A real piece of work: On losing your job, and your identity

After falling victim to the Bauer Media magazine massacre, Shelley Howells realises that it’s not just ex-colleagues she’s missing.

I was reading a Q&A about why video chat can be so dang exhausting, when a penny dropped. What with the pandemic, lockdown and being made redundant, I’ve been having loads of feelings, which I usually go to great lengths to avoid.

Like everyone, I’m worried about the future, have a serious case of bubble-fatigue and am experiencing the effects of an instant ramen/alcohol-based diet. Above all, I miss friends, family and workmates. Apparently, I also miss myself.

According to the Q&A, one of the reasons that video chat can be soul sapping is because, before lockdown we were many things to many people, in many places. It’s about the self-complexity theory, which goes something like this: who we are with our boss at work is not who we are with our kids at home; same person, different persona and location. We have lots of versions and it’s good for us. But now, for many, all our personas are in one place for weeks on end: at home in front of a video-chat screen. And it does our heads in. All of them.

I suddenly realised that, as well as desperately missing my bestie, my son and my work wife, I miss Work Shelley. Eventually I will get to hug my people, but Work Shelley has left the building and she’s not coming back. And it’s a bit shit.

True, she was annoying. Cracked ill-judged jokes. Talked too much and laughed too loudly with her team, yet she could come across all stand-offish with others. She was awkward at work dos — until she got drunk, and then she was just ridiculous. Swore too much. She constantly repeated anecdotes, didn’t care when she mistook one beautiful young colleague for another and, after 15 years of travel writing, still couldn’t spell acommodation.

But, sometimes, she was magic. Funny. Appropriately inappropriate. Organised. Optimistic. She gave a huge number of fucks for her team. Swore too much. She was firm but kind to ‘her’ beloved contributing writers, tardy blighters included. She was good at sharing: media freebies (okay, so she did keep that cashmere wrap…), puns, paracetamol, Sharpies, iPhone charger, occasional nuggets of wisdom and way too much detail about her life. And by crikey, she should could bash out a story quickly.

Of course bits of her live on. She’s me, doh. But that particular version of myself has gone for good. And it kind of helps to understand that, among all the other goddamn feelings happening right now, I’m grieving the loss of one of my oldest friends, Work Shelley.

Shelley Howells was deputy editor of Bauer Media contract magazine, Kia Ora, Air New Zealand’s inflight magazine



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