What you have outside you counts less than what you have inside you.

B.C. Forbes

I didn’t know what hit me. I was standing in Human Resources when they told me I was laid off. The company, they said, is changing business direction. Stunned and confused, I went home and stared at the ceiling. One minute I was angry, the next sad. Mostly I was confused. I just didn’t get it! For weeks I was stuck on the “why” and couldn’t seem to move to “What’s next?”

It was hard to reconcile it all. I was promoted twice in five years, performed beyond expectations, and they said I had a bright future – but all the mistakes! They were flashing before me. Add to that, as I grew up most people worked at one company for life. The idea of being “let go” created a wall of shame I didn’t know how to manage. The hardest part was I suddenly had nowhere to belong, and I didn’t know how to fit into my own life. Really, I didn’t know who I was at my center.

Aware I was making the mistake of taking this personally, I came to see that I was making an even bigger mistake – fusing my very identify with my job title. This false belief was what ripped up my core and caused me so much confusion. I simply didn’t know who I was without my title. In my mind, I went from Brenda Griffin, “Senior Somebody at Swanky Firm,” to Brenda “Who?” from “Unemploymentville.”

Thankfully, all that changed in an instant at an Air and Waste Management (AWMA) dinner meeting.

A former boss had reached out. Knowing I needed to network, Lydia invited me to join her on a committee she chaired for AWMA. That way, I could start making contacts and be seen and known. Over time I started feeling good about belonging somewhere, yet I was still bruised by the layoff. My self-esteem was flat and the shame lingered. I continued to believe I needed a title to be somebody. Then came the first AWMA dinner meeting.

I sat at the table enjoying the company of my colleagues when the ritual started. Everyone stands and introduces themselves one by one, by name, title and organization! I sat there paralyzed. I wanted to run but it was too late – I could feel my heart skipping. I could sense my voice was about to crack and I wasn’t sure I could form any words. My mind was racing. “What should I say?” “How will they respond?” “Do I belong here?”

Then, in the middle of this anxiety and confusion, a miracle happened – clarity prevailed!

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. -Eleanor Roosevelt

I saw the truth. I could simply be proud of who I was as a person. I had the power to lower the wall of shame. I was free to focus on the present and look forward to my future – my what’s next!

As my turn approached, I took a deep breath, and found strength in my voice. I stood up, smiled, gazed around the room and introduced myself to my peers. “My name is Brenda Griffin.”

For everyone else, the moment surely passed without notice. For me, I suddenly knew in my core that who I am, and my value as a person, has nothing to do with a job title.

Over the years, my roles and titles have come and gone. My mistakes still happen, and they still flash before me. Still that moment of clarity stays with me – I am Brenda Griffin.

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