trouble & woe

It seemed like a good idea. She had been agitating for a raise and had reached an impasse with her board of directors. She had worked in non-profits for her entire career and had a narrow view of what kinds of jobs were appropriate for or attractive to her. But she needed to make more money, now that she was supporting a family. She worked full-time and her husband was home with their preschooler and their baby. The idea of working hard to make a higher income than she had ever considered, to be able to provide for them in a different way, was exciting, intoxicating even, once she opened her mind to it.

But the change was a really bold one. She was considering a leap from the frying pan that was running a local nonprofit into the raging fire of sales, working entirely on commission. She had never worked in sales before, and she had nagging doubts about her ability to pull this off. She had no money, no savings, no safety net at all. She and her young family were already living paycheck to paycheck. But she was reassured by the adage "everything is sales" and the fact that she was a schmoozer and a relationship-builder to the core. When they said she'd be running her own business, she yessed them, sure I will, of course I can, I'm a grown woman, a smart person, a lawyer, well-connected. I can do that.

So she did it, despite her nagging doubts. These people knew her situation, knew she was starting out with nothing and supporting her family, and still they thought she could do it. Despite the warnings of some friends and colleagues, and the cold shoulder of others; those people were being small, she said to herself. She said yes. After all, the people in charge said she was a rock star! They said she would shine! Of course she would. She was successful at everything she tried.

Almost immediately, the nagging doubts returned. Right away, she was required to contact everyone she ever knew to try to meet with them in her new capacity and try selling them the product. She burned through her address book quickly, and everyone wanted to meet with her, they were her friends and people liked her. But when she brought her new colleagues along as she was required, people weren't sold on the product. Her friends seemed tentative, suspicious even. Her new colleagues asked questions. Questions like What's wrong with you? Why do you not use your power? and Who hurt you?

Flustered by this line of questioning, she would go out into the world, attempting to be strong and powerful and sell the product. But the questioning made her wonder about herself and shook her. Several times a week, she would meet with colleagues in sessions that resulted in her questioning herself and feeling afraid. It became a badge of honor for her colleagues if she left such a meeting in tears. Good work! they would say. And then she would face the telephone, bucking herself up to be strong and confident to go into the world and sell the product. The truth was, she wasn't very good at this.

Within months, she could see she was failing. Although she achieved sales success celebrated by the company, her commission income was low and sporadic. She had to pay for family health insurance first, and that was expensive through the company. She started falling behind in the household bills. One month, she couldn't pay the rent. The next month, her car insurance was cancelled; but of course she needed her car to do her sales job. She became obligated to the company and her colleagues, who lent her money for basic living expenses. She stopped eating so that her children could eat. As the price of gas increased, and her commissions continued to be sporadic, she stopped drinking the kool-aid and started thinking about getting a real job. Not a "career," but an actual job, with salary and benefits.

Her colleagues recognized it right away; they saw that her allegiance had been broken. They became more aggressive in their questioning. Why are you allowing yourself to fail? What is wrong with you? What is wrong with your husband? Why is he not supportive? Is he on medication? Perhaps you should consider divorce? As ridiculous and maddening as those final questions were, she would later be thankful that they had asked them. Because it allowed her to stop second-guessing herself and see clearly that she was in the wrong place.

But she couldn't do this work and look for a job at the same time. This work required everything, it took all of her. It required her to present herself all the time in her sales capacity, to be "on" all the time. In order to save herself, she had to leave and switch gears to job-search mode. As she left, her colleagues asked her why she chose to fail. They asked her what was wrong with her and who hurt her. They asked her what she thought of them, and hoped she thought highly of them.

She went home and licked her wounds for a day or two. Then she began applying for every job she could find. Being self-employed in commission sales, she was ineligible for unemployment compensation. She was the breadwinner for her family, her husband and their two small children. Her baby, her baby was less than a year old when this nightmare began and she had barely seen her grow for the past year. And now, she couldn't feed her, any of them. She might not be able to keep them in their home. She owed money to everyone, every medical provider, everywhere. The company claimed that she owed them thousands of dollars in home office commission loans. But that was the least of her worries, she needed to find a source of income immediately.

As she spent every day applying for jobs and attending the occasional interview, she went to all of the temporary employment agencies to try to get any kind of work, any kind of income coming in. They all looked at her resume and said they didn't have many requests for placements at her level. She kept saying she would do any kind of job, she just needed income, but she never got calls for temporary jobs. She was simply unemployed. With no income. For a couple weeks, a few weeks, a month, then two months. She had never been unemployed for even a day, before.

For the first time in her life, she questioned herself. She wondered what her talents and skills were; what could she say she excelled at, had enthusiasm for? She faltered. She cried. She didn't sleep. She was tentative in conversation, and particularly in interviews; she didn't shine as she used to. She had been knocked down a notch, many notches. She had tried something and had completely failed. Not only did she not succeed in the career change, but she invested everything in it: all her money, her family relationships, her friendships, her trust, her credibility in the community. And most of all, her husband and children, their happiness and safety and their very lives. She gambled them, and she quite nearly lost. The bottom line was, she should have known better.

Eventually, she got a job. A good job for which she continues to be quite thankful. And what has stayed with her? Guilt and shame. Shaken as never before, she really has yet to recover.

My Indie Ink writing challenge this week is from Sir, who challenged me to "write about something that you thought was a good idea at the time, but later found it rapidly growing into a world of trouble and woe." All I can say is, FUCK.