From Riches to Rags and Back

There is something we humans love about a good rags to riches story such as Annie. We equally love the often comical and sometimes a bit tragic riches to rags story. Consider the popularity of such an award-winning show as Schitt’s Creek. Or, another personal favorite for riches to rags stories is the 1980s movie Trading Places starring Dan Akroyd as a rather pompous, over-indulgent, spoiled, and entitled middle manager of the stock trades. I love both Eddie Murphy as Valentine and also can really appreciate the naivete and complete comic despairing bewilderment of Dan Akroyd’s character in his unceremonious fall from grace. As Schitt’s Creek and Trading Places evolve, we see the protagonists go from casual contempt for others perceived to be below their status to eventually embracing true and loyal friendships they make with kind souls along the way that help them out. These other characters such as Jamie Lee Curtis’ hooker with a heart or Stevie the owner of the run-down motel and Roland, the town mayor of Schitt’s Creek, we come to love them because they show true compassion perhaps mixed with a bit of humor at the stumblings and foils of the protagonists as they learn to perilously navigate life without the riches and shallow relationships they had so earlier enjoyed.

For the past 7 years, my life was a riches to rags story.

I grew up privileged. My father was the Vice President for the local university and respected all over the community. My siblings and I were educated in private school. My little brother grew up to be an Engineer at Tesla. My little sister became an Engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency. My other sisters each became a Pharmaceutical Doctor at KU Med and an Information Systems Manager for a legal law firm in Kansas City. We were all overachievers.

I became a Human Resource Director for a large manufacturing plant with 300 employees. I had a Master’s in HR and was working towards an MBA as well as HR licensure. In the HR field, Director is the top. You can’t get any higher than that. At 35 years old, I was a middle manager and one of only a few females that had risen that far. I was a career woman and I thought I was top of the top. I was in line to become the President of the local HR chapter and rubbed elbows with many HR professionals at big conferences in Kansas City, Tulsa, and Dallas. At the regional HR conference in Dallas, they even referred to me as a “rock star.” I feigned humility but inside I was proud. I had big plans for the future. I was gonna go far, kid.

Or so I thought…..

I got canned.

Not just canned but more like dumpster fire canned.

Fired. F-I-R-E-D.

Not just fired in a polite way but in a harsh and pack everything and leave immediately way.

It was embarrassing.

I had been a white collar office worker all my adult life. I never had a bad performance appraisal prior. I had never ever experienced getting laid off or fired…..ever until then. It was quite a shock to my overachiever system to say the least. To add fuel to the bonfire of my personal shame, it happened with dubious circumstances.

I was fired for performance. 4 months prior a female lower level worker came to me 4 times about a circumstance in the company that was controversial. I tried to push it under the rug as advised but in the end, I checked into what she was saying. That employee quit the company that very day. 4 months later, I was fired too. I’d like to say that decision I made was a bad move on my part but in hindsight now, I realize I did the right ethical thing at the moment despite the negative consequences. I don’t regret it…….now anyway. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t regret it for years prior.

It stung….it felt like a public humiliation and injustice.

I can write this now looking back on it from a happier place and almost laugh at the comical despair of my unceremonious belly buster from the high dive of corporate business. In time, I learned some harsh lessons about who I could rely on. I applied in earnest for HR job after HR job, even begging some friends from the chapter I had been an officer to…….to no avail.

I think that was the hardest lesson to learn of all.

6 months I sat on unemployment for the first time in my adult life until I was thrown a horrendously bad temp job. Eventually, I ended up on the line.

What does it mean to be on the line?

I became a blue collar worker in the factory environment at starting pay of 9 bucks an hour. After all, I still had a large house mortgage and bills to pay and children to get through school. This job came to me through a friend of my sister. I still work there today. In September, I will celebrate 5 years of service.

It was not an easy transition. My hat goes off to blue collar workers. They have a much harder time than they get credit for. Over the years, I grew to respect them more and more. My hands became rough like the hands of a mechanic. My arms became tough from cuts from the glass I worked with. My biceps and triceps grew to double their previous size from hauling boxes of glass. I learned a craft, a valuable skill. I became for the first time in my adult life, a real essential part of the team and that is what I learned most of all from the blue collar workers….to work together as one team to get the job done whatever it takes and however hours we gotta work. I developed a real sense of pride in my work, my craftsmanship, my quality, my speed. I didn’t have to prove to anyone that my job was needed. The work was physically exhausting at times but very rewarding and I gained true friends.

It was not without it’s challenges at first. The line workers had heard about me before I arrived and were determined to not let me think I was better than them. I remember struggling with cutting glass the first day on the job and overhearing a worker who later became my friend, say with a cynical sneer, “Looks like boss hired a real genius with this one.” I went through a sorta school of hard knocks to earn my status there today. And it has become my favorite place of employment and I am deeply grateful for it today.

When you go from riches to rags, you learn who your friends are. Some of it will surprise you as it did me waiting on unemployment for old HR colleagues to throw me a lifeline.

One good friend was a woman named Sandra Main. She’s kinda the reason I got back into writing. Of course, I did it for practical reasons to pay bills and help my family stay afloat on a blue collar paycheck. But Sandra invited me to an entrepreneur meeting and she encouraged me to take up writing again to supplement my income.

As the years went by, due to the mercies of good bosses at the factory and a good supervisor, I stayed on through some seasonal layoffs. And as I continued to slog day in and day out through the carts of work with tenacity, I was rewarded with pay increases.

That fall from middle to bottom of the heap did not last too painfully long, thank goodness.

Today, I am glad to say I do quite well at the company. It is a good place to work.

I am grateful for the entire 7 year experience of riches to rags and back up again.

It taught me humility. It taught me reliance on faith. It taught me grit and determination. But more than that, it taught me about friendship with coworkers/family/good people in the community, marriage commitment through struggles, and I learned not to be such an overly arrogant, over-pompous, overindulgent, overconfident…..ass.

I really can’t describe it any other way.

I was a major donkey ass.

And yes, I’m smiling at that as I type cause it’s 100% true. I mean don’t get me wrong, I sure ain’t perfect but I’m way better than before. Geesh.

Learning to see other perspectives, I really got a good look at what I was before my fall from grace and honey, it was ridiculous (in a funny sort of way).

Just like Dan Akroyd in Trading Spaces or the Rose family in Schitt’s Creek, I think the whole experience was kinda a necessary lesson towards true authentication.

Looking back, I just laugh for the most part. Some days I do get a little down on this previously bad turn of fate but that feeling does not linger long. I’ve learned to forgive. I’ve learned to heal. I’ve stretched myself in ways I would have never ever done if the universe hadn’t held my feet to the fire.

Looking back, it was the best damn thing that could have ever happened to me.

Happy ending.