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You're Fired! What I Learned About Myself After Getting Laid Off

At 41, I was forced to reinvent myself. But as what? I had no idea.

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AARP, The Girlfriend, employment, job, laid off, identity crisis, starting over, soul searching
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Warning. This is not a story about the time I lost my job, did serious soul-searching and ultimately concluded to take on new challenges, yay! In the five stages of grief, I’m not yet in acceptance mode. I can say for sure that I’ve never had to learn so much about … myself.

Well, SEO and myself.

It took all of two minutes. My boss summoned me into his office and matter-of-factly dropped the news. He wasn’t sure about my last day. There was going to be paperwork. I had worked at a major magazine as a writer and editor for nearly 15 years, but new management had taken over. I was on the cut list.

I guess I was lucky in the sense that in my nearly 20 years of post-college employment, I had never experienced the sudden push off the cliff. That only meant I was wildly ill-prepared for the fall. I had not been on a job hunt since Friends still aired on Thursday nights. Before my head hit the pillow that night, I sent out dozens of emails and spun the news the best I could (“looking forward to the future!”). I figured if I stayed glued to my computer and behaved like a take-charge independent woman, I wouldn’t have to process the news. I also wouldn’t have to face the truth: It was time to find my real identity.

Looking back, I didn’t know the difference between who I was and what I did. I think I stayed in my job because I loved how it fit me. In the office, I marched around as the respected film critic or no-nonsense top editor, not the woman that stayed home on Saturday nights to watch 48 Hours. At events, I didn’t have to be Mara with the hard-to-pronounce last name. I was “Mara from Us Weekly,” which sounded way cooler. Even my email had cachet. Then it all got stripped away. What remained was a scared, introverted writer for hire.

At 41, I was forced to reinvent myself. But as what? All I knew how to do in life was play with words. My dad gave me the book What Color Is Your Parachute? and I got anxious just reading the back cover. Grieving in my apartment didn’t make me feel better either. So I pushed. Left the apartment every day, caught up with old acquaintances, lunched with new ones. There’s a deep accomplishment in just going outside and seeing the light. Indeed, all those meetings led to a great epiphany: The only name I could truly rely on was my own.

Under traumatic circumstances, I created something from scratch. It’s a site called MaraMovies. I never knew I had it in me. The ride has been terrifying and deeply satisfying. Instead of an easy structured schedule, I live day to day. The hardest part is not letting the bad moments — like receiving an email that starts with the word “unfortunately” — weigh down the good ones. And there are good ones galore when you discover your voice. I still feel like I’m falling, but for the first time in my life, I’m the safety net.