this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on october 19, 2006.
LABELS, LABELS, LABELS. LIFE IS FULL OF LABELS.
You’re labeled according to class, race and religion. But one of the biggest tags in life is your job. Haven’t you noticed that when you are introduced to someone at a party or at a club, the first question he asks isn’t where you go to church or where you were born, but what you do for a living? Which isn’t surprising because as Jessica Guidobono advised, “A job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence.”
I was job-tagged early on. Way back in high school, I was dubbed as “the next Oprah Winfrey.” That was because aside from being a huge Oprah fan, I loved to talk and I could gab about a multitude of topics in a span of minutes. And I loved being in front of crowds and performing before audiences. Plus, I had a flair for writing, and I enjoyed working on my classmates’ papers.
So, I knew exactly what I would do with my life: I was going to be a talk show host! And the logical first step was to work for a television station.
Soon after graduation from college, I landed my dream job and absolutely loved it. I was hired as a production assistant, which meant that I had to do all sorts of odd tasks and got the perks and the adventure.
Work took up my days and nights, my time and my energy. It was a 24/7 relationship. I gave it my all, and it gave me my wages, good training and experience. Which made perfect—until the day the ax fell.
I had heard the whispering left and right, but I really didn’t pay much attention to it. Heck, I worked for a TV station, so chismis abounded in the workplace. Then my bosses called for me and didn’t mince a word in telling me my contract had been terminated. I froze like a popsicle and felt like 10 million knives had being stuck in my chest, all at the same time. In a stupor, I excused myself.
After I lost my job, I must have gone through a million emotions—anger, helplessness, a desire for revenge, among them—but what blanketed all of them was an overwhelming and lingering sense of emptiness. I tried to fill myself by bingeing on food and booze, but my emotional void remained.
Plus, I have to admit, I let my job label me. I became Jamie the production assistant, when it fact I was also Jamie the sister, the daughter, the friend, the fan, and that was why I felt so empty inside when I lost my job.
But after several days and nights of bumming, I told myself I had to come to my senses some time. I made a post-pity-party plan called “Operation: Put Yourself Together.’’
The first step was examining the state of my finances. How long could I realistically stay unemployed? I categorized things into: necessities, like food and water; nice things to have, which were luxuries, like shoes and makeup; and obligations, which were things I had to pay for like cell phone bills. I stuck religiously to the necessities and obligations, and steered clear of shop windows.
Next, I caught up with my family and friends, people I had callously left out of my loop while I was working, and listened to what they had to say about my plight. From them I learned never to underestimate the value of an outside perspective—it can help save your sanity!
Third, I made a list of “things I had always wanted to do but never had the time to do,” and ended up with a whole array of activities. I went go-kart racing, saw all the Pinoy and French Indie films I had always wanted to critique, cleaned up my room, rewrote my resume, and surfed the Net daily to keep abreast of the latest news and look for writing tips.
Of course, I also did the inevitable “girl thing’’ of making the big physical changes reserved for the worst break-ups: I had my hair cut and cellophaned.
It was time to come to terms with my past and I had to ’fess up to myself. I replayed the entire job shindig in my mind and wrote down the fabulous things I had done and my apparent fumbles, and organized them in a chart. Grasping the entire experience in one hand, I realized that I couldn’t entirely blame the other party for the “break-up.” It was a two-way street. While I dismissed my bosses’ misgivings about me, I came upon a couple of bare truths: every single day I was so focused on the end of the journey—the talk show, the riches, the fame—that I let go of the here and now and how each day could add to my learning and enhance my skills. Like what my favorite rocker JD Fortune once said: “Sometimes the best way to find what you are looking for is to stop looking for it. By this, I mean, the answers are usually within us and the harder we try to look ahead, the further we get from what’s right in front of us.”
Plus, I have to admit, I let my job label me. I became Jamie the production assistant, when it fact I was also Jamie the sister, the daughter, the friend, the fan, and that was why I felt so empty inside when I lost my job. In today’s world of merging, downsizing and finite positions, change is inevitable. The relationships you have outside your workplace help you to become a wholly rounded person, and you learn from each and everyone you deal with.
Today, without my dream job, I am quite happy. A career path has many branches, and maybe the TV limb just wasn’t meant for me. I am enjoying every step that my life takes me, always open to learning new things and creating perfect balances, knowing that ultimately the only person who can label me is myself.