Finding My Way In An Economic Downturn

By Guest Blogger, Tamara Arbeiter

I was recently laid off from my job.

The Record of Employment I just received in the mail stated “Economic reasons” for my departure.  As company policy goes, I was asked to leave immediately.  Comforted only by the fact that a handful of very senior executives were also laid off that day, I packed up my desk, grabbed my kids’ photos and artwork and left, without time for goodbyes.


To someone like me, who has worked for the past 14 years, through 2 pregnancies and back again, this was a big one to swallow.

My career began in Toronto in the mid 1990s.  I left Montreal shortly after the last recession hit, and so many young Anglophones exiled for more promising futures elsewhere.  I desperately wanted to work in Advertising after finding my niche in a post-graduate certificate at my University.  At first I worked as an unpaid intern, then landed a job at a big firm and worked my way up to Senior Account Executive.  When the dot-com industry started to take off, there was suddenly a shortage of talent in the Agency world in the US, so I transferred to my agency’s global headquarters in New York City.  I was promoted to Account Supervisor within 18 months.  My career was moving swiftly and I had just gotten married. Life in NYC was incredible and full of promise.

having it all

Then September 11th happened.  Needless to say, the pull to be with family and friends was palpable, and my husband and I returned home to Montreal for a simpler life.  My husband had a family business waiting for him, and I began working as a Senior Manager at a Montreal based retailer’s headquarters.

I worked my way up to Branding Director, but after the birth of my second child, I sought a more balanced schedule, and took a step back to a Senior Manager position at another retailer working 4 days a week. I jumped into the work with confidence, and enjoyed the extra day each week with my children.

working mom guilt

I sacrificed a lot to keep my career, partly because I had no choice financially, partly because working was always a part of me, and as a result, I think it made me a better parent.  But as any working mother will attest, there’s a lot of guilt— at home, at the office, all around. You never feel you are giving enough.

After years of sacrifice and guilt, I took a risk and requested a restructured work week, whereby I would work 5 days but until 3PM, for a sizeable salary cut.  To my surprise, the request was approved and I felt I had finally struck the perfect balance – working while my kids were in school, home when they were home.  I was still completely dedicated to my work, and considered myself a valuable asset to the team.

But then that precious bubble burst. In truth, my “downsizing” didn’t come as a tremendous shock to me. The economy has not “bounced back” as they predicted, and the retail industry continues to be hit hard with the reality of decreased consumer confidence.  I have friends in the industry who have also been laid off.  The fact that I went through 3 or 4 rounds of layoffs unscathed feels somehow victorious.  But I believe that my switch to part time in today’s economy may have been equivalent to digging my own career’s grave.

Long ago, one of my mentors said to me, in these words literally: “Companies will f*ck you. At the end of the day, if they have to, a company will dump you, without a second thought”.

After last fall’s economic crash, I am living proof that my mentor was bang on (sorry if I sound a little resentful). I know that while I may be an extremely valuable employee, I am like so many employees, totally dispensable.  It’s a crushing blow to the ego, but it’s also a lesson learned to many women.

So, where does a 30 something woman, with two small children, who is highly capable, qualified, efficient, and thorough, find satisfying work in her field, without sacrificing her family life and herself? Is there such a thing as the perfect balance?

I believe there can be.  As the saying goes, when a door closes, a window opens.  I feel this is my window of opportunity to branch out and do what I’ve wanted to do for so long… work for myself.  I’ve decided to work freelance, primarily as a writer, but also a project manager, PR strategist, event planner, and communications specialist.

I am getting off the fence. Wish me luck!

Tamara Arbeiter

  1. Tamara, the world is now your oyster. This is an opportunity for you to explore your options, and maybe you wouldn’t have taken this opportunity had you not been dealt this deck. I agree, when a door closes, a window opens. When I didn’t get into my MBA school of choice, I was devastated. But it led me down a completely different path in my career. One that I don’t have a single regret about.

    Good luck!!

  2. Life, three or four careers, 41 years of marriage, four children and five grandchildren, have taught me two things: 1. everything you have done in life will serve you in the future, and 2. everything happens for a reason. It’s sometimes hard to see the light at the end of a tunnel in which you may find yourself, but trust me, the light is there, and when you get to it you’ll say “oh yes! That’s why that happened!

    Your talents, work ethic, ambition and skills will take you far! Enjoy the respite of the holiday season and then go like gangbusters on to the next stage!

    I’ll be cheering you on! Love, Mom

  3. Very well said. I agree with you T, the possibility for a good balance can exist, especially for someone as multi talented, hard working and intelligent as you. You are a total rock star in every way, and I have NO doubt that this new – albeit unexpected – path will lead you to bigger and better. And you deserve no less.
    You go sista!!
    xo Nome 🙂

  4. Off the fence and working for yourself. Sounds like a cause for celebration. I’ve spent years in the workforce and many outside of it raising kids and taking part time assignments, all I can say is all avenues are open to you now. Enjoy your newfound freedom and good luck on your new path!

  5. Not sure if men are allowed to submit postings on this site but what the heck….

    Congratulations on starting the next chapter.

    You will now have the chance to advance your career on your own terms. As I’ve learned through watching my wife, you can achieve great things by becoming your own boss. Your former employer was able to exploit all your incredible skills and experience. Now you can reap all the benefits while commanding your own destiny. I am confident that you will be very successful in your new venture.

    Best of luck!

  6. Wow thanks everyone for your incredible responses and support! Alan, what a nice surprise! Kelly, I checked out your website and you’re a phenomenal writer, thank you for your comments!

    The ledge is less scary when you feel this kind of love behind you!

  7. Hey Tam,

    You certainly have a lot of support.

    With that, I will leave you with these parting words by one of the twentieth century’s great film/fictional sports characters…..

    “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and still keep moving….that’s what winning is about”

    -Rocky Balboa (as portrayed by Sylvester Enzo Stallone)

  8. Thanks Al! Figures it’s a quote from a seventies flick…but so true!! Well, confidence will be regained one day at a time and there are so many lessons learned…in the meantime, I am enjoying every minute of not having a boss (except for my kids of course and occasionally my hubby), and playing doting mother and wife. Cheers!T

  9. Wow, Tamara. I thought you were writing my bio. I’m in the architecture industry and after 13 years of working with one company – with great devotion and taking on more and more difficult tasks as exciting challenges, I also was asked to leave. My track record proved that my work was much more productive than most others at the office – including my husband who I’d just brought in to the office 2 1/2 years ago. I was asked to leave and my husband got promoted the following month. I went through three pregnancies and eventually requested a flexible work schedule as work dwindled with the economy. Still constantly feeling guilty that I couldn’t do overtime, and constantly returning to the office at night to catch up on paperwork after the kids were in bed.

    They trained me straight out of grad school to do very specialized and complex work and never dreamed that I would be leaving that office one day with my head down and tears my eyes – with pride shattered to pieces and wondering if I’ll ever work at that capacity again. If hiring a full time nanny to give up 50% of my after tax pay wasn’t commitment enough – what would be? I walked past couple of ex-colleagues shopping online, and others yapping on the phone…wasting company time. So confused about why, how and why me…I came home that day with my eyes swollen, emotions worn down to the bone and worked on my oldest’s 5th birthday party…I just can’t let my kids down.

    That was Nov. 2009. Since, I have opened my own design practice with an office 5 minutes from my house (no more 45 minute commute) and outlook is good. My own place – I’d always planned on starting out on my own when I turned 40 and here I am at 38 years, with 3 kids, a hubby, and kick-ass experience even a layoff under my belt…not too shabby.

    Good luck to you and thank you for sharing your story so eloquently. It helps, I don’t know why – but it helps the rest of us.


  10. You know, you’re not alone. I’m interviewing right now for marketing writers as I’m growing, and probably half of the candidates are people who were working their way up in advertising and marketing – and then got downsized.

    The truth is, there is a lot of bloat in the industry. A lot. Where a small boutique agency like mine has a graphic designer, a web developer, two content writers, a creative director and a sales person, a large company will have entire departments dedicated to these things and still pull in the same profits each year.

    You’ll find your place! Just remember to niche – figure out what types of clients you enjoyed working with most in your career, and specialize in working just for them. You’ll take a bit more time to get off the ground, but you’ll be able to charge a bit more as a specialist – you’ll also have a lot more confidence, more enjoyment from your work, and produce better results because you’re genuinely passionate about the products you’re marketing.

    I’ve been at this freelance/agency game for just shy of 8 years now, since I was 17 years old. I have been a freelancer and a business owner through meeting the man of my dreams, getting married, moving into our home, having our first child, my husband losing his supposedly-secure job, and soon, having our second little one. It isn’t always easy, but at the end of the day, I feel more secure.

    If one client decides they can’t afford me anymore, I lose one client. If my boss decided that, I would lose a lot more. I also have the freedom in my day to enjoy playtime, and even naptime if I want. My maternity leave is paid for on residual compensation agreements. I get to travel, spend time with family, help others become successful, and support my family.

    And I’ll be damned if that isn’t near perfect balance.

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