Friday, March 26, 2010

Welcome to My Life on the Dole

October 1, 2009: the day I got downsized.

I awoke with no place to go, and no one—except my parents and my cats (who only wanted to be fed)—caring what I did all day.

Blank calendar. Silent phone.

On the to-do list: breakfast. Getting out of my PJs: entirely optional.

Worst of all, a scary thought sprang to life and whizzed frantically through my brain. The one thought I'd worked so hard to push out of my mind during the nine-month transition that led to the inevitable downsize:

I have no job. No income. No prospects.

Am I'm going to live in a refrigerator box?

Under a bridge?

Or—dare I think it—with my parents?

Would my cats starve? Would they be forced to eat supermarket cat food?

Ummm. . .would I?

Deep breath. Think calmly.

More deep breaths: In. Out. In. Out. Ommmmmmmm.

Calming down, my mind quickly reviewed my career.

I've had a paycheck of one kind or another since age 15.

Before that, I ironed Dad's shirts for .25 cents each and recycled aluminum cans. At 15, I tutored for $10 per week--the most money I'd ever made. In high school, I toiled as a sales clerk, an administrative assistant and a legal assistant. College summers and holidays brought even more riveting assignments: stuffing envelopes; entering payroll data; and organizing electrical and plumbing textbooks in the college library.

College graduation coincided with the worst job market since the 1980s. No jobs for silly new graduates who thought sociology would be a "really fun major". And, yes, that's exactly what I told my annoyed parents when they suggested business or accounting.

With no job prospects, I backtracked to my old drugstore cashier job. As I rang up Rolaids and maxi pads, former classmates passing through my line commented, "But, I thought you were going to college." After a beet-red blush, I mumbled "Yeah, I did."

To make ends meet—car payment and car insurance—I began substitute teaching and temping for four agencies. I managed to work somewhere most days although I had no idea where I'd be working when I awoke each morning.

I landed my first "real" job that spring as an administrative assistant in a hotel I called "Motel Hell". Six months later, I got downsized at 4 PM--ironically on Halloween. Since I really hated that job, that day was my happiest one since I got hired. For once, I did not cry all the way home.

By 7 PM, I had a job offer and went straight from Motel Hell to my new job without even a day off in between. I had a small but decent salary. Finally, I was a real grown-up with a job I enjoyed.

Six years later with my newly minted master's degree, I landed a position as a healthcare HR executive. Two promotions later, I had ascended the career ladder to Chief Human Resources Officer. Then my position—and I—became "redundant" when another company took over.

Financially, I was doing well. I've always been the kind of person who believed it was important to not just live within my means, but well below my means. The most important things my salary bought me were a debt-free lifestyle and the ability to donate to my church and other nonprofit organizations with missions in which I believe.

But, the material things weren't so bad either. My comfortable salary also meant: business attire and briefcases; professional hair cuts at a hip salon; daily restaurant lunches; European vacations; Alaskan cruises; a maid; a gardener; gym membership; shopping whenever; prime-time movies with concession stand snacks; and several pampered kitties who eat organic food pricier than that fed to most children.

Still, my salary came at a price: life was a rush of activity with 10-12 hour work days. Friends and family complained they rarely saw me. Something always needed to doing. I loved my job, so I didn't mind the frantic pace.

Loved. As in past tense. Over. Finished.

Returning to the present , I took a deep breath and thought: Wait. I can do this. No debts. A recently refinanced mortgage with a reduced payment. A sizeable final paycheck arriving soon.

I had networking ideas. Haven't people always told me I know everybody? I do!

Deep breath. Positive thoughts.

Unemployment is not a catastrophe, I told myself. It's only a temporary problem to be solved through creative thinking and relentless networking. This is doable.

Then I reminded myself of what my friend always said to her children: "You get what you get, so don't pitch a fit."

I fed the cats, poured myself what was left of the high-fiber, all natural, healthy cereal, noting that this pricey stuff would not be in my grocery cart for a while, and embraced my new life—pajamas, fuzzy slippers, silent phone and all.


Tina said...

This too shall pass ! Vacation time is coming up and the temp services will be hiring people to fill in. Sometimes this leads to new contacts and possibly new employment. My sis did temp work in between journalism jobs and actually enjoyed the variety. Check it out.

Rob said...

I echo Tina's sentiments - get a temp job if you can - you never know what it could lead to. It will also boost your confidence.

Or do what I did, go self employed - find a gap in the market, something you like doing. I took up freelance writing and moved into web design and never looked back.


Anonymous said...

Great first post! I can't wait to read more, though I sincerely hope a very soon future entry will be about you starting a new job.


mjupton said...

Your posts would make a great first chapter for a book by the same name. You really should give it some thought...insightful books don't have to be 2000 pages. A short, straightforward book would be helpful to the many others on the same journey.

Tina said...

I got a notice that you had put up a new post, but it doesn't show, at least not on my computer.
I tried to refresh the page, but that didn't work.

thegoodbyegardner said...

Hmmm, perhaps a little sensivity training would not hurt the D.O.L employees?

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