People who know me will probably tell you that I’m a pretty strong-willed person. I don’t tend to put up with much crap. I’m well organized and pride myself on being able to deal with most of my problems and challenges on my own. Depending on your perspective, this either makes me a valued colleague and friend or an insufferable pain in the ass.
Part of it comes from having taking risks in business and in my personal life, and having them work out (with a few notable exceptions. Most of it, though, has its origins in childhood, when Responsibility and Self Reliance were the watchwords of the day. Pick yourself up and solve your own problems. Don’t wait for a hero to ride in and save the day.
My husband is a lot like me. This is a second marriage for both of us. After years of bothering our now ex-spouses who really didn’t “get” us (but appreciated our value as breadwinners), we are now in a true partnership of equals. Together, we have accomplished a lot personally and professionally, and enjoyed the sort of romance that, had it happened to anyone else, would have made me insanely jealous.
While we’re very close in many ways, he has cultivated my sense of self-reliance. We’re a great team, but we do our best as a team when we draw on our individual strengths to meet a common goal. In general, I enjoy the sense of mastery and control that comes with self-reliance. I know that I can deal with most problems on my own, which is a good thing, as I am truly reluctant to ask for help.
This Monday, though, I met my match. I was laid off after more than two decades with my employer and over three decades in my career in corporate America.
In typical modern fashion, this transaction was just as depicted in the George Clooney film, “Up in the Air”. You’re called into a conference room, given the bad news by your boss and a toady from “Human Resources”, handed your packet of termination materials, and told that today will be your last day. Oh, and turn in your laptop, BlackBerry and all other company-issued items on your way out. Need any boxes?
If only all our other company meetings had been this efficient, there’s no telling what we could have achieved.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise. Hundreds of my colleagues have been on the chopping block, tossed into the volcano by desperate managers to in a futile attempt to appease the gods of Wall Street. Even though it wasn’t a surprise, and even though life at work has been extremely trying of late, it still hurt, a lot.
One day, you’re a valued employee; the next you’re dead meat.
After spending that afternoon packing up my belongings, sorting out 10 years of personal and business files on my laptop, handing off information to colleagues who would be carrying on my mission, and otherwise trying to eliminate all traces of myself, I finally drove home, exhausted. I had reassured all the people stopping by to say goodbye that I’d be okay, but I felt anything but okay at that moment.
First order of business: I needed a cell phone and a computer, pronto! Here is where being married to an alpha geek really pays off. My husband quickly researched everything, figured out the best combination of value, price, availability, and suitability for our future needs. He set everything up to run smoothly, helped me figure out how to function, and I was quickly up and running.
After spending Tuesday awash in a mix of self-pity, disbelief, outrage, and relief at finally being free of what was really a very emotionally draining work environment, I awoke on Wednesday with my new plan to start my own consulting business.
I’d been contemplating this as a transition into retirement. Now, unencumbered by a day job and buoyed by a summer’s worth of severance and unused vacation pay (and the very good fortune of having been on my husband’s medical and dental plans), I now had the latitude to get moving.
My husband, a veteran of a similar endeavor many years ago, was fully supportive of this plan while mercifully resisting the urge to micromanage my planning process.
While I love him for stepping up to help me in my Week From Hell, that’s not what makes him my hero.
It’s all the little things that he does every single day to see to my happiness, my health, and my financial security. It's all the things he does to ensure that the future we imagine will someday come to pass. It’s all the ways that he shows me that he believes in me, and that there are no limits to the things he’d do for me... even if I don't ask.
That's a very special hero indeed.