Thursday, November 17, 2011

Careful What You Wish For...

“You know what the most incredible thing would be?” I asked my friend Yvonne one day at Cigna when we were at lunch in the fall of 2001. “Right when I am getting to leave for New York, Cigna eliminates my job and I receive four-months of severance pay!” I never thought in a million years that it would happen, mainly because the managers seemed so helpless without us assistants.

Four months of salary would definitely be a helpful financial cushion as I started my new life. I had decided earlier that year, after my positive experience meeting Lanford Wilson, that it was time for me to make the move to the New York market. I wasn’t getting any younger and if I were going to do it, it had to be then. So I started planning for a move to take place at the end of August 2002. Once I had set the end goal, the stars began to align in my favor.

I was cast in two films (one of which still occasionally pays a small residual fee) and a commercial that cemented my membership in AFTRA—I had to join the union. These jobs expanded my resume to include film and commercial work. I was also networking and collecting names of people I could call on once I arrived in New York as resources in the industry as well as for familiarizing myself with the city.

My plan was taking shape, as I researched apartments, neighborhoods, casting directors, agents, theatre companies, anything I needed to get my life started there. It was a bit intimidating because the financials of it all made me very nervous. How would I ever afford to live in that area and pursue acting, too? I began searching for temp agencies and marketing and promo jobs, whatever work I might be able to do that would allow me the flexibility to audition during the day. The financial fears made me ask: would I be ready to move at the end of August?

The summer of 2002, I ventured to Puerto Rico for a very memorable and exciting vacation with some of my closest friends. The day I returned to the office at Cigna, there was a nationwide conference call that required participation of all the assistants. I thought it was going to be the run-of-the-mill technology call outlining process changes for submitting RFPs or organizing policies.

What we discovered was that Cigna planned to downsize in the upcoming months. There would now be one assistant per region. Instead of my region having a couple assistants in Cleveland and a couple in Cincinnati (servicing Columbus and Indianapolis) there would be one assistant working all four offices. The offers would be made to those they wanted to retain and the rest would be let go with severance packages.

I sat there holding back a gleeful smile, knowing all the other women were panicking because they were about to lose their jobs. Unbelievable, I thought. This is exactly what I had wished for—the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

When the call ended, I nearly ran to Yvonne’s cubicle, plopped down in the chair next to her desk and exclaimed, “ You are not going to believe what just happened!”

I told her and she responded excitedly, “Oh, my God, it’s meant to be!”

“I know!” I replied.

The only fly in the ointment was that I was one of two top-ranked assistants in the region. I didn’t want them to offer me the job because if they did and I turned it down, I would not receive my severance—at least that was my understanding. So I had to do some quick thinking. I decided honesty would be the best policy, so I called my manager, who was located in Philadelphia, to explain my situation to her.

I am very thankful for her. She made sure that I was not offered the job. I left Cigna at the end of August 2002 and headed to the Northeast on August 31, crying as I drove away from Cincinnati. As excited as I was to be starting a new life, I was sad to leave my friends and my sister Karen, who had been my apartment mate the previous nine years. Plus the unknown is always a little scary. Still my wish came true and now there was no backing down or delaying my departure date because I didn’t have the lure of job security to prevent me from pursuing my dreams. Once my wish was granted, I was then responsible for doing something about it, rather than ignoring it.

It’s been an adventure these last nine years. It was a positive move, for so many reasons. So a word of caution: careful what you wish for, it may come true.

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