My Plan B Nation story — and ours

rock climbing is fun!

There are times you look back and say: “Why was I so freaked out? That wasn’t such a big deal.”

And there are times you look back and say: “I can’t believe I did that.”

The past few months put me squarely in the lat­ter camp. I feel a bit as if I’ve doggedly scaled a steep and treach­er­ous incline. Peer­ing down from the sum­mit, my stom­ach flips as I gauge the pre­cip­i­tous drop, the jagged rocks below.

Metaphors aside, here are the facts: Over the course of about six weeks – mid-August to late Sep­tem­ber – I applied for and accepted a full-time job, packed up my two-bedroom-with-basement rental in west­ern Mass, found a new apart­ment in Boston (and this was in Sep­tem­ber when, as real­tors repeat­edly told me, EVERYTHING is gone), moved, and started the afore­men­tioned job. Oh, and I also defended a case in hous­ing court and began teach­ing a weekly sem­i­nar at UMass Amherst, a solid four-hour roundtrip from where I now live. Not sur­pris­ingly, I’ve yet to unpack, and my apart­ment resem­bles a cross between a pre-renovation Bram­ford (shout-out to Rosemary’s Baby fans) and a hoarder’s stor­age unit.

Given the level of ambi­ent chaos, it’s also not sur­pris­ing that this blog went silent in early Sep­tem­ber. I was last heard from on Sep­tem­ber 9, when I wrote about los­ing 20 pounds on the stress-induced Blow-Up-Your-Life Diet. And as I’ve stum­bled through the early stages of life in a new neigh­bor­hood – How do I reg­is­ter to vote? Where is the clos­est dry cleaner? And, per­haps most impor­tantly, where do I get good cof­fee? – I’ve felt that I sim­ply don’t have the band­width to blog as well.

I say “felt” because it recently struck me that there’s more to it than this. It’s not just that I’ve been crazy busy, though that’s cer­tainly true. It’s also that I’ve lost my sto­ry­line, the iden­tity that’s defined me.

Hard as unem­ploy­ment was (and it was plenty hard), it ulti­mately launched me into a new life – and a new iden­tity. As I chron­i­cled my expe­ri­ence of the Great Reces­sion, first in Salon here and here and later on this blog, I found new sources of mean­ing and new sources of pride.The per­son I became was braver and stronger than the per­son I’d been. She was also a more con­fi­dent writer and a more com­pas­sion­ate per­son. “I’m the poster girl for fail­ure!” I quipped to a friend some months back. But by then I didn’t mean fail­ure as fail­ure: I meant fail­ure as a kind of suc­cess – fail­ure as the path to a life no less rich for hav­ing been unchosen.

Last month, in a piece on the New York Times Moth­er­lode blog, K.J. Dell’Antonia reflected on the chal­lenges of stay-at-home par­ents seek­ing to return to the work­force. Not hav­ing kids myself, it’s some­thing I likely wouldn’t have read, except for the fact that K.J. kindly pointed read­ers to this blog, sug­gest­ing that they might ben­e­fit from think­ing about work issues in a broader con­text. To par­ents feel­ing regret for deci­sions made years ear­lier, she offered these wise words: “It’s not just that ‘what’s done is done,’ but that the way you really feel about your years and choices is col­ored by your cur­rent discouragement.”

I can think of no more impor­tant reminder. Where we are now is not where we’ll be in a week or a month or a year. Even when changes are mostly pos­i­tive, as mine have been lately, find­ing the new story takes time. In any big tran­si­tion – and being on my sec­ond in the past four years and my [insert large num­ber here] since col­lege, I feel I can speak with some author­ity – a crit­i­cal piece involves mak­ing sense of the unfold­ing plot­line. Who am I, now that I’m no longer the Har­vard grad-turned-chronicler-of-unemployment? Who am I, now that I’m back in the work­force and trans­planted back to Boston? I am the per­son I was before, plus the per­son I became dur­ing those years, plus the per­son I’m becom­ing. What is her story?

That’s what I’m fig­ur­ing out now.

© 2012, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

15 thoughts on “My Plan B Nation story — and ours

  1. Funny, Amy, I never thought of you as just the unem­ployed Har­vard Law grad blog­ger. I love your blog — and your writ­ing — because it’s really about the quest for val­i­da­tion, accep­tance, self-identity, and achieve­ment that we wage with and against our­selves daily. And whether tilt­ing at wind­mills from the false com­fort of a home you’ll soon leave or from behind the desk of an office you’ll soon love/hate, the jour­ney con­tin­ues. I hope you con­tinue to blog and write for other pub­li­ca­tions — in your “spare” time. We need your voice.

    • What lovely and affirm­ing words, Car­olyn — and also really help­ful and insight­ful, as I chart my course in this new phase of life. I really appre­ci­ate the refram­ing, much food for thought there — all of which is likely to find its way into future posts!
      amy gut­man recently posted…My Plan B Nation story — and oursMy Profile

  2. Delighted to hear from you again! I look for­ward to hear­ing about what unfolds. I par­tic­u­larly relate to your “fail­ure as a kind of suc­cess,” which, for dif­fer­ent rea­sons than you, is what’s hap­pened to me over the course of blog­ging about my search for a new def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess.
    Hope recently posted…Val­i­da­tion, Suc­cess, and MoiMy Profile

  3. Amy — you took the words right out of my mouth. Well, and you made them sound bet­ter than they would have if I had writ­ten them. I’m feel­ing the same thing just com­ing back down to earth from my own major change (decid­ing the travel lifestyle isn’t actu­ally what I wanted.) Cheers to new episodes!
    Sarah recently posted…What Story Are You Try­ing to Live?My Profile

  4. I appre­ci­ate the self-compassion and wis­dom of let­ting things emerge with­out labels or judg­ment until you see what you have. Last week I had an emo­tional cri­sis right as a big project was com­pleted. I was hav­ing a hard time fig­ur­ing out why I was so emo­tional. A friend helped me out –my chal­lenge was ambiva­lence about chang­ing my iden­tity. The change brought up sto­ries from the past that were painful — but also that hap­pened to a per­son who is no longer me. And the per­son I am today will be dif­fer­ent next week, bet­ter able to fill the dif­fer­ent shoes I am stand­ing in today. So I am try­ing to have com­pas­sion and truly appre­ci­ate your blog post­ing. Very help­ful Amy! PS: when in a tough place, bring out the chicken purse at least in pri­vate. It’s such a funny purse, it’s bound to make you laugh!
    Alle­gra Jor­dan recently posted…The Joy­ful LawyerMy Profile

  5. That sen­tence: “the way you feel about your years and your choices is col­ored by your present dis­cour­age­ment” really res­onated with me, too, as I sit in a rapidly con­tract­ing finan­cial indus­try wait­ing to be laid off (only a mat­ter of when this will hap­pen, not if). I regret the career choices I made all those years ago (“why didn’t I stay in the aca­d­e­mic world?” “Why didn’t I get a law degree?”). Hang­ing onto your sense of self while nav­i­gate career tran­si­tions, even pos­i­tive ones, are very impor­tant. You con­tinue to give me a lot to reflect on, Amy, as I try to come up with what I want to do next.

  6. So authen­tic and pow­er­ful. Any­one who is going through a tran­si­tion can res­o­nant with what you wrote, Amy. The lit­tle details of a change, the big pic­ture issues of iden­tity. They are all impor­tant, and you’ve given voice to not only your expe­ri­ence but that of so many oth­ers. And hear­ing a voice sim­i­lar to our own, is a very, very sup­port­ive expe­ri­ence, indeed.

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