A year ago I was in a very difficult place in my life. I’ve wanted to blog about it but also knew that I needed to allow the grieving process time to run its course. I think — hope — I can broach this subject now without bitterness or anger and my thoughts can be used to help someone else who may be experiencing similar circumstances. I’ll also need to explain why I would include such thoughts in the same post as images from Jim Scott’s Garden on Lake Martin! But it does all come together.
In the Spring of 2014 I received one of the greatest shocks of my life. The people for whom I had worked for over twenty years decided to terminate my position. Without warning, I was told the position would not be renewed for the 2014-2015 year. Now, prior to this happening, I had no empathy for people who’d lost their jobs. My philosophy was always, “Just get over it. This is life. Go out and find something else. What’s the big deal?” Little did I know that one may actually experience all the stages of grief after losing a job. Think about it. Something you thought you were called to do and worked hard at for years is suddenly gone. No matter how many times they say, “It was a purely financial decision,” that’s not really what you hear. What you hear is, “You are expendable. What you contribute to this organization is not worth saving — not worth our effort to try to work something out.” You begin to question yourself and your worth, wondering what you did wrong or what you could do better; wondering if you’d been a burden to others when you thought all along you were contributing to the mission; had people really been talking about how lousy you were behind your back but no one would confront you.
I’d always thought I would dance out the door when I was ready to retire. Instead, I left before I was ready to retire with my world turned upside down. I was embarking upon the journey through grief. A journey which I hope has left me a more sympathetic and kind person.
I won’t enumerate the stages of grief as they are well documented elsewhere. I will just point out a few things I’ve learned in the last year about losing a job in case you or someone you know is walking through this process now. First, don’t be surprised by the grief. I was. I had no idea you could grieve over losing a job. I’d never lost one before. Just allow yourself time to work through the process and hang on for the ride. Just because we intellectually know we are grieving doesn’t really speed up the process. It does take at least a year to work through it, especially if you don’t immediately find another job you love. I turned my part-time photography business into a full-time endeavor, but I still had to work through the self-doubt and hurt. Second, one of the best things I (accidentally) did was pursue a health-related goal. Working two jobs for years left me little time for physical pursuits. I joined the YMCA and started swimming laps. I set a goal of swimming 1/2 mile 3-5 mornings a week. It took me several months to work up to that, but when I did I gained self-confidence and have loved the health benefits of regular exercise. I chose to swim early in the morning so I would be up and ready to tackle the day. I didn’t want to fall into the “sleep late and stay in your pajamas most of the day” habit. Third, resist the temptation to defend yourself. This is the one thing I would do differently. I was so hurt I wanted everyone to know how much I’d been wronged. I really, really wish I’d kept my mouth shut and let the Lord take care of it. I think by trying to explain and defend I made friends very uncomfortable and put them in a bad situation. I was so ready and willing to defend myself that I left the Lord little room to jump in on my behalf.
A thought for those in a hiring/firing position: I’d love to see organizations allow only people who have lost jobs they love in a position to make the decisions about who is “terminated” and especially how it is handled. I would dare say that most people in a hiring/firing position don’t have a clue how much it hurts emotionally and financially. The implications for insurance, retirement, financial security and self-esteem are just tremendous. It’s like when Joe Fox in You’ve Got Mail tells Kathleen Kelly that it wasn’t personal that he put her bookstore out of business. Kathleen replies, “What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?… Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
The final thought is for those who have friends who have lost a job: I can’t tell you how much handwritten notes meant to me. I knew they took time and effort and were sincere. It was so very, very nice to know that someone would miss me! Emails were meaningful, too. I will never forget those people who took the time to reach out to me and show support.
So, what does this have to do with images from Jim Scott’s Garden on Lake Martin? Shortly after I received the bad news, I had the opportunity to go to there on a photo field trip. I used the time to reflect and make decisions about what I would do. It was a marker or turning point — a place where one life would end and another would begin. So when I had an opportunity to go back this year I used it to make another mental marker. A place where I acknowledged that the time for grieving was over. I’ve survived the year with a few bumps and a lot of growing pains. But I have survived. As a close friend observed, I’ve started to gain some traction in my life. I could not have done so without my wonderful family, friends and clients. And the Lord has blessed me and my business. So, I will continue to walk in this path until he leads me elsewhere. And I will enjoy every day that He gives me life because of who I am in Him — not because of any circumstances that I find myself in. So here are a few of my favorite images from my second day in Jim Scott’s Garden. This will always be a special place to me and I am so grateful that he opens it up to the Capital City Camera Club one day each year.
DiAnna Paulk is an award-winning Certified Professional Photographer specializing in weddings and portraiture in Montgomery, Alabama and the River Region (Montgomery, Prattville, Wetumpka, Millbrook).
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