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I am out of place

Dawn Burkes

I am out of place by dawn burkes for ourselves black.jpg

On Jan. 7, 2019, after more than 25 years doing what I loved, I was told that I couldn’t for a company to which I had devoted more than half that time. Not only is it all I thought I knew; it’s all my 10-year-old child knows. It’s a week later, and she still tells anyone who asks that it’s where I work, it’s what I do, it’s who I am.

Even she believes it’s my identity.

And, most times, I do, too. Because the career I chose of a journalist wasn’t a job the way I saw it; it was, is, a calling. I have known what I wanted to do since I was 8 years old. Perhaps it took on a different form than my pre-teen self ever imagined, but I’ve been fortunate to work in my field almost for as long as I wanted.


I knew it was going to be something big – and quite possibly bad – when a mass email went out on a Sunday afternoon that invited the entire staff to a 9 a.m. meeting. Along with some others, I had been predicting layoffs for some time. But, because of various factors, chief among them the fact that I had dodged so many of the summons to Human Resources before, I had begun to think that my name was “Teflon” Dawn.

We were told that the summons would come via email by 9:15 a.m.

I noticed my email at 9:13 a.m. The email came as a calendar invite to a meeting with and an HR representative. It said "Notification meeting." And my soul left my body and slammed back into it. I gasped, clasped the phone to my chest and told my gathered colleagues. I cried and then remembered my family. This was our livelihood; this job had been our lives.

I was surrounded by part of my work family; our small group had moved to a meeting area to just be with one another after one of ours got the email soon after the announcement. I indulged myself in tears, even wondering where they had come from. And then I remembered that my daughter, who still came to work with me enough to consider the “focus room” her corner office, was in the building.

I did not want her to see this as anything but a new beginning. I did not want her to see my tears at the end.

So I went downstairs. And wept.

And smiled and cried and smiled because a stream of people came by; some offered more than well wishes by offering advice that I’d be fine, they were sure of it. And I am still vacillating between emotions. I was crying and smiling when I let friends know that I had been laid off via a flippant post on Facebook: “feeling optimistic. What you got?”

If I am to teach my child about new beginnings, I have to make one, right? But, and I wonder this daily if not hourly, should I panic? Should I be angry? Should I mourn? I don’t know if I should, but I know I will. I know I already have.

I am out of place. But I’m a believer, so I look to the hills from whence cometh my help. I look to words (albeit about discrimination) from writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston: “How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?”

The first week, I figured out that I didn’t really know who I was without this career through which I’ve met fascinating people and had fantastic experiences and been the best of me. I am out of place. I am also scared, tired, angry, sad and yes, optimistic.

And optimistic is actually a little hard right now. Unemployment benefits are useful, and I am grateful they are available, but they are laughable. The economic news is hardly ever good. The government is shut down. When I finally broke the news to my daughter later that day, she said, “Oh, no. Who’s going to make money for us?”

So I told her that I would. And I will. Right?

I think the best advice I’ve gotten so far is to just allow myself to feel whatever comes up. I’ve mourned before; in fact, I like to think I’m rather good at it. Leaning in at work didn’t help me; maybe leaning into tears will.

But I have to have a brave face. So I make a to-do list every day. I have gone from the couch to the gym three times a week. I pick my child up early from school. I try to make money moves.

I am out of place … but that’s a place, too. I’ll find another when I can.