Today is the day. It’s a sunny and pleasant August day in Minnesota and I am in my basement at a computer. For twenty months, through two winters and now through nearly two summers, I have spent a good chunk of most days here. Rain or shine there are websites to search, resumes to tweak, cover letters to write and class materials to review. I’m not physically chained here but metaphorically my computer has been my lifeline to the outer world. Certainly I have met with people, been out socially, talked on the phone but it is via my computer that I post to social media, email with my job coach and take the pulse of the lethargic job market. It’s where I find the articles that identify my “long term unemployment” being the result of my age, my race, my gender, my experience, my commitment to my previous position and eventually in a bizarre twist, as the result of how long I have been unemployed. Oddly, not a one of the things I have mentioned are things that I am able to change. It’s financially a disaster to be out of work this long when you have been a financial equal in a quarter century union. Not only is it very difficult to maintain your financial obligations but it is impossible to just do or go most places just because you want to. It has been a burden feeling as though I am hampering our normal family life and it has been frustrating to put so much effort into an endeavor with so little outcome. I will acknowledge though that there certainly have been things that I have learned and though not all are the typically optimistic life lessens one might expect, each of the ten items I will highlight were a realization to me and that is why I have termed them “bright spots”.
- I have loved to write since I was a kid but work, marriage, life and kids had made writing seem like a luxurious activity I did not have time for. Unemployment has provided me with time and as a result I have written more in the last year than in the previous twenty. It has been rewarding to get feedback from those who have read and enjoyed my work.
- Friends don’t care if you have a job or not. Yes they care that I am concerned about not working but they do not value me any less because I am not currently employed. They treat me the same and I appreciate not getting “the look”. Anyone who has been on the receiving end of too much sympathy knows what “the look” is and I am thankful to not be getting it.
- People who know me believe I can do a lot of things! I have been told to be a wedding planner, to go back to school to become a teacher, I should do stand-up, be a public speaker, work as a matchmaker, write eulogies professionally, counsel parents and students regarding college choices, perform wedding ceremonies, blog for pay, host a radio show, be an event planner, write a book and many more exciting, creative and collaborative jobs. I don’t know what I will be when I grow up but it has been encouraging to have so many people say kind and supportive things!
- It has been humbling to know that this temporary (though long) phase of my life, despite feeling major to me is so minor compared to what others have endured during this time. I have been to multiple funerals, followed many Caring Bridge sights and have watched sickness or surgeries impact the lives of friends, their children or their parents. It has been a constant reminder to not always dwell on what one doesn’t currently posses but to be thankful for the many things I do have going well.
- I have had some really interesting opportunities during this undesired time. I took a Social Media Strategist class online over the winter. I had a very unique networking experience that resulted in me being in the Secretary of States office while he met with a group of Russians and I was responsible for taking notes (no I am not on drugs). I was asked to review the contents for a government publication on “Long Term Unemployment” (defined as over 26 weeks). I have learned a new skill and do a little hourly side-work that has been slow as of late. In the coming weeks I will be doing a 10 day retail gig at the Great Minnesota Get Together (Minnesota State Fair for my international followers) it does not actually certify me as a “Carni” but it certainly will give me some street cred that I have not had since the days of working the Curly Fry trailer at Grand Old Days and rodeos during college.
- Strangers like me. My family loves me, friends continue to tolerate me, what is really interesting to me is that as I have met instructors and classmates while learning Linkedin, personal branding and a host of other things (which did not exist the last time I was looking for work ) I am consistently told “There is something out there for someone as bright and outgoing as you.” Granted it appears these people are not accurate but just the same it is nice when at the end of a class people want me to review their resumes or talk further in the hallway because they think I know something.
- I have hated being unemployed! However, I will admit that this summer it has been nice to get up and job search and let the kids sleep in and then head into a coffee shop of their choosing during the late morning. Last winter was a beast and there were days where despite desperately wanting a job that I was very happy to not to have to drive. I have on occasion went a month without putting gas in my car. It’s not a paycheck but it helps.
- I have had to surrender control. I had never been what I would consider a “control freak” but since having children there is that required grown-up responsibility that is necessary to keep the folks from the county at bay. I have learned to accept that my efforts at job seeking are what they need to be and that every day I am out of work is actually one step closer to my next job and I’m not actually in charge of when that will be.
- I’m told frequently that I have maintained my sense of humor and am holding up pretty well though if you catch me at the right time on the wrong day there is sort of job searchers fatigue that sets in. I don’t really know how to not have a sense of humor and the job hunt itself is full of things that are simply ironic and too easy to poke fun at that it would seem wasteful not to make a Facebook post or share a story over a coffee or a beer that might cause my companion to spray ______ (insert beverage of choice).
- I appreciate the little things a lot more. When the folks at my hourly job (online via WA) made an error and didn’t get my paycheck out I was thrilled when a $25 online Starbucks gift card was sent with an apology. After helping out my job counselor on a project she slid $50 of gas cards my way. A high school classmate has had some online contests where I was able to earn some free (American made and high quality) socks and one of these Tuesdays I just have to win Ren Fest tickets in their Facebook giveaway.
So there is my entirely too short summation of some of the many life lessens I have learned on this trip I never wanted to take. To really evaluate a chunk of my life instead of just living it I believe there honestly has been a balance over these last twenty months of friends getting a new puppy while others are putting their old dog to sleep. For every funeral I’ve been to, I’ve received a birth announcement. For every divorce there has been a wedding. I guess perhaps it has always been that way, I just never stopped to notice. I do know it’s likely that someday I will be so busy and wishing that I had a free moment, though right now the stress of a job is something that I actually crave. It is then that this idle time I have to sit and dwell reflectively will be something I remember fondly. Right now, not so much.