21 September 2014

My new reality - shaking off the doom

  
I've been a little shy about writing about my period of "not working" on My Porch and Facebook for a whole host of reasons. First, I didn't want to get the stench of failure all over me. Employers can smell that. Friends start to feel pity. Small children stop and point before they burst into tears. Second, well, there really isn't a second. It really just boils down to the fact that I didn't want to become that guy. You know, the one who can't get a job.  I was also very aware that I am very lucky to have a partner whose hard work can carry us both if necessary. I truly don't know how the long-term unemployed survive. Any complaints I might have made would've seemed whiny at best. Let me repeat this point. I was EXTREMELY lucky to not be unemployed and destitute. I am thankful for that every day. But that doesn't mean long-term unemployment doesn't suck.

Without going into some long explanation of how my fields of expertise (urban planning and historic preservation) are fairly narrow, and how federal austerity has impacted employment in the DC area, and how it is almost impossible to get an employer to give you the time of day when you are over qualified, let me just say there came a tipping point where being unemployed really started to get me down. That moment when wide stretches of day that held so much promise started to turn into something out of a Brookner novel where the protagonists just seem to be biding their time until, well, in the case of Brookner they all seem to be waiting to die--that certainly wasn't me, but there were days when I just wanted the work day to be over so John would come home and we could have a routine evening like we did when I was working.

In the early days there were lots of house guests, and travel. The first couple of months just sailed by. Then there was so much to do for our house project, packing up the house, moving, designs, contracts, meetings, financing, etc. And the holidays, then they rolled around. Then the house project really got into full swing and we were in our rental apartment.

Then a long planned vacation then, then, then, it started to get dicey.

One of the big issues round about this time was that the apartment building we are staying in had about four major renovation projects going on at once. It is a huge building and these projects involved jackhammer noises that I could literally feel in my internal organs. Just as one project would begin to wrap up they would start another one with slightly diminished noise but still enough that it was unbearable. The kind of unbearable where you feel like, and sometimes do, scream at the unseeable noise making machines to shut the hell up. I used to plan my day so that I would be home from 11:30 to noon because that was when the workers took their lunch break. It was the only time of the day I could even make a phone call.

Layer on top of that a job search that seemed to be going nowhere. The one-year anniversary of being out of a job. Linked-in notices about how everyone else I knew was celebrating work anniversaries and new jobs, and promotions. A "network" that wasn't particularly helpful--despite all the good networking karma I have put out over the decades--I have never not helped someone with their networking requests. I even actually found a job for someone once. The realization that changing careers in your 40s isn't as cute as doing it in your 30s. The direct and indirect comments from some in my personal life about my lack of job. The realization that my lack of paycheck was negatively impacting our house project and our retirement outlook. A spouse who never once complained about my work status but who works so hard himself that it was hard not to feel guilty.


When I was able to tamp down all of the guilt and anxiety I certainly did have many moments of pleasure. Who wouldn't want to spend all day with Lucy? And we had such a wonderful summer here in DC that most days would find us sitting in the park for hours while I read and Lucy watched bunnies.

I didn't blog very much while I wasn't working. You would think I would have gone gangbusters. But an odd sort of paralysis set in that made a lot of formerly pleasurable things seem like insurmountable chores.

I got to the point when every post on Facebook or Twitter about people hating their jobs, or their co-workers, or the time they had to get up every morning, made me want to chime in with comments about gratitude for what they had that I didn't have. But I really didn't want to be that guy.

And then, in a blink it was all over. Realizing that I was going to have to come up with some new search terms if I was ever going to find a job, I plugged in "writing" into a job search engine. And up popped a job for which I was totally qualified. And with a company that had been working on the St. Es project for as long as I had and whose owner I knew on a first name basis. Instead of the never ending, byzantine, federal job search process where agencies regularly take three to six months just to call you for an interview, within a week I knew I had a job. And another week later I was sitting at my new desk.

Part of me thought I should take two weeks before starting back in. But that thought lasted for about five seconds. If I hadn't finished something in 15 months, it was never going to get finished. So now I have a cube, and a computer, and a company mug. And I couldn't be happier. No doubt the shine will wear off at some point. But when it does I will remind myself of the pitfalls of my extended vacation, wrap myself in my paystubs, and go back to work.

Do an image search on "unemployed" so many things to choose from. It was hard to narrow it down to just four images.


 
 

41 comments:

  1. I'm really sorry it sucked, Thomas, and admire you a lot for keeping it together and not complaining. Although I wish Facebook etc. were places that people *could* complain about upsetting situations without being 'that guy'.
    I'd love to know more about the new job.

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    1. It certainly allowed me a lot of time to entertain out of town guests named Simon (and others). The new job is related to the world of federal construction projects (as were my previous historic preservation and planning jobs) but now it is mainly working on (writing) proposals.

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  2. Congratulations! How wonderful that this story has a happy ending ;-) May you long enjoy the cube and the company mug.

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    1. Thanks Anna. My trip to Groningen was only possible thanks to being unemployed. And can you believe how long ago that trip was? That was just a few weeks after my old job ended.

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    2. Yes, I remember that quite well. Actually, I was reminded of your visit only yesterday when I was showing to guests from out of town the historic garden we visited. This time all the roses were in full bloom and we couldn't resist smelling all those that were at nose-height. They smelled gorgeous.

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  3. Congratulations. Did you check out Adam's website to see if his billboard worked? It certainly shows a kind of initiative.

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    1. I hadn't looked to see Adam's outcome until you mentioned it. He became a bit of a social media star and was on all sorts of TV news programs and ended up getting something like 60 serious and relevant job offers.

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  4. Been there, and agree with everything you say. It's not an easy situation to get through or to talk about. Congratulations on the new job!

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    1. Thanks. I find family (and friends close to family) were the ones I was least likely talk to about it. I'm sure they were supportive, but there also seemed to be some judgement attached.

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  5. Congratulations, Thomas! How is Lucy adjusting to your absence?

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    1. I think she is pretty happy. She gets her breakfast 1/2 an hour earlier than she used to.

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  6. Congratulations on getting back to paycheck!

    By the way, I bought The Adventures of Unemployed Man from the creators (who were in costume) at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. It's a fun read.

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    1. If only I was as creative as the creators of TAoUM, I probably wouldn't have been out of work as long.

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  7. Glad your unemployment is over and you are back to some semblance of normalcy. Cheers for not being "that guy."

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    1. Oh, I was 'that guy', I just tried to not let anyone see it.

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  8. I agree ,I recently removed most of my work mates from facebook ,as someone moaned and it got them it trouble at work ,great you got a new job amanda recently spent time looking for a new job it isn't easy and is hard .

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    1. I don't have anyone on FB that I know from my work life. So important to draw that line.

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  9. Hallelujah! That's a very interesting observation about changing your search terms and then finding THE job. I was unemployed for about the same amount of time before I found another full-time job. I was studying so that managed to distract me for a bit and saved me mentally I think. I had a couple of casual jobs also that made me very busy - census collector, event organiser and admin support. But I do remember asking my daughter one day very earnestly if she could please be honest with me and tell me what I was doing wrong or did I have halitosis. It's a very self-esteem battering period to go through and I was very conscious of how lucky I was, like you, to have a supportive partner. I was also grateful that we were relatively financially stable and at that stage of life where we weren't really supporting our kids anymore in terms of paying for childcare or education - they were reasonably self-sufficient. My heart goes out to those with few or no qualifications or no experience, a family to support and bills to pay.

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    1. Alex, you are so right. I became convinced that people in my field had black balled me. That I had done something (or not done something) that made my peers in town want to stay clear of me. It was nice then when my new employer who was a part of my previous work milieu said things that made it clear there wasn't some whisper campaign going on. Talk about paranoid.

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  10. Yay! Glad to hear that you found a good fit and that you are back among the gainfully employed.

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  11. Congratulations on the new job & enjoy that company mug!

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    1. I've washed the mug, but haven't used it yet.

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  12. It's great to hear that your search had a happy ending, Thomas. I'm in your shoes right now. Going on 8 months.

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    1. I am not sure if Indeed.com is in every job market, but I found it the best place for job leads. It is essentially a job listing aggregator that pulls from lots of sources. I was amazed how complete it was. It pulled listings from a site about urban planning that is not specifically about job listings. Also, if you aren't on Linked-In, you should be. In some ways it is a pain in the butt. But when you find something you are pursuing, you can see which of the people you know are connected to people with connections with your targeted organization.

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  13. After reading this post I want to aplogize for my "wise" remarks from the last one. Congratulations on landing a new job!!!!! All the best!!!! Rob

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  14. In hindsight, my year of unemployment in 2008 was one of the best times of my life. I read a lot, had some wonderful days out and transformed my garden from a scene of post-apocalyptic horror into a small arcadia. If only I could have enjoyed it more, knowing that a new job awaited me on 2009, but like you I felt a mixture of guilt, embarrassment, anxiety and growing despair. It was a shock to discover how mutable one's self-esteem is.

    I'm very glad to read that you've found something rewarding and wish you all the best.

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    1. That is always the conundrum. How to enjoy unemployment. In 2009 I was out of work for about three months, kind of by choice, and that was kind of a perfect length of time to be out. I enjoyed that bit of unemployment. And I enjoyed the first three months of this latest round. I guess three months is my out of work sweet spot.

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  15. Fantastic news! I loved the idea of wrapping yourself in your pay stubs once the shine wears off. That made me chuckle. I often have to remind myself that I do get paid at work, it is not as if I am doing them a great favor...that helps keep my grumbling down to a dull roar.

    Selfishly, I very much hope that your 9-5 won't interfere with The Readers podcast! I would miss you if you weren't there to entertainingly banter with Simon.

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    1. I don't think my work schedule will impact The Readers, but it seems to be effecting my blogging. Regarding paystubs, it is crazy how one can take those things for granted.

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  16. It's great to hear your thoughts about this Thomas and glad you've been able to find work that fits so well for you. I'm always aware of how lucky I am to have work and thankful for it even if it's not what I'd ideally like to be doing. It's a peev of mine when people say something like "Why not just quit and follow your dreams?" Your post really shows how it's not just the financial strain that being out of work creates, but the social factor and sense of pride that taking a beating in the long term.
    I hope being back at work means that you'll be blogging more in your lunchhour or late at night.

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    1. In 2007 I did quit and follow my dreams and, although I was gainfully employed in various ways until May 2013, it was that decision in 2007 in many ways that kind of sowed the seeds of my recent challenges. I've become a bit cynical about following dreams, but only a bit, because making that break seven years ago did lead to two really fascinating job opportunities and many other things that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

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  17. Congratulations on your new job! I'm glad it was a quick transition - those drawn-out hiring processes can be so incredibly wearing on the nerves.

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    1. What was really nice about it was that the owners of the company knew me well enough that they shut down the job listing process as soon as they talked to me. The only other candidates I had to compete with were the ones that hadn't even had much of a chance to send in a resume.

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  18. I was so happy to get to the bottom of this post to see that it had a happy ending! I can't even imagine how long these past months have felt. It sounds like you made the absolute best of them, but I know that guilt. I was very fortunate when Michael and I moved, but the weeks leading up to a certain job offer were torture. I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to find something. Honestly, search terms were what found me my current job too. Instead of looking for a specific job in a specific industry, I thought about the things that I wanted to do and the things I was good at, and I plugged those in instead. That found me a job which is exactly what I want to be doing, but in a different industry. I've had to learn a lot, but it feels right. I feel so grateful and fortunate every day. I'm so so so happy for you that the transition into the new job has gone so smoothly. I hate that these are things we can't talk about for fear of being "that guy," but even my month of uncertainty I grew frustrated when people kept assuring me that it would work out - there's no guarantee. It reminded me to be grateful every day when things ARE working out and not take things for granted.

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    1. I'm not sure if you are old enough to have had to ever search for employment when all one had to go one were the help wanted ads in print newspapers. No search engine there. And then all the typing of cover letters, and special paper, and stamps, and waiting for the mail process. Sheesh. I can only imagine what a nightmare that would be to return to that.

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  19. I am glad to know you're settled in work again. I had to retire a bit earlier than I thought due to my MS fatigue. I just couldn't keep up anymore and the first year of retirement was very much like you described. I ended up going back to work one day a week and then I realised that wasn't the answer and "retired again" after another year. I think the hardest part was not having a structure to my life as I am a very structure loving person. I seem to get more done the busier I am. I still struggle with that at times but it is now much better. I hope you continue to enjoy your work and I also loved the post on audio books. You're going to "read" so many books this way. Glad you're enjoying them and of course Nevil Shute.

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    1. Pam, I like to think that the uncertainty of unemployment and the perception that others are looking at you funny is what caused my angst and paralysis. But, I do worry that the same thing could happen in retirement. When the promise of all that free time turns into just wandering through each day. I think it is something I need to prepare for.

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