Today marks an important anniversary. One I won’t celebrate but rather simply acknowledge as one I had hoped not to achieve. I have been unemployed for eighteen months. Since the point of having a blog is to both express your thoughts but also to have people read them I will tell you these eighteen insights are not intended to be either preachy or maudlin. As with a death or a horrible diagnosis the experience of unemployment is unique for everyone but also possesses the stages of grief but without the denial…when the paycheck stops, you know it’s real. Here is what I have learned over the past 18 months:
1. The majority of people in your life are empathetic individuals who will pass along the name of someone they think you should meet or the listing of a job they think you would be good at. They will share their own experiences and those of friends and family members in hopes of helping you know that you are not alone and that they understand that it sucks to not have work.
2. Not working on a Tuesday when you have a job is fun, the day is your own and full of possibilities. Not working on a Tuesday when you are unemployed is a reminder that you have bills to pay and no income. It looks a lot like the other six days of the week, you have a routine of websites to visit and calls to make. Often you don’t realize it is Tuesday.
3. Unemployment teaches you that your children (young adults) are resilient and understanding. They get to see you as human and fallible. After years of cheering them on through their personal endeavors, they are encouraging and living evidence that life goes on despite setbacks.
4. Your dog becomes your job counselor. You are suddenly spending a lot more time in the house with just the dog present. The dog is the only one in the family that does not want you to find a new job. The dog thinks that since she is neurotic that having a full time “Therapy Person” might be what she needs. As you update resumes, check your Linkedin and post on Facebook you realize that you are talking to your dog a lot more than you ever have before.
5. Each day that passes brings you closer to your next job. You just don’t know what that job is, where it will be or what it will pay. It’s sort of like waiting for Christmas when you are a kid or when you don’t know the gender of your child before delivery. You are super excited by all the possibilities but the waiting sort of makes you nauseous.
6. Opportunities and suggestions come from the most unexpected sources. An inspiring suggestion that made me pursue a class in social media (which is how this blog began) and a flexible part time position (while I continue a full time search) both came from guys who were homeroom classmates from high school. So if you ever complained “what is even the purpose of homeroom?” the answer is “networking”.
7. People like you, they really like you. There has been a very generous outpouring of appreciation from people I have worked with along the way. I have had the good fortune to hear how I impacted them in different ways and how things that I taught them have helped them in life. Some of these things have come from people that didn’t heed my advice at the time it was given but learned to value it later on and recognize that even though it was not easy to give (or receive) it was what they needed to hear.
8. Life goes on despite whatever it is you are going through. There have been births and deaths, marriages and divorces, graduations and new school years since I began my job search. Truly to everything there is a season, a time to work and apparently a time to be unemployed.
9. Minnesota winters can be long, dreary and isolating. Due to the calender I have experienced two winters at home, in the basement, at my computer. I am now beginning my second summer. I used to enjoy summers off but unemployment doesn’t allow for me to enjoy a book on the deck or visit to a lake. A job search is like an anchor, keeping you near your phone and computer.
10. There is no line. You always hear about the “unemployment line” but it’s all done via computer. Honestly after six months you qualify for nothing. At 18 months when I look at statistics I am unclear if the number of “out of work” reflect me anymore or if I simply appear to be a stay at home mother to 19 and 21 year old “children” and a neurotic dog.
11. Most people have been well meaning during my unemployment and job search. Even the people who ask “have you started looking yet?” don’t mean to offend. I will say that since the initial impact of being told that my job of 19 1/2 years ended with a four day notice that I have in fact been looking the entire time. News articles of the last year have trended toward articles about work being hard to find for those over 50 and that the longer you are unemployed the more difficult it becomes. Those are not happy figures, simply factual but I have never really been one to fall into normal statistical standards so I keep looking for what organization needs me next.
12. I have come to better understand that there are two types of people when it comes to work; those people who work for the next rung on the ladder and are motivated primarily by money and information generated on paper and in quarterly reports. There are people who work with others and want the experience to make an impact on them in positive ways for the benefit of the organization and for their growth as individuals. I am the second type of person and have worked for both types of people. My goal is that for my next job I work for someone more like me, someone who has a personality and people skills and a life outside of the work place.
13. I don’t look at this period of unemployment as being a negative but more as an eye-opening and temporary experience. In an ironic twist I spent the final six months of my sons senior year at home. There was no competition for my time at booster club meetings or all night party planning committees. I was available to move my kids to school in the fall and do some round trip transportation mid-year. It had been a financial nightmare but there has been a freedom in time, during a really important life stage. I will look back fondly on the freedom this allowed me though I don’t relish it right now.
14. I have been incredibly lucky to have had the jobs that I have had in life. I have had over twenty five years of experience doing work that I loved. I have been able to impact college students during a really important time in their lives and have maintained relationships with many of them as they began careers, furthered their educations, got married, started families, moved and built homes and lives. Not everyone can say they love their work. I have worked with people who not only didn’t love their work but weren’t good at it and when they left work at the end of the day they didn’t love their life either. So despite this period of unemployment I have to say Karma is real and you get back what you put out into the world and that is how I remain a resilient and happy person and the people I worked with who brought negative energy to the work place get the bounce back from their energy as well.
15. The world is filled with endless possibilities! It has been exhilarating to look at the variety of opportunities and positions that I qualify for. Part of my difficultly has been in defining what it is that I do. I am not seeking a position like the one I most recently had (since it does not exist and consisted of me developing and growing a position during a companies growth) and wish to serve as a liaison between a business or organization and the larger community that it serves or between a community and the members of the municipality which it serves. It is easier to define what I don’t do (I am not an accountant nor am I a brain surgeon) than it is to specifically align my humor, creativity and organizational skills into a single title.
16. Time flies when you are having fun. It speeds by crazy fast when you are not having fun. The days drag but the weeks are over in a flash. Weeks turn into months and then it is time to pay bills again which is the scariest part of not generating income.
17. Inconveniences and expenses don’t wait until you have an income. I was in what should have been a fatal car crash nine months before my job was eliminated. As a result I make monthly payments (for 5 years) on a car that I like a lot less than the one that was totally paid off. Our hot water heater died and we have had to get a new roof during the last year and a half. Benefits had been through me for 20 years and so not only do I not bring home a paycheck but the one that Jeff brings home is significantly smaller than it was when I was working. That is life, these are first-world problems. We have food to eat, a roof (brand new but not without hassles and a huge deductible) and all sorts of other expenses (cell phones and internet) that are basically necessities during a job search and yet did not exist when we got married a quarter century ago. Yes, we have hot water too and a fair amount of credit card debt.
18. Having a sense of humor costs nothing to maintain or use. Being unemployed has not been fun but it has been funny. I took my designation as Class Clown of my senior class right with me into my unemployment classes. That can be a tough crowd, not a lot of joy there. I buzzed through nearly 30 classes in six months and I enjoyed making people laugh while critiquing their resumes or offering them insights on what I could tell they were good at simply by briefly interacting with them. Consultants who came in kept reassuring me “You aren’t going to have any trouble with your broad skills and positive attitude.” Yet here I am excited to find out what it is I get to do next. The hardest part of being unemployed for me as an extrovert has been the lack of daily interaction with people and the opportunity to make others laugh. Beagles are sweet, loyal and affectionate but it’s nearly impossible to get them to laugh!