Your job is what you do.
It is not, however, who you are.
But it can feel that way, especially when you consider the hours we spend at work and how that work guides our identity.
“I am a television producer,” I’d respond to those who asked what I did for a living. Until I wasn’t one any longer.
“So, what do you do?” became the toughest question to answer.
Who was I, if not that?
Rae Kauder can relate.
The 51-year-old from North Carolina grew a career in the sports industry, turning a 10-day post-college gig into an 8-year run with Atlanta Motor Speedway. She’d go on to spend nearly two decades at Octagon, expanding her role from account manager to vice president, working on sports marketing for accounts such as Sprint Nextel, Allstate, and Mastercard.
Then Covid hit. The entire world seemed to stop.
Covid hit the sports events particularly hard, taking many talented staff members with it. Within two months, clients were asking for money back as huge events like the Final Four, MLB All-Star Game, and the British Open were canceled.
Rae was told it was time to assess all staff needs, and that cuts were coming. Given her title and her salary, she knew she was vulnerable.
“I knew I was going to be on that list.”
Memorial Day weekend of 2020, she got the call. She was among the 100+ employees laid off that day.
“I was embarrassed, I was hurt,” Rae recalls. “I was stunned even though I knew it was coming. My immediate feeling was ‘I am never going to get a job again!'”
Feeling “all the things,” what Rae said she felt most was the uncertainty of the unknown.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow when I wake up and I’m not Rae.Kauder@Octagon.” She even mourned the loss of her professional email address.
She knew she wasn’t the only one hurt in the process. She considered her co-workers like family.
“I loved my job,” Rae admits. “I loved the leadership team. I continue to covet these relationships. They are still my closest confidants.”
Losing a job, especially one that has been central to our sense of ourselves can create an identity crisis.
Somewhere between my past – where I had been – and my future – where I hoped to go – was the nothingness of here. It made me question myself and my place in the working world. Who was I if not that? Who might I become?
Rae took the rest of 2020 off. She waited out most of Covid in Florida where she “put toes in the sand” to get some perspective. After many walks on the beach and much self-reflection, she started to challenge some of her most troublesome thoughts:
I’m not good enough.
I’m not going to work again.
Why would someone hire me?
Would anyone want me now that I’m no longer at Octagon?
That overly critical and doubting inner narrative had traveled with her throughout her career. And while it might have been dulled by her many successes, now – without the role that had defined her – the volume was at full blast.
“I had a full-on identity crisis.”
“I had to work through all of that,” she recalls. “And the more I talked about it and could pinpoint why I would feel that way I realized that I was sabotaging myself.”
She thought about the work she had put in and all she had missed. She decided to reprioritize her time and reconsider her future work. She realized the investments she had made throughout her career – a strong reputation and solid relationships – would help her in this next chapter.
“Covid changed my life for the good,” Rae now realizes.”It made me realize what is important to me and who I really am.
By the end of 2020, as the events industry began to slowly rebound, the phone started ringing. Opportunities came back. People valued – and needed – her expertise.
“I thought maybe I should just do this on my own,” Rae realized. “I had 30 years of experience in this industry. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it, but I needed to overcome the hurt to put myself out there.”
Now, as the founder of Rae-Works, she does project-based work for events including sponsorship, event management, and hospitality. She serves as President of the Charlotte chapter of Women in Sports and Events (WISE), an important role she doesn’t take lightly, and one that helped her regain her confidence and her footing.
She is busy. And she is happy.
Most importantly, she began to challenge the “little voice” inside her head that tells her she can’t or shouldn’t do something.
“Bullshit!” she calls out her own thinking. “Yes, you can!”
“This next chapter is really about taking ownership. Because it’s on me. Everything I do is on me.”
When asked about her identity now, Rae says she’s no longer just a job title. She’s Rae Kauder. She’s a founder and business owner, a wife, a consultant, and a dog mom. She’s more thoughtful and present than before.
“There is life after losing your job,” she now knows. She’s grateful to be working on projects and with friends that are important to her. She’s embraced her multifaceted identity and priorities relationships over roles.
It’s what I recommend to anyone facing that shift in focus. Sometimes you are due a reappraisal of your own skills and talents. Though difficult, it’s often time to let go of what no longer serves you.
To those facing the identity crisis that can accompany the loss of a job, Rae has some advice:
- “Covet your relationships early on. Make time for people because you never know when you are going to be the one on the other end of the line asking for advice or help.”
- “Be your own champion. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will. It’s not cliché. It’s true.”
- “Lastly, be nice. It’s not that hard.”
Valerie Gordon is a lifelong storyteller, a former Emmy-award-winning producer, and the founder of The Storytelling Strategist. She speaks at conferences and partners with corporations, training future leaders on the power of storytelling for impact and influence.