A year ago today, I said goodbye to my old life as an HR executive. I remember it because my hands shook a little when I hit “publish”. I wasn’t sure whether I was being brave or stupid.
A year later, I’m still not 100% sure.
The thing about my old life was that I was a senior. Remember high school? Remember your senior year, when you knew everyone, knew the landscape, and knew your place in it? You may not have liked it, but you knew it. It was familiar.
HR was like that for me. I hated those corporate pantsuits the same way I hated my class of ’89 perm…but they were easy. I didn’t have to think about them. I’d been in HR for 14 years when I stopped, and most of the time, I didn’t feel like an idiot in my job. In fact, sometimes I felt pretty smart. I didn’t have to look stuff up. I pretty much knew what I was doing. Plus, there was a nice chunk of direct deposit every two weeks. It was safe, in the same way being a high school senior is safe…you know, sucky, but familiar-sucky.
Sometimes I miss that familiar-suckiness. I miss not feeling like a newbie freshman idiot. I miss not having to look everything up. I miss people not looking at me like I’m nuts when I tell them what I do for a living, or saying, “Really? People pay you for that?” and “Why would you give up your career for that?” and “But you’re going to get a real job again when the economy improves, right?” I miss knowing who’s who in the field and where the politics are and all that. It’s harder when you don’t know where the land mines are.
On the other hand…I’m a freshman! It’s all ahead of me. I’m like a kid who’s just starting out (except, you know, saggier). Remember when your career was new and fresh and you loved everyone and everything and it was all so exciting? I get to be there. I might be newbie idiot, but every day I get smarter. You don’t get that when you already know everything (or worse, you think you know everything and you don’t really want to learn more because you don’t like your job that much anyway). I’m excited to sit down to work every day. In fact, my biggest problem is that I don’t have enough time to do all the work I want to.
Last week I took my 3-year-old son downtown to a museum. Afterward, we had lunch in the cafeteria of the tallest building in Wisconsin, because he’s obsessed with skyscrapers. The tallest building in Wisconsin is only 42 stories high, so it’s not exactly a tourist destination, and as a result we were the only mom-and-kid couple there. Everyone else was a corporate type who had come down from a cubicle or office for lunch. I sat there with my son, eating my cafeteria pudding. I looked around at all of the business casual people sitting together, talking about the long meeting they’d just sat through, or the snippy voice mail they’d received, or the silly HR training they had to attend. They all had the look of the familiar-sucky. They didn’t look new, or fresh, or excited. They looked tired and resigned and overly-comfortable. They looked like they hadn’t learned anything new in a long, long time.
And my son said, “Mama, can we go home and do something brand new?” (That’s his thing lately—”brand new.” He’s a freshman too.)
And I realized how lucky I am, to be a freshman at 39. I don’t get direct deposit anymore…but I get “brand new” every day. I don’t have to stick with the familiar-sucky. I can choose something different. That’s the same scary choice many of our immigrant ancestors made (on a much, much larger scale).
Plus, this time around, I’m old enough to say no to the perm.
Photo by leahleaf