Down and Out

I was unemployed twice in 2009.  I had a six week spell between a layoff and finding a job, and then went nearly nine weeks between leaving that job and finding another.  I think once you’ve been unemployed, you live with that fear breathing down  your neck.  I do, anyway.  I am constantly terrified of making a mistake because I know what that mistake could cost me–cost my family.  If it was just me, I wouldn’t be so worried, but that kid likes to eat.

Gawker has been running a series of stories from the unemployed and under-employed.  Like me, a lot of the writers express shock and disbelief at finding themselves out of work.  They had jobs they thought came with security, and believed that with their educations and experience, if they lost a job, they’d be able to find one quickly.  One writer put into words a side-effect I experienced during my second stint at job hunting:

But the material losses weren’t the hardest. In less than ten months I experienced the complete eradication of everything I’d worked for in my career, along with my confidence, my dignity, my identity, my optimism, and any hope I had for the future. I started tanking my (elusive) job interviews. The pressure of knowing the opinion of a perfect stranger was the deciding factor in whether or not my life improves dramatically or just keeps careening off the rails began to manifest as overly self-deprecating humor and compulsive joke telling. I used to be great at interviews, confident and easygoing, suddenly I’m Rodney Dangerfield. Except I wasn’t funny. I was raw and desperate and completely gutted, and now I can add makes other people feel uncomfortable to a growing list of unemployment side-effects.

It didn’t even take me ten months to get there.  I went to one job interview where I was perfectly qualified.  I made it through the first round and was asked to stay to talk to the hiring manager.  By the time I got to see him, I was fighting tears and started overcompensating with–ugh–okay, the front desk girl joked with me that they called this man Big Poppa.  I actually threw that into part of my interview.  I knew when it was coming out of my mouth that it was horrifying and wrong, but he had just asked me why I wanted a job with his company and the other option was for me to burst into tears and tell him why I had really just left the last job, and how afraid I was that I would never work again because because because.  Instead I said I found the company interesting, and I liked how the office called him Big Poppa.  His face…horrible.  Then, I did go sit in my car and cry.  I still had to go home and try to be positive about my prospects.

P.S., I did not get that job.

I think the Gawker series is important because it reminds us that not everyone unemployed is there because they are voluntarily unemployable.  There are millions of stories out there right now, and most of them are worse than mine.  I did find work.  Yes, I started at the very bottom again, but I found a job with a company I really like, and I’m slowly working my way back up the ladder.  I have a working partner who is excellent at managing our finances.  I have two parents and a set of in-laws who would have made room for us in their homes–we would never have been homeless.  I remind myself that while I may have lost a huge chunk of pride, and I could have lost a lot more of that, I was never in any danger of losing a place to sleep, or of a way to feed my family.

Bottom line, I suppose, is that I’m preaching compassion again.

Taxes are probably about to go up, and that means we’ll all be tightening our belts.  Keep an eye out for people whose belts aren’t even keeping their pants up anymore.  Let’s help each other where we can, even if it is just through sheer consideration without condemnation.  You never know.

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