A story of unemployment in 3 acts
Act One: Woe and Liberation
I took it personally when a strange dog came over and peed on my foot in the dog park. It was my first week of unemployment and I was already feeling violated. The company had told us the services of our entire editorial team were no longer needed. (Read: outsourcing is cheaper).
Several co-workers cried, others were angry. I'd been unhappy at work so the termination was jarring but no real loss in a career sense. Perhaps it was easier to accept because all of us were taken down. Unemployment was the great equalizer. The slick and mighty received their comeuppance, too. While I would have preferred to orchestrate my own departure, it was if my integrity and potential were handed back to me.
But you know where this story is heading. After a year of tedious job applications and as much networking as an introvert can bear, I have yet to find full-time work. My six weeks of severance and outplacement services are long gone. ("Crumpets at our beheading," as one of my terminated brethren called it.) My unemployment benefits run out at the end of this year.
Shall I try tweaking my resume one more time?
Act Two: Jump a Little Higher
When it happened, I told friends via e-mail. This way I could let their cheery phone reassurances go into voice mail when the consolation rituals started. They'd be sorry to hear and offer to help. But I wasn't ready for the optimism and pep talks that would follow. Let me wallow a little first.
The circumstances were stacked against me after all. There was my age (AARP-eligible), my industry, the economy. Despite my editorial experience and achievements, good writing is now merely "content" – a commodity in the Internet age. For each job I apply to, there are dozens of younger applicants with expertise in HTML, mobile media, video editing and Google analytics. These skills seem to matter more today than the ability to tell a story or craft a witty headline.
After a week, though, I gathered my fortitude, built a website and got a life on LinkedIn. I took off on the Internet job boards and began getting responses: Do I want to buy a franchise? Train as a bank branch manager? Go to the Philippines to fill an immediate opening for an editor? I lowered the bar a little more.
Another time I got excited about an ad for a writer with 23 years of experience. The odd number was weird, but I was elated to find an employer who valued professional maturity. The job description was displayed again when I got to the website to apply — only this time, 23 years of experience appeared as 2-3 years of experience.
I'm buoyed when unemployment stats go down or my website gets a lot of hits. More often, I've gotten up my hopes, only to be knocked down, blown off or told the position has been rescinded after weeks of hanging on.
If Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons, mine is measured with cover letters.
Act Three: And So It Goes
If you're unemployed, the question you most dread from friends is: "Do you have any prospects?"
Sure, I've always got something in the works. But answering 'yes' means I'll be subjected to the curse of happy exclamations as if the job is already mine. This makes the other person feel better but makes it worse when I have to break the news later (as matter-of-factly as possible) that things didn't pan out.
I check any box asking if relocation is possible. There's no holding out for a fat paycheck or upward career move in a recession either. My deadline is April 1. That's when my Cobra benefits expire. I can eke out a living as a freelancer but my health insurance premium will balloon. With a pre-existing condition, it may be easier to marry someone with a plan than obtain affordable health care on my own.
Oh, if not for the anxiety about retirement savings and such it might be a wonderful life. The days belong to me again. I have interesting freelance work that supports my movie-going habit. I've discovered a talent for Twitter hashtag games. There are long walks with the dog when perfect weather beckons. My generous friends and family often insist on paying for dinner.
I ache for the many jobless who are struggling to cover food and housing costs for entire families. My moratorium on vacations and theater tickets is hardly the stuff of suffering. Yet, living in limbo is corrosive, too. A life on hold is shapeless, restrained, tentative. It's a test to get up each morning with a list of tasks but no destination.
Eve Glicksman is a writer, editor and communications consultant in the Philadelphia area. Her work has appeared in leading national magazines, newspapers and websites. To read more, visit www.eveglicksman.com or follow her on Twitter at @evewrites.