Gerard has always liked her job, and she was blindsided when her hours were cut. But “my mantra since age 11 has been ‘Don’t complain, don’t explain,’ ” she says. “I feel better when I’m not wallowing.” Instead, she uses her suddenly free time to pursue an interest in fine art. She has had several gallery shows of a year’s worth of photographs she took from her balcony, capturing various aspects of sunrise over the Potomac River. She also makes collages. “My art has brought me tremendous joy,” she says.
As Sesnowich drives home at the end of the workday, she performs a now-regular ritual, asking herself, What are the five things I should be most grateful for? After a breast-cancer diagnosis in 2006, she became acutely aware that “things can change in the wink of an eye.” Although it’s not the main reason she is still behind her desk, being on the job feels normal to her, unlike the six months she had to take off for treatments. Showing up for her job “proves to me that everything’s OK,” she says.
Despite their glass-half-full attitudes, the more experienced women are painfully aware that they’re luckier than people just entering the workforce. Kotrady-Mello’s younger daughter graduated with a degree in fashion merchandising right at the point that those companies stopped hiring; she’s now retraining to enter the beauty salon business. Gerard’s son is an industrial designer facing an economy in which venture capital is scarce. Sesnowich’s nephew is training to be a chef but worries that fewer people can afford a fancy dinner these days. The younger generation’s lousy prospects are, of course, compounded by all the over-40s squatting on whatever jobs are left. Without a significant uptick in the economy, people now in their twenties are primed to be a generation of Prince Charleses, waiting for the throne to be vacated.
But it may also be a good time for workers to take a fresh approach to their long-range goals. Karaman knows that when she is finally able to leave her job, she wants to do something “more meaningful,” preferably teaching. She also loves horses. So she arranged to volunteer at a therapeutic riding program for disabled kids. In the best of all possible worlds, as the economy continues to inch forward, her volunteer work will eventually help her switch careers. Meanwhile, it’s making her happy.
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of More.