I was wallowing. There was no other word for it. Too much Pepsi and too many Reuben’s. And chocolate. God, the chocolate. I was in an empty Pioneer Square loft having just moved my clothes from the temporary housing my new agency put me up in. Temp housing I was still in when, BOOM, layoffs. 90% of the senior leadership team, including myself, and all of the Creative Director level creative.
I called my husband and told him. The husband who wasn’t going to arrive for a week or so. With the daughter who’d be starting a new school. With all our stuff from the house we put on the market. The house we put on the market to move to a new city to take this new job. The new job that wasn’t anymore.
“Just how badly, I asked my husband, was this going to fuck [my daughter] up?”
I was cycling through the first three steps of grief—denial, anger, and depression. Mostly a fucked-up combination of anger and depression. The anger was all-consuming. Why didn’t I see this coming? How could I not see this coming? How could I put my family through this? What were they going to think of me? Moving my daughter the summer before her junior year in HS and at the beginning of her first relationship? Just how badly, I asked my husband, was this going to fuck her up? He rightly reminded me that there were about 10 things we’d done as parents that she and her brother would need therapy for before all this.
And once I got through the anger at myself, I had a whole lot for those that hired me. I mean, what the fuck were they thinking hiring me—and then letting me hire people—then laying me off not even three months in? Who does that? And who does it without explaining it face-to-face?
And finally, there was the whole “Fuck You, Stupid Universe” thing going on, with a solid base of ‘woe is me/‘why me’? Yeah, yeah—fall down seven times, get up 8. First, you need to fall down eight times to get up eight times, but whatever. Second, I pride myself on my resiliency, yet this time? This one felt devastating.
Of course, all of this was when I was alone in my empty loft. Out in the world, I was already in interviews and knee-deep in freelance work.
“Oh,” I’d say with a slightly weary, but resilient, go-getting smile pasted on my face. “It’s the industry, you have to accept it. Now, how can I help you?”
I don’t know how others feel, but for me, getting laid off feels like someone has yanked their love away. And all that comes with that love: comfort, freedom, safety, belonging. And of being a part of creating something—a team, an agency, an idea. I love that feeling and I thrive on it, in it, around it. And that was the promise they made me. Build your dream team while helping us build the dream agency. I jumped in heart-first.
Hook. Line. Sinker. I was had.
We provided air cover for each other. We made sure someone knew it was absolutely okay/vitally important to take the time to see their therapist every week. Hell, I was making a baby blanket for one of the people who worked on my team. Do I finish it and give it to him? Is that weird and clingy? Shit. That was a fuck-ton of yarn.
“The fear that I was getting too old to hire.”
Late at night, over a gallon of super-de-dooper-double-chocolate-ice-cream in the empty loft, binge-watching Midsomer Murders, I wasn’t sure there was deeper meaning in this. In the dark of the night in Pioneer Square what woke me up wasn’t the anger or guilt. It wasn’t the pain of the loss of the people I left behind without a word. It was the fear. Because here is the last thing, the really real thing. The pain and anger was honest, but I was using it to hide from the fear. The fear that I was getting too old to hire.
Last year at the 3% Conference, I followed the lead of Cindy Gallop on ageism in the industry. I opened my talk with, ‘Hi, I’m Rene Huey-Lipton. I’m 52 years old and I’m probably going to have a couple of hot flashes while I’m up here.” In that moment, it was funny because there was context and well, I’m funny. But now? it wasn’t funny. There is a lot of great work being done by women like Kat Gordon, Cindy Gallop, and Jane Evans about combating the insidiousness of ageism in our industry, and God bless them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy out here.
The times when they say, “So you’ve been doing this for 23-years…that makes you…?”
They mostly aren’t amused when I say “experienced.”
“As a culture, we celebrate age, but we don’t reward it.”
I make light of it, but I shouldn’t. As a culture, we celebrate age, but we don’t reward it. Especially when it comes to women. To the world, and the industry, each year doesn’t make you more experienced, it makes you more out of touch. Each year doesn’t add to your patina, it dulls it. The fear of another year can be all-consuming, haunting you at night, and paralyzing you during the day.
I am a strong woman and I’m surrounded by strong women. But the doubts creep in, silently, corroding the bushings that lead to my core strength, making it harder and harder to find it and use it. When will I be too old to hire? When will I become obsolete? Do I have time to still support my family before the magic number that other people arbitrarily decide, arrives?
But my cadre, my coven, my posse? They remind me, as I do them, that age is just a number, baby, and that nothing does compare to me. My age and my ‘rene-ness’ are a kick ass combination and fuck ‘em if they can’t take another year of me, of changing hair color and more tattoos and a big cackling laugh, and a penchant for “what if…” and a deep love for what I do and who I do it with, because I as sure as hell can. Each year, I am more, not less.
So when I move to my next job, I’ll fall in love all over again. That’s just how I roll. My age will recede to the background and the experience and what I do with it will be front and center—creating, supporting, growing.
All of this and the fact that I have a bunch of fucking yarn to use on a baby blanket that I will give to my next ex-teammate.