For the second time in a year, I am without a job. The details aren’t particularly important (although buy me a drink and I’ll tell you all about it), but I’m unemployed. Despite being thoroughly irritated that I yet again find myself in this unenviable position, I’m reflecting on what I learned in my first bout of unemployment and doing my best to allow it to shape this new experience.
While each day is its own journey – the high of a small victory followed by crippling inadequacy, repeated on a 24-hour cycle – there are three key ways I’m approaching unemployment differently this time.
I’m a planner by nature. My brain runs every possible scenario for every situation, creating a raging river of emotional and intellectual investment that runs day and night. While it makes me an excellent problem solver, it also means that – when confronted with a crisis – I’m in panic mode until things return to normal.
When I lost my job last year, the panic was immediate. Doubts about paying our mortgage, our bills, and our childcare. Concern that my work experience wouldn’t qualify me for the next job. Guilt about leaving projects unfinished and goals unachieved, even though it wasn’t my decision to leave. Immediately freaking out about ALLTHETHINGS was a really normal reaction to being laid off. But with a little more life under my belt and a little more experience in this exact set of circumstances, I’m taking an easier route this time.
I know I’m going to get another job – it’s simply a matter of time – so I’m doing my best to strategically evaluate my situation and react accordingly. One of the biggest sources of worry is financial, and with very good reason. I don’t have a career just because it’s fulfilling – we need two incomes to keep our household afloat. The last time I lost my job, our finances bore the brunt of my first wave of emotional reaction.
You know when the power goes out and you know you need to preserve your phone battery, but you feel immediately compelled to check all of your social channels and read the news? I did the same thing, but with money – making panicked purchases knowing that my last paycheck was on its way and I wouldn’t be able to spend money for the foreseeable future. By no means did it ruin us, but it certainly was not the best financial decision I could have made for my family.
This time around I took a more pragmatic approach. After giving myself a day to sob and sulk and watch television in the basement, I shut myself (and my dog) in our library and did a deep dive on our finances. A few hours and a new spreadsheet later, I was feeling better. The critical stuff – mortgage, utilities, insurance – we could cover on my husband’s income alone. It didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the rest of our expenses (groceries, gas, diapers) but I knew I could put a couple financial goals on the back burner, put a moratorium on ordering anything from Amazon and going out to eat, and we’d be okay for a while.
[Side note: I realize that my family is immensely privileged to be able to squeeze by on a single income – many people and families can’t afford the luxury of time, adding an enormous threat to the already monumental challenge of unemployment.]
My strategy of derailing panic with a calm, reasonable approach set the tone for the rest of my processing.
When I started last year’s job search, I went in guns blazing. Meetings. Breakfasts. Website after website, article after article about cover letters and resumes and interviewing. With all of my front-loaded effort, I burned out. My momentum was gone before I even had my feet under me, and I was deep in an over-informed pit of crushing self-doubt. Quickly realizing that I was not following a sustainable trajectory, I adjusted my process.
One of the best things I did after losing my job – both times – was to make a list of projects I wanted to accomplish. Last year it was all about raking the yard, napping with my toddler, planning and hosting a Beatnik-themed Halloween party, learning to knit. I accomplished all of it, the highlights being the party (at which everyone wore black and there were multiple poetry readings) and my many awful scarves (all of which ended up looking like giant horrifying tapeworms because I refused to use patterns). This year’s list looks similar, although I’m trying to channel my creativity into storage solutions and home improvement rather than crafting.
The point is this: Nobody can spend 40 hours a week networking and looking for a job without going completely insane. So don’t try. Work hard, but go easy on yourself. Rushing through this chapter of your life – pushing, pushing, pushing until someone makes you an offer and you snap it up without a second thought – will do more harm than good in the long run.
Right now I make a to-do list every day. The list has easy things, and it has hard things. Toddler drop off, walk around the lake, eat lunch. Easy. Stain the deck, file for unemployment, apply for that job. Hard. I never have the expectation that I’ll accomplish everything on my list; I know it’ll all happen eventually, in whatever time it needs.
So while it’s scary to be in a state of transition for a minute longer than absolutely necessary, I find it to be a healthy part of my process.
The first time I lost my job I was SO EMBARRASSED. I was embarrassed sitting at the conference table while the president and HR manager told me they were eliminating the marketing department. I was embarrassed on the phone with my husband, telling him why I needed him to pick up our daughter. I was embarrassed that night when I ran into the parents of my oldest friend and burst into tears in front of them.
As a person who outwardly appears highly capable and as though she more or less has her shit together, I was mortified by activating my personal network to help me find a new job. While I was enormously grateful to each person who helped me set up a meeting or emailed me a job to apply for, I was loath to acknowledge my need for assistance. Maybe it was ego, maybe it was youth (yes, I realize this was only a year ago – a LOT can happen in a year), maybe it was just a really crap stage of processing the experience.
Chalk it up to whatever you like, but I’m not embarrassed this time around. Does that mean I’m running around telling everyone I know that I’m unemployed? NO. I’m still a human with complex emotions working through a trauma that was equal parts heartbreaking and irritating. I get to roll out that news flash to my own target audience on my own timeline.
I have moments, hours, days when I feel terrible that I lost my job. Twice. I’m mad at the organizations that failed me. I’m frustrated by how I may or may not have failed them. I’m annoyed that I have to work and work and hustle and hustle to find myself the next right step. But as much as possible, I’m being kind to myself. See? A lot can happen in a year.
Where are you in your career? Have you been unemployed or stuck in a job search? Comment and tell me all about it!
BY Kate Kearns - October 10, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.