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Balancing Act: Laid Off During the Holidays

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The holiday season has never been a joyous occasion for me. As a child, the only yuletide greeting I remember receiving was the same soliloquy from my red-eyed, sleep-deprived mother stating the obvious: "I don't have it." Since I was the oldest, I was always expected to make the sacrifice, and I did... albeit begrudgingly. So while some kids fondly recall unwrapping gifts, I think about how I had to help wrap gifts for others. I had to put on the "happy face" when "Santa" bestowed an unwrapped white Cabbage Patch Kid, or Michael Jackson doll, because "he" was too busy working doubles to wrap my presents. Eventually, it grew to "understanding" that my gift would be late, so others could get theirs. Still, that wasn't the worst part. I loathed knowing that I had less. In fact, saying I despised my working class lifestyle is an understatement. When I was a tween, I deduced that I was in the financial poorhouse due the bad decisions made by others -- and I thought it sucked. Moreover, I vowed to change my lot in life. And I did. My first step was simple, I had to figure out what made some people "happy havers" and others "unhappy have-nots." Thanks to Ms. Janet Jackson I devised a plan: I needed to be in control. I was about 12 years old and tired of hearing that what I deserved couldn't be purchased with what the family had, when I started asking my mother for cash instead of gifts; I'd figure out what do it with it. She acquiesced -- gotta love her -- I hit Marshalls. The second step in this budding control freak's master plan was education. Since I'd always been in honors programs and knew -- thanks to "The Cosby Show" and great child-rearing -- that college was a key component in financial success; I plotted to attend undergraduate and graduate school -- the latter had to be an Ivy League university. I did both. The next step was to get a great job, mentors, and not have any children out of wedlock. Now don't get me wrong, there were a few things I didn't account for in my plan, but thanks to God and serendipity I entered my late twenties feeling like I was the queen of the world. For several years, when holidays came I was shouting a new mantra, "I got it." Most importantly, it wasn't on credit... well, most of it wasn't. Now, I wasn't balling, or pseudo-rich (think "Real Housewives of Atlanta"). I was, however, finally living my middle-class dream. I could pay all of my bills with one check. I could save. I could shop, within reason, at my leisure. I was an HBCU and Ivy League alum. I did it. Finally, I was a bona fide real-life "Cosby kid." Every day, my inner theme song, Christopher Williams' "I'm Dreaming," put some extra "pop and shine" in my lip gloss. I was floating... for a while. Then unfortunately, just like in Titanic, my ship sank. I was laid off from a job with perceived and actual power (a rare combo), in a market that was just starting to get wobbly. Suitable job offers were about as easy to find as a virgin in the Playboy mansion. That was two years ago. I still have not found employment comparable to my days of "living life like it's golden." My biggest adversary: anger. I am afraid of going back to where I was. I am angry that I played by the rules and still lost the game. I want my old life, and better, back. Today I am balancing being grateful for the blessings I have, while being truthful about the anger and embarrassment I feel over all I've lost. The holiday season is especially rough, as my inner little girl wants to go to Toys R Us. As I ponder whether to gift or re-gift, shop or stop, spend or save, I have to remind my inner little girl that the holidays were never about the toys, and lecture that inner woman on the fact that she was never loved just because she could give someone a watch or designer bag. All of me has decided to accept two truths: My happiness was never tied to my ability to rock two-carat VVS studs and that my security is a state of mind, not due to having pseudo control. It's funny how the same thing can both motivate and limit us. This holiday season I can't afford to buy all the gifts I'd like to give. I am determined not to let that stop me from experiencing the one thing I forgot to include in my master plan: learning how to enjoy the moment in spite of it all.
Filed Under: Balancing Act
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