I am so happy to share this story written by an anonymous submitter with the initials JW. This story sounds do familiar to me as I am on my own journey to seek a career that suits me best.
I wish I could remember what I wanted to be growing up when I was five. I have no recollection. I know that I’ve wanted to be about a million different things including but not limited to a doctor, an FBI agent, an opera singer, and a forensic pathologist. Mind you, I contemplated each of these before I was 12. I was kind of a weird kid.
Doctor was the profession that stuck however, and eventually morphed into veterinarian once I got to high school and spent some time shadowing a local vet. But veterinary medicine is a really challenging area of study that requires a level of dedication that I just didn’t have at age 18. In my college years, I was more devoted to the social arena. I struggled in general chemistry but exceled in Greek life. Realizing this quite early on, I changed my major to sociology, with an eye on law school. I figured I’d be a good lawyer given my love of both reading and arguing.
But after four years, I wasn’t really feeling law school either. My grades weren’t good enough to get in to a decent school for starters. I also had very little interest in three more years of classes, textbooks, and exams. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I landed ass-backwards into a career in finance.
I had been working part-time at a huge international investment bank as a sort of paid intern since the middle of my junior year. I had a nightly batch processing job and would pick up extra hours in accounting and documentation as often as possible. To my immense surprise, I loved working at an investment bank. I didn’t really understand any of what was going on in terms of the proprietary trading business of which I was a part, but I could run the necessary computer programs and perform basic ledger accounting. I liked the office environment. I really liked the money. So I thought, why not get a banking job?
And now, nearly nine years later, I am holed up in the sitting room of a French café in Hoboken, NJ, unemployed and somewhat adrift. I was laid off from my last financial services job eight months ago, my second layoff in less than two years. My unemployment benefits ran out two months ago. My fiancé and I had planned to be married this coming fall but as of two days ago, the wedding is on hold since just finding a way to pay the rent has become an increasingly creative process. It’s an interesting time to say the least.
I am trying to find things to be grateful for and to be clear, there is no shortage. My fiancé and I are thankfully healthy. So far, we’ve been able to pay our rent, utilities, and car expenses. We do not have children that we have to fret over. We are very lucky and I know this. That being said, it still totally sucks to be out of work and financially flailing.
Being unemployed allows a lot of time for reflection. I sometimes want to kick myself for leaving my original firm, where I had security if not a lot of upward mobility, for a French firm that was offering me a fat 20% raise and more exposure. That French firm laid me off after 15 months, albeit with a pretty good separation package, after it took some heavy losses in a trading scandal. I know that if I had not left my original bank, I would never have been laid off but I also don’t think I would have made much progress in the way of career advancement if I had stayed either. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have met my fiancé, for whom I am beyond grateful to have in my life.
After experiencing my first layoff in my career at the hands of the French in December 2011, I spent five long months searching for a new job. At the time, the financial industry was still smarting and though recovery seemed imminent, budgets and headcounts had not caught up to the optimism. I did eventually land a spot at European investment bank through a friend. I spent the next 14 months commuting over four hours daily for that job, working for a person that I can only describe as a verbally abusive psychological terrorist. In that time, besides losing all time to work out and take care of myself, I became anxiety ridden and prone to panic attacks, both of which I had to eventually be medicated for. On the day that I returned from the vacation during which I had gotten engaged, I was unceremoniously given the boot. I had six weeks to find a new internal or external role before I would be dismissed with the biggest joke of a severance allowance I’ve ever heard of.
Despite the fact that this second layoff could not really have come at a more inopportune time, it was almost merciful. That job was killing my spirit and I was going to leave it for the first thing that came along, anyway. I will say that this firm was very generous in allowing me to interview all over Creation during my redundancy, and interview I did. I must have visited 5 or 6 different firms over that period of time, making it through three rounds of interviews on more than one occasion, only to be ultimately passed over. Once I got to the fall, I knew that the odds of landing a new job before January were slim to none since financial institutions usually freeze hiring in the last quarter of the year.
Out of a combination of desperation and boredom, I decided to put out a flyer on Facebook to see if anyone was looking for a nanny. A sorority sister of mine got in touch and introduced me to a former colleague of hers that was looking for an after school sitter for his plucky six year old daughter. I eagerly leapt at the opportunity and after a few tentative meetings, the little girl warmed to me. We developed a playful and loving rapport. I picked up another gig as a mother’s helper for a friend of a friend with two small children under two. I looked forward to every meeting that I had scheduled with each of the families. For the first time in many years, I had a job that I truly loved.
I guess that my gigs as a nanny drop me more in the ‘underemployed’ bucket than the ‘unemployed’ bucket. I feel unemployed only in the sense that I don’t go to an office for 50 hours a week. I feel underemployed only in the sense that I am making a small fraction of what I was bringing home when I was working full-time in finance. However, my work with these families is so much more important. I feel far more satisfied and fulfilled with them than I think I ever did in banking. I’ve bonded with these children. I not only adore spending time with them, I truly love them. The aforementioned plucky six year old is going to be a flower girl in my wedding, whenever it actually takes place. The baby boy that I watch is now affectionately known as my ‘boyfriend’ and I, his ‘baby whisperer’, being that he instantly quiets in my arms. I have more pictures of these kids on my phone than I do of my own family. These people need me and I need them.
So, what now? On one hand, I do miss working in an office, getting dressed up in a suit and heels to speak to clients or colleagues about subjects in which I am an expert. I also sorely miss and definitely could use that comfy salary that I would likely be making again should I find a new role in finance.
But on the other hand, what if that is really not what I’m meant to do? I was able to use spare time on my days off from nannying to consult on a writing project as a freelancer and I absolutely loved it. It reignited my passion for writing, something I had always enjoyed doing but never thought I could really turn into a career. I had also started crafting a lot to pass the time (thanks Pinterest) and have made a sort of tradition out of sending a custom made onesie to every friend of mine that has had a baby. Maybe I’m meant to be a nanny-slash-writer with an Etsy onesie business on the side? I am at a strange impasse.
So now I’m continuing to nanny as much as I can while simultaneously job-hunting, writing, and crafting in my free time. I am trying to find my true life’s work. I no longer want to simply work in a job because the pay is good or because it impresses people when I tell them about it over cocktails (which if I’m honest, was a major point of pride for me pre-layoffs). Perhaps it’s that I’m growing up and my priorities are shifting. I don’t know. I just know that I want to live a life that feels good. I want a job that allows me to contribute in a real way to the improvement or enrichment of others while still eking out a decent enough living to have a family of my own.
Where this path will lead me, I do not know. All I know is that I am looking forward to finding out. And also, I might have to up the dosage on my anti-anxiety meds. But in the long run, I think that’s a worthwhile price to pay.