Look at the picture above… it’s all smiles and fun! It was taken at work two years ago today. I’m the lady on the far right, and whilst I’m outwardly smiling and apparently having a great time, the truth is, scratch the surface and I was actually crying inside, desperately sad, and very fearful of my future.
You see, 28 years, 4 months and 16 days earlier, I had started my first (and only) full time job as a clerk in a bank. I had made many life long friends over the years, several of whom you’ll see in these photos, and I’d enjoyed countless social events, dated several male colleagues (almost married one!), been the subject of scandal and rumour (oh, what fun!), cried tears of laughter so many times, and most important of all absolutely LOVED my work! There were only 6 weeks of my working life at the bank where I was unhappy and I think that’s quite remarkable. I used to listen to colleagues moaning and griping about work processes, bosses, her over there, him in that corner… but I rarely felt obliged to agree with them.
So, on 3 November 2009 when we were summoned to a mass meeting to receive the announcement that our jobs were to be relocated to Birmingham and those staff who did not want to leave Essex for the West Midlands would be made redundant, quite simply, I was devastated.
My job, and everything that came with it, was my world. How would I cope? How would I start again? How would I manage without these amazing friends? Some of these people were my family – I spent more time with them than my family or my boyfriend, and had done so for almost 30 years.
There were so many unsettling thoughts and concerns. It seemed that those of us who had been there decades (as opposed to years) had the toughest time dealing with the news. People cried when the announcement was made. Even grown men cried. It was gut wrenching. Many people had families to support. I kept telling myself I was in a far better position financially than many of my colleagues. Single, no kids, no mortgage – just me to support – but still, it hurt, it scared me to the core. I had always felt safe and secure at the bank. My Dad used to say to me “It’s a good job – people will always need banks – you’ve got a job for life there!” Not so. How times change.
Rather cruelly, we weren’t told our leaving dates until just a few months prior. Therefore, the unsettlement of not having a date to aim or plan for was torture at times. The pain and fear just seemed to drag on and on, but the way I dealt with it was to turn it in to hope. “It’s not over ’til it’s over…” I’d say to myself, hoping the ‘big wigs’ would realise in the nick of time what a huge mistake they were making by letting their most experienced staff go – “maybe they’ll reverse their plans, and keep their dynamite employees after all.”
As my leaving date grew closer I found myself wanting to spend every opportunity at work. If there was overtime being offered, I wanted to do it. Not for the money (although that was naturally a bonus) but because it gave me more time in the place I loved, doing the work I loved, with the people I loved. For several months I started work at 7am (instead of 9am) and left at 5pm. Rather than leave the building in my lunch hours, I often chose to sit at my desk and read. It felt like someone I dearly loved was dying and I wanted to be by their side until their last breath was drawn.
During my last month I remember thinking, “4 weeks to go…”, “3 weeks to go…”, “2 weeks to go…”, “1 week to go…”, then “5 days to go…,” and so on until I was counting down the hours. On my very last day, I wanted to stay as long as possible and couldn’t understand why others just wanted to get out as quickly as they could. I had anticipated leaving at 3pm, but in reality, very prematurely it was midday.
Leaving the building for the final time was harsh. I realised I’d never step through those revolving doors again, never see the inside of the lifts again, walk those stairs or use those toilets again, never call out “Morning Team!” with a big smile as I arrived for work… things I used to take for granted but would have given anything to do again (still would).
Stepping outside the office block was like stepping in to the world of the unknown. Many people felt as free as birds. Not me. I felt trapped in my ‘uncomfortable’ zone.
Waking up on my first morning of unemployment was incredibly unsettling. I had allowed myself six months of freedom to do anything I wanted until the end of summer and then I intended to look for a job. But from day 1 I felt consumed with guilt for not working. I couldn’t just relax and enjoy six months off – my brain and conscience weren’t having it! I chose not to ‘sign on’ at the Job Centre. I was entitled to benefits for 6 months but knew that if I signed on, I’d be accountable to them until I signed off. I needed complete freedom in order to get my head around the trauma which had just shaken my world off its axis.
The wonders of Facebook allowed me windows in to the lives of my ex-colleagues. I watched as one after another found work. The initial jubilation and relief was noted in their statuses but after most of them started their new jobs, I either read or sensed their sadness. Very few were happy. It was, and still is, very sad to watch the disappointment and frustration evolve in their lives. I just want everyone to be happy.
I’ve applied for close to 150 jobs in 2 years and had about 8 interviews. I put it down to being in the older age bracket that most companies don’t want me. They see how long I worked at the bank and do the arithmetic. “She must be in her late 40s”, I’m sure more than a few have thought or said this. In their eyes I surely can’t be ambitious “at that age”? Only the youngsters have great ambition after all. I’ve not wanted anything particularly challenging – just something productive that keeps my mind active, and a nice bunch of people in a friendly office. They’re my only requirements. The job market is virtually dry.
I’ve kept focussed by writing, editing, publishing, and now marketing my novel THE MAN IN A HAYSTACK. It’s a huge achievement and one I promised my colleagues I’d see through to the end when I left the bank. I’m very proud. It’s not paying the bills though. I’d like to write for a living and a sequel is in progress however in reality it won’t bring in the money unless it turns in to a best seller or is picked up for a movie… dreaming is good, it’s positive and transfers in to hope, no matter how remote the possibility is.
I’m in the process of making enquiries and considering renting out my house in order to create an income. I never dreamt when the redundancy announcement was made 3.5 years ago that I’d be thinking of giving up my beloved home. Life has its twists and turns, ups and downs… part of me is excited for the future and wonders where it’s all leading. Another big part of me is fearful and wonders how much longer I will feel unsettled and have to keep drawing on my savings each month to survive.
Everything happens for a reason though! It does… truly! That is my moto in life. There are lessons to be learnt in everything that happens even if we can’t see the point at the time. All will become clear eventually and bad times do not last forever. Hope sees us through the toughest times and I have an abundance of it if anyone wants a hand out!
Until next time…