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Marriages can last even when jobs don't.

Respect, understanding and love kept this couple afloat when their jobs bottomed out

Shirlee and Harold Haizlip are enormously successful by every measure. Confident and dynamic, Shirlee, the daughter of a prominent Connecticut minister, is a Wellesley College alum. Her myriad interests and connections have led her through careers as a television producer, fund-raiser, political campaign manager, corporate executive and writer.

Harold, a Washington, D.C., native whose parents never got more than a seventh grade education, graduated from Amherst College and Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. Courtly and silver-tongued, he glided through careers as a teacher, principal and school administrator.

Together, they hold up their nearly 40 years of marriage and the health and happiness of their two grown daughters as their proudest accomplishments. In tribute to this success, the Haizlips have collaborated on In the Garden of Our Dreams: Memoirs of a Marriage (Kodansha, $24), a book which poignantly chronicles the dark turns in their careers--and other facets of their lives--and the steps they took to keep their lives together when their careers seemed to be falling apart.

B.E.: What was the toughest period of your career?

SHIRLEE: It was in 1986 when I lost my job as a corporate executive with WNET in New York. In the downsizing, 150 people were let go. I'd been there almost seven years, was highly productive and believed I was immune. Instead, the layoff left me feeling ashamed and humiliated. But Harold saved me. He just kept saying that they were crazy and I was wonderful. That was just what I needed.

HAROLD: That was an awful time, mainly because I couldn't help Shirlee. Then, I lost my job as a vice president at Manhattan Community College a few weeks later. That period taught me that no job is ever guaranteed and that, ultimately, I had only myself and my family to rely on.

B.E.: You were both unemployed for several months. How did you manage?

HAROLD: My primary goal was to manage and mask anxiety. Looking for a senior-level job was not easy. I had no income and when the girls' college tuition hit, Shirlee and I had less than six months of reserves to get by on. For my own sanity, I volunteered with the Head Start program and the New Haven Cultural Affairs Department in Connecticut. Sometimes I rode my bicycle so that I didn't have to spend money on gas. People thought it was quite charming and I didn't tell them any different. That was all part of masking.

SHIRLEE: I didn't want to work for anybody again. So, I opened my own public relations agency, which was extremely gratifying and boosted my sense of self.

B.E.: Despite not having a job, Harold, you both moved to Los Angeles when Shirlee became executive director of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the American Film Institute. Then, shortly thereafter, your careers took another turn.

SHIRLEE: Government cuts in [National Endowment for the Arts] funding hit the movie industry hard and my job was gone. But it was OK because I had already started on a book about my mother's life (The Sweeter the Juice, Simon & Schuster, $22), which led to a public speaking and writing career.

HAROLD: California was a great opportunity for Shirlee, and I thought there would be a wealth of opportunities for me. Instead, I got negative reactions to my credentials and my schooling back East. Fortunately, I wound up working for a consortium of schools where I established the Children's Art Collaborative. I then became Western regional director for Communities in Schools Inc. But the group soon restructured and I either had to move East or move on. I moved on.

B.E.: What advice do you give people who are struggling to manage the work-relationship balance?

SHIRLEE: Most people think in a vertical way--setting a goal and then thinking themselves straight up to it. Sometimes you have to think horizontally: that means take a step back and shift your thinking sideways before moving up again. Harold and I have done that many times to get where we wanted. Professional couples are naturally leaders who are knowing and opinionated, but you don't always have to be right.

HAROLD: I've always acknowledged that I'm not fully in charge down here on earth. Listening to your words before responding is key. For Shirlee and me, understanding each other is more important than living the war of words.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:relationship advice
Author:Clarke, Caroline V.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 1, 1999
Words:748
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