yet a reality. The budget for my engagement ring was modest and would be not one penny more than the $225 my husband received when he sold his guitar amplifier. Our wedding, in July of 1971, was nice, but not extravagant. To save money, we spent the night in our apartment rather than a hotel. Our honeymoon flight was a present from his parents; our spending money, gifts from wedding guests. My going-away outfit, a wool-blend suit bought off-season and discounted by 50%, was a disaster. I sweated buckets and squirmed uncomfortably for the entire six-hour flight to England. I certainly didn’t feel like a big spender when we arrived at Gatwick and boarded the bus for another three-hour trip to our destination!

Actually, it wasn’t until we’d been married for nearly two years and decided to buy a home that we started to take financial risks. It came from a sense of our own “power” – just how much we could actually afford if we put our minds to it, just how “tight” we could live in order to get the things we wanted. Within three months of borrowing $2000 to buy a 1970 Mach I Mustang (gorgeous, by the way), we’d found the house of our dreams, borrowed $500 as a down payment on the house, paid off our car loan, and arranged a “hidden second” mortgage with the builder.

Two years into our marriage, at the ages of just twenty-two and twenty-three, we didn’t have a cent in the bank, but we had a house, and we felt invincible.

Next installment: Sometimes, we succeed despite ourselves.

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