We had the pleasure to work with Miriam Linderman a few years ago when she walked through our boutique doors as a client and we gave her an interview outfit. Several years later, Miriam is now a successful coach with her own private practice. She’s decided to give back to Dress for Success Vancouver by facilitating a Career Centre workshop on The Importance of Play in Life and Work this coming April 2017. We asked Miriam if she is ready to share her story, and willingly, she wrote this very powerful and inspiring story.
On an icy but sunny Calgary afternoon in the spring of 2008, my husband of 17 years screamed at me one last time. In that defining moment, I knew I had to leave. But more than just leave, I would need to escape.
In the early morning of the next two weeks, while he slept in his separate bedroom, I silently removed my journals, clothes and two musical instruments, and stored them with friends for safekeeping.
Under the guise of a Mother’s Day present, on May 8th I flew to Vancouver for an unprecedented 10-day visit with my daughter. I didn’t know what I would do. With the help of experts at a women’s support service and flooded with angry and threatening emails from my husband, I stuck to my decision to leave him and began the job search.
Though I had once managed leadership training and organization development departments in two private companies, my self-esteem had suffered from being constantly criticized, raged at and controlled.
I hadn’t worked in 8 years. After his retirement, my husband, 20 years my senior, decided that we’d spend winters in southern California. Though it may sound idyllic to you, being 48 years old in a retirement community and having to drop out of a prestigious creative writing program I loved, sent me into depression.
Moreover, against my lawyer’s advice, I had signed an unfavourable prenuptial agreement, too afraid not to sign.
And now I was looking for a job in a new city, with no financial backing or funding.
If you have ever suffered from trauma, deep loss or sustained shock, you know the aloneness that hits you, the disorientation that is the complete reversal of life as you have known it.
Whatever you counted on before has vanished. You spin in the black hole of your thinking, often drawn into dark visions of the future, unable to see or trust that it will all turn out well.
Rational mind seems to have dissolved, leaving you a wailing puddle of emotion. Crying hits without warning, and it goes on until it is done. Not on your schedule.
You can hardly think straight, let alone look for a job. Feeling ancient at 54, I believed no one would ever hire me.
If you have been in the centre of trauma, you also know that every kindness that comes your way feels like a blessing and pure grace.
And that’s what it was like for me when at the invitation of an Employment Canada counsellor, I arrived at Dress for Success Vancouver. Embarrassed, uneasy and ashamed, I rang the bell. And from then on, I was welcomed with warmth and dignity.
The woman assigned to me kept bringing me clothes to try on while I cried behind the curtains of the dressing room. I don’t know if I talked much, but I do remember that she was quiet, and that was surprisingly comforting. She had a job to do and she did it graciously. I felt supported by her complete focus on the task. No attempt to fix my feelings or intervene. No platitudes or reassurances that I would be okay. Her silence and steadiness calmed me, and I never once felt judged.
Humbled by this unexpected experience, suddenly I was on my way to an interview with a completely new outfit and a revitalized spirit.
And I got the job.
Which meant another two outfits.
For the next two years, though I was fiercely committed to getting through the fog that is post-traumatic stress, there were many times when I wondered if I was going to survive.
I may as well have landed on a foreign planet. I reached out for whatever help I needed because I was physically and emotionally unable to do this myself. Not surprisingly, in a leadership program I attended in 2013, the first lesson was this – leaders ask for help.
To heal me of the trauma and support me through the impending divorce proceedings, I attended workshops and counselling.
Determined to succeed, I took care of myself as if I were my own best friend or dearest child. I refused to abandon myself again. I hadn’t risked everything to give up now.
And I wanted my daughter to see me flourish. She was a true hero and rock during this dark time, helping me in unimaginable ways. It was now up to me to help myself and do whatever I could to make a life for myself.
To do that, I needed compassion and forgiveness. For myself. For my mistakes. For my choices. For everything.
Time to put pride and ego aside and ask for help, even if it meant calling the city’s crisis line. Though not in any danger to myself, I surely needed someone to talk to and reassure me.
Time to take negative thoughts and turn them around. Even if I didn’t believe them.
Time to let go of shame.
Whatever it took, I did it.
I held that original job for 5 years, working at the corporate head office as a senior change consultant assigned to major province-wide projects in healthcare. During that time, I trained and became certified as a professional coach and began coaching our leaders and helping private clients after hours.
Finally, just before my 59th birthday, I decided to build my own private coaching practice and resigned from my job. Learning about business from an owner’s perspective rather than as an internal consultant to an organization was another disorienting time with a steep learning curve. As my first time away from organization culture and structure, I had a lot of masks to remove from years of conforming and playing by the rules.
Now in my private coaching practice, I help other professionals transform their lives, use their gifts, make meaningful contributions and leave a legacy they can be proud of.
At the centre of personal transformation, gentleness and tender care lead the way. Each of us is precious. If we had known better, we would have done better. Now we can.
We can let go of what was, design and create a life that uses our talents and big, generous hearts.
We can forgive ourselves for tolerating the intolerable, for abandoning ourselves, for not having the life we thought we’d have, resolved to remember who we are.
And like the volunteers at Dress for Success Vancouver, we too can be earth angels for others, graciously tending to those who need our tender care, giving them a vision of what’s possible, until they can do so for themselves.