21: From Corporate to Carrots

21: From Corporate to Carrots

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

From Corporate to Carrots

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

~Harold Whitman

At age fifty I was stuck in a job I hated, working for an international corporation that provided real estate advice to non-American investors. The corporate culture was paternalistic and downright offensive to women working there, despite my title. But it had taken months to find a decent paycheck, and many friends my age said they weren’t finding anything at all after years of looking.

Then we got bad news. Rumors swirled that the company might close because of the 9/11 attacks. I began immediately looking, but after six months had nothing, not even an interview. Why hire me, when there were others half my age willing to work for half the price? I began to panic.

Just before Christmas, HR confirmed we would definitely be closing the following March. They knew I had been looking and were willing to provide a good reference. I held back my tears until I escaped out the door. I was the sole support for my preteen daughter and had stupidly run up many bills, believing I would continue to flourish in my career. With unemployment paying only twenty percent of what I was taking home, we were facing poverty, homelessness and possibly bankruptcy fairly quickly.

We were told we could quit at any time. I didn’t understand why. Our doing so would only make closing the company much more difficult. But I didn’t have that option — there was no place for me to go! The last week the company was open, HR called me back in, and reluctantly advised me that since I had stayed on with the firm, I was entitled to severance. Severance? Whoopee! It wouldn’t be much, but at least I wouldn’t be out in the street immediately.

Driving home I realized I had a choice. I could keep trying to find a replacement position and run out of money within six months, or I could do something different. I didn’t know what that alternative path might be, but I had suffered through nearly five years of continuous depression while being unappreciated and overworked. Different began to sound better — much better, actually.

Hour after hour I pored over the Internet. What had other seniors done after being laid off? I didn’t feel old, but apparently I was. I had two choices: to somehow make myself seem younger; or quit trying to convince employers of my value and earn a living another way. I chose the latter. I figured that if I worked for myself, I might be more in control of my destiny and maybe even enjoy the benefits of doing so, instead of turning it all over to someone else. There was the risk of failing, but since I couldn’t find a job anyway, in my mind I was already a failure. I had nothing left to lose.

The severance we received wasn’t huge, but it was large enough to offer me some options. Since I had to come up with a new life, I also looked at what I might be receiving later from Social Security. Not a lot — certainly not enough to continue living in one of the most expensive areas in the U.S. I had seen how Mother had been treated while living in Los Angeles as she entered her seventies, and it had been ugly. Merchants had cheated her when she didn’t see well; drivers harassed her because she drove too slowly; and punks threatened and harassed her, making her life miserable.

We needed to move from the most expensive area to one of the least, but where? I had only worked on the coasts, and whatever income I could drum up wasn’t going to be enough to live there. Since my life needed to change, I also decided that in my new life I would have a job that gave me time to spend with friends and family and where I didn’t have to sit all day.

I ended up choosing a new location based on what we could afford. It was 1,800 miles away from home in Southwest Missouri — a land full of open range, woods, critters and long drives to a city of any size — an area I’d never seen and my ancestors had left many generations before. We sold most of our possessions. Everyone thought we were crazy. I thought so too. But this was exactly what my great-great-grandmother must have done when she moved west looking for a better life.

Once in Missouri, we found a foreclosure. It was nine acres of rundown land with a beaten-up old barn partly converted to live in, next to a pond, and surrounded by thousands of acres of forest and cattle ranches. It was also five miles to any business and thirty miles to the smallest town. Yikes! However, it was peaceful and had been planted at one time. Most importantly, the payment for it would be even lower than I had budgeted. If I were completely unable to make a go of a business, I could keep it going on what little unemployment I was to receive, part-time minimum wages, or my future retirement income. I went straight into developing an organic farm selling vegetables, with hopes of expanding.

A number of years have passed. I’m glad I changed from corporate life to farming. We have also planted fruit and nut trees that should produce shortly. There’s room to let our rescued dogs run and play. I don’t have to listen to next-door fights or sirens going off incessantly. Despite an occasional bout of loneliness (since neighbors are few and far between) I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything. I don’t have the income or the “stuff” I once did, but the peace of mind, true friends, and freedom are priceless.

~Kamia Taylor

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