Burbank, California; March,2003;
Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student

As Lightfoot sat in front of her computer, contemplating over her future, she was typing sentences on the screen, hoping that they would lead her to a solution. She was producing a piece of free writing: Something like letting her spirit take its own course and decide where it wanted to lead her. Maybe also a way of turning inside in search for answers that she could not seem to find through rational analysis.

The insecurity of living in the ultimately civilized world was catching up on her again. She could feel its warm breath in her neck and its nauseating punch in her stomach. Her job was in limbo, as was her private life. "You know," she thought to herself, "when it rains, it pours." She couldn't even remember where or when it started: Maybe long ago, and maybe just recently. But all of a sudden everything seemed to be an inexplicable mess.

Lightfoot continued her deliberation, "They say that changes are inevitable and that we should make ourselves comfortable with them. Heck, as a professor it's one of the main topics I teach my students. But I am honest enough to also tell them that change is not something we, humans, are at ease with. It takes a lot of nerve every time we are confronted with it, no matter how often that is."

And now it was Lightfoot's turn again for some major changes. Yet it seemed like yesterday when she had to take the last huge step in her life. It made her wonder if this turmoil of unexpected turns would ever end. It made her wonder too if she would get through this, and--after that--what would be next...

The situation at work got canalized in a direction that forced the organization to lay off a number of people. Lightfoot's department could be kept in its original setting for a while, but recently that, too, had been under scrutiny. And now she would either have to change her daily routine in the dreadful operation of commuting 3 to 4 hours daily on top of her normal 8-hour workday, or choose for a change of status from a full-timer to a contractor. What that would mean? Becoming what she had actually always been: an entrepreneur who would have to demonstrate sufficient ingeniousness to find enough funds from different sources for survival. Yes, that would definitely have to be it, because the first option was not really an alternative for someone--like her--who believed that work should be fun.

Lightfoot realized that the amazing thing about adult life was that jobs came and went, but responsibilities toward loved ones, and the pressure of monthly bills remained. She had no idea how fast she would be able to move this time. She was growing older too. Her flexibility was not what it used to be ten years ago. "See," she whispered to herself with an ironic smile, "When we mature we also slow down. And that is a good thing in some regards, but a disadvantage in others, as I find now."

Becoming a contractor at work would mean: having to do her job for approximately 25% of what she used to earn, but being free from all other demands of the full-time status. However, it would also mean, loss of benefits such as insurance. And that was a tough one. Lightfoot shook her head, sadly realizing that in some work environments people just couldn't adapt to new working phenomena such as telecommuting, which is, working from elsewhere than the traditional work environment. Lightfoot had been hired last year as a telecommuter and she had done her job well. But a number of her colleagues could not understand the concept of her being allowed to perform in her most preferred setting, in spite of her extraordinary performance. So, as soon as the management in the organization turned over, that meant: end telecommuting job, start contractorship. Or end of everything, if she would rather have that.

Oh yes, she had choices. She could turn her back to everything and walk away. But what about her children who were in college? What about her monthly bills? Could she just walk away from those too? Could she just shut herself down and hang a sign "closed" in front of her? Would that help straightening her priorities? At this moment she didn't even know anymore what her priorities were!

Her private life was in as much of an indeterminate state as her professional one. She needed to find the strength to cut off some old, worn out, perspective-poor ties, and explore a new one that seemed promising enough. But with the insecure career environment she found herself muddled in at the moment, she wondered if it would be strategically responsible to do so. "Yes," Lightfoot thought, "Strategies are important in very area." Her current situation illustrated that very well. Lightfoot mulled and pondered: "What if the old, familiar human pillars I have not necessarily been using, but just conveniently been leaning on psychologically, are kicked away? What if I make the wrong decisions? What if they're not there when I find myself in dire need of their help? What if, what if, what if?"

Lightfoot's situation is one of those typical ones where people develop ulcers. It's not always easy to see the positive element in changing circumstances. It works better in hindsight but not while you're going through it.

Being an immigrant in the big world, Lightfoot also realized something else: Although perhaps more successful as a totality, individual life in the "first" world was harder than in the "third" world, no matter how unbelievable that may sound to some of us. Looking back she considered that at least the "third" world citizens had a stronger connection with each other, and a better sense of assisting one another in bothersome situations. In the "developed" world everybody had to fight for his or her own advancement, and when you went down, you went down alone. No one even paid attention to your struggle, for everyone had their hands full with their own battles.

Lightfoot stopped typing and closed her eyes. Before drifting off in a liberating sleep she thought, "Today you can be sure of your job, and tomorrow you're maneuvered in a situation that has little or no outlook. And everyone expects you to be able to move on. Yes, maybe I will have yet another reason to be proud of myself when I look back at these precarious times in a few years. But at this very moment I am scared. And I wonder how I will ever get there..."