I hit a milestone in June — I’ve been out of work for more than a year.
When people ask me how it’s going, I try to emphasize the positives: the consulting work I’ve recently started, a better-looking lawn and a more practical wardrobe. Strange how outdated and pointless some of those corporate clothes look now. Oh, and I’ve enhanced my computer skills by building an elaborate, five-tab Excel spreadsheet to track my job contacts and satisfy the unemployment office. Everyone smiles and says I seem to be holding up pretty well.
The real truth is that I sometimes feel a little out of control. When I first lost my job, I had a tremendous feeling of anxiety and fear that manifested itself as a knotted stomach and furrowed brow. Even though the general anxiety has mostly subsided, sometimes I now find myself roaming through the house aimlessly, looking at piles of magazines I never read but can’t bear to throw out.
I start things but don’t finish them — last week I found two skirts I intended to re-hem a year ago. I gave up and donated them to charity. I can’t seem to read anything too deep. My mind seems best suited for James Herriot’s Dog Stories: Warm and Wonderful Stories about the Animals Herriot Loves Best (St. Martin’s Griffin) and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (HarperCollins).
I sometimes wonder what will happen to me in the next year. Will I actually find a job? I raised this question once at my job support group, and the counselor said, “You mustn’t allow yourself to think that way.” She said it could set up a negative, self-fulfilling mindset.
Probably so, but in this economy it sure feels like my search for full-time employment could go another year. I can only hope that I’ll be able to pick up enough consulting work in the meantime.
This week, two people in the support group announced they’d found jobs. While I enjoyed the celebratory cupcakes, I really couldn’t relate to their struggles. Their searches were short: four months for the man with a doctorate and six weeks for the other guy who said he was about to “hit the wall” before he got hired. In all honesty, I wish the job would have gone to my friend who’s been looking for 15 months. Or maybe me.
There are days when I simply don’t care about making any more job search efforts, followed by days of guilt where I complete five or six online job applications and leave all kinds of voice mail messages for networking contacts. I’ve lost all interest in several companies that acted like eager boyfriends who wanted a kiss but then got scared when I kissed back. They courted me through multiple rounds of interviews and I responded positively to their overtures.
Still, when it came time for a proposal, they backed off entirely and left the actual dirty breakup work to the recruiter. They said I wasn’t “quite right,” with too much financial services experience, or sometimes “not enough.” Don’t they understand my basic skill set of writing and public relations transfers to all industries? I guess I didn’t want to work for them anyway.
It has all combined to create a deep residual anger over the whole unemployment issue as well as a few other life frustrations. Sometimes my anger bursts out, as if all the old venom of Lost Job 3.0 were seeping out of my pores. On those days, I take solace in my 1,020-song iTunes library, of which I am especially proud. I networked it between my two Apple computers and it will play for a full 3.1 days. Surely, this could translate into gainful employment somewhere!
So I wallow in minor-chord blues masterpieces like the Allman Brothers’ “Dreams” and “Queen of Hearts.” Every now and then, I’m really struck by the relevance of lyrics. For example, Elvis Costello’s collaboration with Burt Bacharach “God Give Me Strength” is clearly more than just a torch song. As if there could be any question about this line: “God give me strength when the phone doesn’t ring . . .”
I told my best friend I wouldn’t know how to act if all the pieces of my life were suddenly to fall into perfect place. If that happened, she said, “Embrace it with happiness.”
But I’m not sure I could easily believe such good fortune. I’ve gotten very used to a pattern of hurry up and wait — the kind that makes your heart race faster as you rush to fill out applications, prepare a portfolio and get ready for job interviews and then leads you on an endless “Bridge of Sighs” as you languish for some sort of update, whether positive or negative.
Sometimes the phone rings — more often it doesn’t. The silence is deafening.