My Plan B Nation story — and ours

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.

Copyright © Amy Gutman. All rights reserved.

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

  1. I too was sur­pris­ed that this blog went really silent in early Sep­tem­ber. I was thinking if youll ever update it. I was really happy when I you posted a new post. Glad you keep on writing.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

    • Thanks, Hope! And yes, just read your post, and we are definitely reflecting on similar issues. As I said in my comment there, that’s always so fun to see!

  4. 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!

    • Thank you, Sarah! I’ve been following your journey and completely identify with where you are right now. Now that you’re back on the East Coast, I hope to catch up some time soon. In the meantime, best of luck to us both!

  5. 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!

    • It sounds like you’re describing exactly what I was writing about, Allegra. For me, just the seeing of it can be really helpful. And yes, the chicken purse could definitely have a role here! :-)

  6. 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.

    • Glad you liked it, Lisa! That post K.J. wrote has a lot of good stuff in it in addition to that great quote — definitely worth reading as you mull these issues.

  7. 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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