Part One: Will I Make It?

Death by a Thousand Cuts

I was laid off from my VP marketing job when I was late in my mid-50s. I worked at a community bank that was positioning itself for sale, and to cut expenses, guess who was the first to go?

Right. The marketing department. We’re marched to the chopping block in uncertain times, which for me is about every four years. I have the scars to prove it.

I was just six months shy of qualifying for a pension and being fully vested in my stock options. The bastards.

This was a common occurrence in my professional life. I’m a risk taker who accepts positions that offer the most challenge. I like to watch things grow because of the rain I make. I didn’t see it as “rolling the dice.” I saw it as, “the greater the risk, the greater the rewards.”

And when I set a goal, I’m relentless until I achieve it. Which is good and bad, depending on how you look at it.

I saw myself as a courageous hero on a quest for the impossible dream. I was Dana Quixote, savior of the underdog. It was both romantic and foolhardy. I worked with tech startups, fledgling community banks, struggling ad agencies and others who needed a big boost in lead generation and brand awareness.

Well, they got it. And after four years, I “got it.” The axe, that is.

In truth, even when I nailed it in my marketing and PR roles, I wasn’t able to control the company destiny. I picked bad horses. Plus, the world can be a hard place.

So here I was, in my late 50s, divorced, penniless, no prospects, and seriously depressed. Thank goodness for unemployment insurance, which allowed me to pay rent for the next six months.

Before I had taken this last VP marketing job, I had been unemployed for almost two years. (The previous job was for a startup with a mission I really believed in.) I did hundreds of interviews and applied for hundreds more with no success — death by a 1,000 cuts.

Clearly, it was ageism. There’s no doubt about it — and I’m writing a speech about it for diversity conferences because it’s an awful fate to endure if you’re looking for a good job, and people have to stop being in denial about it.

Additionally, I had 25 years of experience in executive positions, so I was judged as “overqualified.” Oh, and I’m an aging woman. Have I mentioned that one?

During these two years of high stress unemployment, I went through my entire savings. Unable to continue to pay rent, I moved to my sister’s (bless her) and continued my relentless job search.

While I sought management positions that fit my qualifications, I also applied for anything that would earn me a paycheck. Waitress. Car sales. Executive assistant. Reporter. Pizza delivery gal. I did score a temporary job in the women’s sportswear department at Macy’s during the holidays, but other than that, nothing. No matter what I applied for, I was rejected because I was “overqualified.”

But at last, I got that bank VP marketing position. Was I picking a bad horse again because I was desperate? Yeah, I guess so.

It lasted four years, and I truly believe that if they hadn’t laid me off, I’d still be there. I was a tired soldier by that point, and a regular paycheck was just what I needed. I figured by day I’d work the paycheck job until official retirement, and at the same time, write mystery novels in my spare time.

The job was right up my alley, and I managed a very talented team. We did a lot of great stuff that moved the needle on deposit and loan growth. And then, on that fateful Friday at 4:00 p.m., the CEO called me into his office.

“Dana,” he said, “you are a victim of your own success.” The rest was wah wah wah, wah wah.

I took this layoff as a death sentence, and I wept, really hard, for about five minutes. And then, something in me snapped. A little voice said “I’m free!”

Next week, “The Only Choice Left.”