On New Year’s Eve 2008, Cathy lost her job. For a year she floated a bit aimlessly, questioning herself, the absurd jobs she was considering and what she really wanted to do. The idea of going to an office was suffocating. The idea of children brought back fond memories of raising her children and her younger years babysitting. Cathy re-sized her life, found creative ways to manage finances and became a nanny.

Here is a bit of her story.

What were you doing prior to New Years Eve 2008?

I was Director of Corporate Membership Sales for a Trade Association. I grew the number of memberships by 100% in the time I was there. I grew it to the point where I needed an assistant. I hired someone that did a really good job and now that person has my job.

Was the idea to get rid of you so they could pay someone cheaper?

There were a few things. He was cheaper. Also, I am pretty headstrong and I worked in a good ol’ boys industry. When it came to butting heads or voicing my opinion, I wasn’t scared to do that. I had ideas of how to run the membership department and they had their corporate ideas. My way had been proven successful, but they did not like that a girl or a ‘gal’ as they called me, was going to do things her way.

Cathy, From Corporate Sales Director to A Very Happy Nanny

I floated aimlessly for a year not really knowing what to do with myself. I sent in resumes and had some job interviews which I would not have taken in my 20s much less in my 50s. They were those jobs that were like, ‘Are you ready to climb the corporate ladder? Are you a team player? Are you a go-getter?’ I was like, ‘No, No and No and by the way, buddy, I have kids who are older than you.’ It was unbelievable. It was painful out there. I just didn’t know what I was going to do. I kept thinking, ‘How could this have happened to me? What am I going to do?’

Before [I lost my job] I would hear people say, ‘I would rather be on unemployment than take this job,’ and I would think that was awful, but when I lost my job I realized why people do it. You pay into unemployment; you have a right to collect unemployment and once your claim stops you can’t just re-open it if a job you accepted does not work out. I stayed on unemployment as long as I could.

How did you come to the conclusion you wanted to be a nanny?

When unemployment started running out I started thinking, ‘What do I want to do? What do I really want to do?’ The thought of going back to a desk in corporate America was a thought I absolutely could not stand. I would get physically sick before I would go into some of these interviews. I would look at the clock during the interview and think, ‘I have to get out of here. I just have to get out of here.’ It was suffocating to be back in an office environment.

I realized I really like babysitting and the best years of my life were those spent raising my kids. I started surfing around online. I found two websites, sittercity.com and care.com. Care.com seemed a little more with it, so I wrote a little essay about myself, filled out a profile, uploaded a picture and hit send. That was on a Saturday evening and by Sunday I had two calls. The people I am with now were one of them.

How long ago was this?

That was January of 2010.

Do you feel like you have lost anything in the process of going from a corporate job to a nanny?

I do. I used to think I could write a book about this. It’s just such a journey. I think the biggest thing that you lose is confidence in yourself, Linda. If somebody walks you to the door and tells you, you are not needed, no matter what you did, no matter how good you were, no matter how much revenue you turned for them, if they can still walk you to the door and say, ‘We do not need you.’ It makes you really question yourself and it makes you redefine yourself.

It makes you reach back down and realize they do not define you. That job was what I did, but it is not who I am. It really makes you look at yourself again, but in the midst of all that you really start to lose a lot of your confidence. What is the first thing someone asks you when they meet you? ‘What do you do?’ As much as we do not want to believe it what we do is part of us. It is a big part of us. I just thought, ‘That was who I was. So who am I now?’ It really makes you take a good look at yourself and figure out who you are again.

Do you think you have regained that confidence?

I think I have regained quite a bit of it and a lot of it comes from talking to other people and soul searching and getting back down to the root of what I am. A lot of it makes you realize that all of that was just superficial stuff and it was really not all that much in the first place. I think it is good every now and again to stir yourself up. I don’t think everyone should have to go through a job loss to do it, but it does humble you. It really does, and I think it is a good thing for people to become humbled now and then.

What about what you have gained in this process?

I got my freedom back and I don’t know how to say it other than that. When I was working there I watched what I said, I watched what I did, I even watched the jokes I laughed at. There were like two versions of me – the corporate me and the at home me. I would call my husband every day when I left work on the drive home and I would say to him, ‘You have to get me out of here. You have to get me out of here.’ Now that I am not doing that I have gained back everything about who I was. I am happier. I am more relaxed. I am more me again.

Have you had any negative reactions when you tell people you are a nanny?

No not one. Some people ask me what the difference is between a nanny and a babysitter, but every person that I tell is very supportive. The people who know me the best know just how much I love children and just how much this little girl that I am a nanny for means to me.

What was the hardest adjustment of going from the corporate world to now?

The money. Definitely the money and I do think that is what keeps people hanging on for as long as they have. I think there are two types of people. Those who are in corporate America and want out, and those that are forced out and are trying to arrange how to stay out. You can’t get out of the rat race because you have these house payments and car payments and you kind of work yourself into this. Then when it is all ripped out from underneath you, you find these creative ways to make it work, but that was the hardest thing to do. To get used to my lifestyle being different was a big adjustment. Realizing that we are not going to get a new car, or go on a yearly vacation, or spend a huge amount on Christmas anymore. But you know what? My car is still getting me from point A to point B. You just do not need to be a part of that American corporate greed machine that we all so eagerly jumped on and a lot of people are still hooked into.

How do you handle healthcare, retirement and other benefits as a nanny?

I am fortunate to have health care through my husband’s Ford retirement. I know one nanny who is negotiating that with her employer right now, but luckily I didn’t have to worry about it. I have a few other benefits that my employer and I negotiated. They have been wonderful.

Do you have examples of creative ways you have cut back on expenses and made the financial adjustments?

The best way is where I shop. I go to Goodwill. I always liked resale stores. I shopped there anyway. I always thought they had cooler clothes. But, now I would not go back into a department store and spend that kind of money if I had it. I think it is ridiculous to spend that kind of money. I learned about clipping coupons all over again. I did that in my early years, but now I do that religiously again. I learned to condense trips to do everything at once instead of running into town three or four different times. Little things like that. Do you really need all of your cable channels? Probably not. You never watched half of them anyway. Instead of replacing your couch every few years or getting new furniture you are just happy with what you have. I think that is biggest thing I have learned — I do not need anything new. I do not want anything new. I just want to hang onto what I have and I am happy just to have it.

There are people who make $150,000 a year and spend $175,000. It just makes me wonder, do people buy the couch every two years to justify the fact that they are going to a job that they hate.

I think you are onto something that is part of the cycle people get into. Keeping up with the Jones’ is completely true. I see people who live in a house with four people and each has their own car. I don’t think that is necessary, but they have the money to do it so they do it. So which comes first the money or the need?

Goodwill has appliances. If I need a new Mr. Coffeepot carafe I will go to Goodwill and buy one for 25 cents or I will go to garage sale. I won’t go out and buy a brand new Mr. Coffee Machine and I think it is because I have to be more careful with money and even if I had that money, I would not do it again. I think people who have never been brought down like this, have not yet learned this valuable lesson.

Do you work five days a week?

Yes, Monday thru Friday. My schedule varies depending on their schedule so they have me on a salary and anything over a certain number of hours I get overtime for. They pay for my gas going back and forth. They have been amazing.

Do you have any advice for someone who has recently lost their job?

My biggest advice, which might sound weird, is to go on unemployment if that is an option because you need some time by yourself to mourn the whole thing. It is really a difficult thing to lose a job. While you are taking that time think about what you really want to do, what you really like to do. Not what is expected of you, not what someone else wants you to do or what your title was or how the world sees you, but what you really like to do and want to do. If that is babysitting children or making cupcakes or writing a book, whatever it is. Tap into what makes you happy. You spend so much time doing it, you sure better like it.

What do you think was the biggest surprise of all this?

Probably the numbers of people don’t quite understand what you are going through. I am not saying you need a pity party, but it is almost like you have a disease and people do not want to catch it. It is like they avoid you because they might catch that job loss bug too. But when you lose a job that is when you need people the most. It is when you are feeling the most vulnerable, let go and lost and the number of people who do not get that amazes me. However, there are the others who just surprise you with their level of support. They call you, they talk with you, they listen to you no matter how many times you relive and tell the same story. They become your rock. And it makes you so grateful to realize you have those close relationships in your life.

Is there any sense in you that this is a demotion?

No. I know what you are asking and probably if I had not taken that first year to figure out that this is what I know I want to do – it probably would feel like that, but after a lot of things along the way and some of the situations I found myself in, I know this is what I truly want to do.

Do you think this is what you will be doing until you retire?

Yes, along with other things too. I have a couple ideas of other things I would like to do.

What is the biggest misconception of leaving the corporate world?

I think I thought that it would be harder to do than it was because of how I thought my job defined me. I think I thought it would be harder to find myself than it was. I cared so much about the next sale we were going to have or the next promotion or trade show. I would come home every night and talk about it and think about it and the first day I was out of there, I was so glad I didn’t have to think about it anymore. All of the things you thought were so important fade away very quickly. It is amazing to me to realize now how much energy I was putting into it. Now I have that energy for the really important things in my life. My husband, my children, my grandchildren, my home, my dog and me.