I was out of work.
For the first time in my professional life, I had quit one job without having another job lined up. As I wrote in The Black Cloche with Red Flowers, the company I worked for had been acquired, and given the option to work for the new company or take a severance package, I took the package. About a year prior, I'd been through a horrible acquisition, and I wasn't ready to repeat the process. I told myself that the job market was hot--I already had a few leads. I told myself that the severance would give me a cushion, see me through the rest of November and the holidays, and I'd easily get a job in the new year.
Then, the first day I woke up without a job, I panicked. The hours stretched before me, empty. After almost ten years of full-time employment, I didn't know what to do with myself. I worried, too, that I'd never get a job again.
I called up my older brother, who had been laid off in the past and found a new job. He talked me down. It would all work out. I'd find another job, he reassured me. I'd get used to not working.
He was right. I did get used to not working, and it didn't take me long. I spent the next two or three days lounging in bed reading. Just reading for days, the biggest luxury I could imagine. Though my then boyfriend (now husband) had also taken a severance package, he had accepted a month's temporary assignment as part of the transition. While I'd envisioned us spending some time together, I was also happy to read. I did some writing. I baked Christmas cookies, something I usually had no time for. The days passed quickly but quietly. I had some job nibbles, but no offers.
One day I went to a holiday craft boutique at Stanford. I was looking for Christmas gifts, but as sometimes happens to me, I found a hat instead. Brightly colored, made of soft velvet and satin, this hat attracted me on sight. But I dithered. Jobless, I knew I shouldn't spend the money.
"I love the hat, but I'm unemployed," I told the hat maker.
"Change you hat, change your luck," she answered.
I bought the hat. And by the new year, I had a job offer.
I can't honestly say my luck turned from bad to good, because I was lucky to be able to take a little time off, and I was lucky to get a job offer. But I was relieved.
A company called Netscape hired me. They were the first company to sell a popular web browser that allowed people to access the Internet in a user-friendly way. Most people at that time (me included), did not have access to the Internet at home. Many people didn't even own computers. And of course, smartphones were nonexistent. It's hard for me to envision that world now. Netscape employees would go to company meetings where the CEO would tell us the Internet was like the telephone. We just needed to get enough people on it and it would take off. More businesses would start having a web presence. At that time, relatively few businesses sold products over the web. Amazon was in its infancy and only sold books.
Netscape was a wild ride. A lot of people worked crazy hours there (they had a room full of futons if you pulled an all-nighter). But I managed to keep my perspective. For one thing, I couldn't work constantly because I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend.
At the last party for shipping a product at our old company, we'd danced together to a reggae band on a rooftop in downtown San Jose. Now that we were dating, we went to hear that band, Inka Inka, in a small club in San Jose. I wore this hat to the club and danced with him to the band again.
I had a beautiful hat, an exciting job, and a great boyfriend. I had extraordinary luck.
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Ann Hillesland writes fiction and nonfiction and collects hats. In this blog she vows to wear (not just model, but wear out of the house) every one of her hats, blogging about their histories and their meanings for her.