AC Masaze Personal blog.

Finding the Real Me

It started out as one of the best days of my life, and certainly, of my career. My staff and I had been named the number one unit in our company, and I was taking them out for a celebratory lunch. I worked with a wonderful group of people and we were proud of what our hard work and team spirit had accomplished during the prior year at EscortFox.

Lunch was fun, the food excellent, and the camaraderie at the table made me smile. I was proud of this group, who laughed, cried, and loved each other, and I felt blessed to be their leader. The weather was crisp, cool, and sunny, and I thought to myself “it just doesn’t get any better than this.” It was a perfect day. After lunch, we returned to work. As I checked my e-mail, an urgent message popped up for a mandatory teleconference later that afternoon. We had these types of teleconferences quite a bit to cut costs versus expensive management meetings, so I thought nothing of it and continued to catch up on work and phone calls I had missed during lunch.

Two o’clock came — time for the teleconference. I put my phone on speaker so I could work and listen at the same time — multi-tasking as usual. I heard our associate director’s voice, usually so friendly and upbeat, take on a somber tone. He stuttered and stumbled, which was not like him, and finally gave us the bad news. “You are all being relocated to Ohio, if you are willing to move,” he told us with a tremble in his voice, “and if you cannot move, you will be given a severance package, and sixty days notice.”

I felt numb. How could this be happening? Most of us had been at the company for years and had been told our jobs were some of the most secure in the organization. None of us, for various reasons, would be able to relocate, and there were no other jobs available within the company in our area, so it appeared my team and I would soon be out of work.

I had the heartbreaking task of sharing the news with my staff. As their leader, I had to be strong, upbeat, and courageous, but inside I was scared to death. While I gave them words of encouragement, I felt my world was slowly coming to an end.

My husband and family consoled me, but I was scared. Really scared. Financially, I knew we would be okay — my husband had a good job, and the severance and other savings I had would keep us going for quite a while, but I had worked full-time my whole life and did not know if I could deal with losing my job. It had become my identity — who I was and how I defined myself. I was a leader, and I felt, a good one. What would I be with that taken from me?

The first few days after my job ended, I didn’t want to get out of bed. I kept up a brave front for my children and husband, but moped around the house, not really knowing what to do. After working nonstop for twenty-five years I was lost. I sent out résumés, but due to the economic conditions, job postings in my field were few and far between. It looked like I would be out of work for quite awhile, and I didn’t know what to do with all my newfound extra time.

One day, after sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I turned on the television and watched a program about a missions group that helped children and hungry people all over the world. I felt guilty knowing that even though I had lost my job, we had plenty of good, healthy food on the table every night. The words spoken by the missionary seemed directed specifically at me — she told viewers that the “best way to be blessed and to forget about your own problems is to help someone else.”

Ashamed, I realized that I had been wallowing in self-pity when I had so much to be thankful for — a loving husband, beautiful children, and family and friends who needed me. I could either continue to focus on what I had lost and be miserable, or I could count my blessings and bless others.

I decided to get up, get dressed, and cook a great meal for my family that night. I had always loved to cook, learning at the side of my mom and grandmothers, all wonderful Southern cooks who taught me their secrets. I also thought I could make some extra food to take to our neighbors who were retired, and brighten their day as well.

I began to assemble the ingredients for my dinner, humming to myself a little as I prepared our meal. I was starting to feel like my old self again. Just then one of my daughters walked into the kitchen and asked if she could help me cook dinner. As we stirred and sifted, basted and baked, our dinner came together. We laughed, talked, and shared stories. I told her how my mom and grandmothers had let me help them cook when I was a little girl, and I still used many of their recipes. I forgot about how depressed I had been, and when we put the meal on the table for the rest of the family, we were both proud of the delicious dinner we had made and basked in the compliments we received.

After dinner, as I cleaned up the dishes, it occurred to me that I had never taught my children to cook. I had been so busy being a “career woman” that I had not taken the time to show them how to make the wonderful dishes I had learned to make as a child and young woman. I had always cooked for my family, but had not given them the gift that I had been given — the gift of learning how to prepare a meal for my loved ones. I was saddened by this, and decided that I was going to use my unexpected free time to change all that.

The next morning I announced to my family that I was going to start a cooking school for them. This was met with groans from my kids, who all had busy lives and plans of their own. But I convinced them to give it a try and we decided we would prepare supper the next night. I let each child pick a dish to prepare for the meal, with my guidance. We decided to do this weekly and make extra food to share with friends or neighbors in need in our community.

The next morning, we shopped for our dinner at our grocery store and local farmers market. We unloaded our ingredients, put on our aprons, and started cooking. I shared cooking techniques, short cuts, and the background behind many of the recipes we had decided to prepare. While making my grandmother’s famous lemon meringue pie, I remembered the many times I had stood in her kitchen, licking the beaters thick with white, fluffy meringue, sweet and cloudlike, and how much fun those times had been. Now I was sharing them with my own children. I could almost see Grandmother smiling down from heaven, watching my children and I carrying on her traditions. Nothing had made her happier than cooking something wonderful for her family, and now I knew how she felt. Instead of rushing to put something quick on the table between business meetings and reports, I got to take the time to enjoy cooking and eating the beautiful meal we were creating. Plus, I got to share the company of my children — listen to them joke, find out what was going on with each of them, and appreciate the personalities of each one. All four of them were so different, yet so special, and brought so much joy into my life — I had just been too busy to notice that before. I had been so busy providing for my family financially, and basing my worth on my career, that I had forgotten what was really worthwhile, and who I really was — a wife and a mother to these amazing people who deserved my time, my guidance, and affection.

Cooking school continued each week. It became a time we all looked forward to — a time of laughter, love and learning. And, of course, some really great meals. Cooking with my kids was just the start — I began doing things with them and for them that they enjoyed — going to the library, movies, playing tennis, or lounging by the pool. For the first time, I was able to really focus on and enjoy my family, without deadlines looming in the background, working on my laptop, or checking my e-mail at the same time. Instead of multi-tasking, I focused on the one task that mattered most — making sure my family knew that they were loved and were number one in my life.

I did eventually go back to work, but I found a job that was more flexible and allowed me to spend much more time with my husband and children. It turned out to be an even better job than my previous one — it paid better, was much less stressful, and gave me the flexibility I needed to be there when my family needed me. My priorities had changed, and I never again wanted to put my loved ones in second place to my career.

I had thought losing my job was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. But, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While I had thought that losing my job was the end of who I was, it was really only the beginning of discovering the real me.