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Getting By: One Sister's Journey Through the Recession

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Each time I was laid off from a job I had subconsciously spoken it into existence.

The first time I was at lunch with my beau and casually said towards the end of our meal, "I don't want to go back to work." An hour after returning to my office, I was told the magazine I worked for was shutting down.

Young and full of enthusiasm, I took it all in stride. I had a roommate, my rent was cheap and an unemployment check was just a few dollars less than what I had been making anyway. I spent the next several months freelancing. That was five years ago. The economy was nothing like it is now.

The second (and last time) I was let go from a job I spent the night before consoling a friend who had just been fired. I was feeling very Oprah-ish, laying it on thick saying, "Maybe this is what you needed to make that next step...Maybe that job was holding you back and you should be doing something greater...You have to believe in yourself..."

The very next day I was laid off with my birthday happening just two days prior and a quickly approaching New Year's Eve. Yes, I was let go during the holidays. Ouch! I remember that morning, my boss called to ask when I was coming into the office. I was working for a newspaper and in nearly two years of working there my boss never called my cell phone for anything. Red Flag #1.

"Is there something wrong with my article?" I asked.

"No, just want to talk to you. Just make sure you stop by my office when you get in," he said. Red Flag #2.

When I made it to the office, my gut feeling was confirmed. From the moment I stepped off the elevator, everyone I passed gave me the sad face. Whenever someone was getting the ax people knew.

The first person I stopped to talk to was my union representative.

"Hey kiddo," he said.

Once I heard those words come out his mouth, red flag #3. The plan was for us to go to the bosses' office together and have my official firing.

Can you imagine sitting at your desk waiting for your boss to call you in so they can fire you? I didn't wait. First, stop was the mailroom to get boxes. As I dragged them back to my area, taking the long way of course, I said my goodbyes.

"Chloe, what's going on?" asked my concerned colleagues.

"I'm out," I said.

By the time my boss was free to talk, I was over it. He gave me the "I hate to have to do this" face; you know the face your mother gives right after she finished beating your behind.

To be honest, I didn't even let his speech sink in. All I knew was I was being laid off which meant I would be getting severance and unemployment (hallelujah) and since I was in the union they would fight to make sure I got the max allowed (praise him!).

When it came time for me to speak, I said nothing. The two men looked at me as if they expected a breakdown or flip a table. I was the third person to be let go that day. The others had worked for the paper 50 and 25 years, respectively. My time there was a grain of sand compared to theirs, so why should I be angry or upset?

In my short life, I've learned that a job is never about you. I didn't take my lay-off as an insult to who I am as a woman, journalist, and human being. It's business, nothing personal.

I gave them both a smile, which obviously puzzled them.

"It was a pleasure working here. It has always been my dream and I'm glad that it was able to come true. Thank you for giving me this opportunity." My mother taught me manner. No angry Black woman here.

It's been ten months since that day.

I'm still technically unemployed and have made lots of concessions. All in all, my life is different and every morning I wake up and before I bunker down in front of my desk, I give thanks for all that I have and remember how powerful my words really can be.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Chloé A. Hilliard. For the last eight years, Chloé A. Hilliard has been a culture/entertainment journalist, writing for The Village Voice, ESSENCE, Vibe, and The Source. Her work is featured in The Best African-American Essays 2009. To learn more visit chloehilliard.com

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