Hey-ho, unemployment woe – I’m not in the mood for you.
Not right now, anyway. Maybe because it’s too early. I only left my job last week, after all.
But I’d rather believe it’s because I’m better prepared than on previous occasions when I got the axe, the pink slip, the news, whatever you want to call it. Yep, I’ve been there before. Seven times, in fact. Last week was Number Eight.
They say you never forget your first time, and the first time was the worst.
There I was, going about my business while the rumblings, which there surely must have been, eluded my ears. So when my boss called me into her cubicle (even the department director had a cubicle), I had no clue I was about to hear that essentially my entire department had just been eliminated.
Shock quickly gave way to fear, not to mention a sense of being cut adrift. How long would it take to find another job? Did I even have the necessary qualifications to get another one that would pay enough?
I soon found myself typing up my coworkers’ resumes. At home I lay on the couch, plagued with worries about whether my car, on which I was still making payments, would be repossessed. Human Resources assistance was, frankly, a joke, and not just in my case: at one point enough of us complained that at least two recruiters were called on the carpet. But as it turned out, I was fortunate enough to be carpooling with a friend who had a friend in another department, and said department had an unexpected opening, and…
Suffice it to say that I didn’t need to worry about my car being repossessed. In fact, I would stay with that company for nearly another decade.
* * * * *
It gets easier. You learn that the world doesn’t end, to not become too emotionally invested, for in the eyes of a company you really are just a number. You apply for unemployment yet again and curb unnecessary spending. You give a speech on surviving a job loss at your Toastmasters club.
While I’ve been very fortunate in not having experienced unemployment as a single parent or sole breadwinner, I know what it’s like to lie awake at night worrying about money. Old journal entries are filled with mathematics and bank balances. I still remember the frustration of putting out literally hundreds of resumes and receiving, at best, about a two percent response; the nagging anxiety, as the months moved into the double digits with no offers, that there must be something wrong with me; the sense of failure when it finally came to a choice between paying rent or expensive COBRA health insurance; the secret wonderings of Is my age working against me? Have I been out of work too long to be considered?
And oh, I could go on. The interview questions that don’t really apply to your experience. The worry that the job you know you don’t want is the one that will be offered, and you’ll feel you have to take it. The well-meaning but annoyingly repetitive queries of “Have you found something yet? Any news on the job front? Have you thought about doing something different?”
So I worked on becoming better prepared this time, because this time my job had a foreseeable expiration date. Interestingly, though I was ready for a “change of scenery,” I found myself having unexpected emotional reactions at various times as the embers of old fears were stirred.
But I knew even before that date was announced that I had to do something different. Knew I had to change if I didn’t want to endlessly repeat the same old patterns.
So on January 1, 2014, I embarked on my “Year of Believing Dangerously.” Oh, the rational voices in my head tried to kill it before it started. They warned of reaching the December 31 finish line a puddle of dashed hopes and laughable expectations. “You don’t know what you’re getting into!” they claimed. “You’ll end up alone and depressed on New Year’s Eve, wondering how you could have been dumb enough to think…”
But another small voice overrode them. “So what? You’ll still be better off than you were before.”
And thus, when the still-triggering question of “What are you going to do?” came up, I learned to articulate a new hope, and with practice my voice became stronger. I committed, for better or worse, to moving towards something I wanted rather than something I didn’t merely to pay the bills. I didn’t want fear to be my impetus anymore, to drift for days, weeks, months, staying up too late at night and spending too many hours surfing the Internet while I waited for a phone call, an email, an offer, an assignment.
So please don’t call me “unemployed.” It’s a word with negative connotations, besides which I will indeed be employed, even if humbly at my bedroom desk and not in a paying capacity at first. I’ll be brushing up on my proofreading and computer software skills. Researching, writing and marketing articles. Reviewing books and serving as a beta reader/proofreader for other writers. Continuing my daily exercise in a quest to reach my goal weight. Listening to motivational speakers. Reading. Interviewing and blogging. Taking courses and seeking volunteer opportunities, working on developing new relationships and networking opportunities. Designing a new website. Job hunting while I’m reinventing.
And, to slightly paraphrase a line from one of my favorite novels: “If I come a cropper, at least I can say, ‘Well tried.'”