Courage is as often the outcome of despair as of hope; in the one case we have nothing to lose, in the other, everything to gain.
- Diane De Pointiers
Friday marks a milestone of sorts, in that it will be 15 months that I’ve been unemployed. I’ve written about this intermittently, and I’m not about to begin crying in my beer…but it has been and remains a challenging time for me. I’ve said it time and time again, and it’s still tture- I’m actually pretty fortunate in many respects. I have savings that I can use to augment my unemployment benefits, so for now things are OK. This isn’t about my financial situation, but it is about my situation overall. I’m one of millions of unemployed Americans, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past 15 months, it’s that I and millions like me have become invisible in plain sight. This recession has taken such a tremendous toll on so many for so long that Americans in general, and the federal government in particular, have simply lost the ability to think about the unemployed. It’s as if we have ceased to exist.
Like millions of Americans, I want to work. I get no joy out of my extended joblessness, though I have been able to use the past 15 months to work on some personal issues and take advantage of some opportunities I might otherwise have missed. I’ve worked my entire adult life; I have skills, experience, and talent. Time was when those things were enough, but in a world where there are something like six unemployed Americans for every open job, skills, experience, and talent seem to barely matter.
Growing up, I was taught that getting an education and working hard was the ticket to success. I’ve done those things…but somewhere along the way, the rules changed. Now, as I sail into middle age, it’s hard not to feel (as so many of the over-50 unemployed do) obsolete, as if what I have to offer is neither relevant nor important in today’s marketplace. I’ve worked hard, I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone, but in the end, none of that mattered. I don’t mean that to be taken as whining, but I do find myself wondering when the rules changed.
There are days when I feel hopeful, and I believe that things will break for me at the right time. Then there are days when I find myself wondering if I’ll be able to find a job, when hope seems like a commodity in short supply. I wonder if, in a world where costs are rising and placing an ever-increasing squeeze on my finances, whether I’ll be facing with deciding whether to pay for rent or food. Then there are the days when I wonder if, like so many Americans, I’ll find myself in a position where I’ll have no choice but to accept a significant pay cut in order to get a job- ANY job.
Of course, the flip side of crisis is opportunity, and so I’ve found myself thinking about what I can do to puzzle my way out of my current dilemma. There are many Americans who, finding themselves unable to find a job, have created there own career path. It may be trite, but it’s true; there’s something to be said for making lemonade out of lemons. The question, of course, is what and how. What skills do I have that I can use to carve a new path? How do I market myself so that I can take maximum advantage of those skills? Not having been blessed with an entrepreneurial bent, I find myself struggling to learn how to think like an entrepreneur. I’m still struggling to find some answers, but my next career move might just come down to what I can do in order to create something for myself. If I can’t find a job, then my future may lie in my hands. So what can I do? And how do I go about making that happens?
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize and understand that even once we climb out of this recession, things are going to be different. Americans are going to have to recognize that when it comes to our careers, we’re the captains of our own ship. No longer will most of us be able to count on finding a job and staying there for many years. Many of us will have to learn to live by and off our wits. This will mean being creatively self-centered and learning how to look out for #1 instead of an employer. It means that the days of waiting for your 401k to vest and lusting after than corner office might be things of the past.
The good thing about all of this is that it might just mean a lot more personal and professional freedom and satisfaction. If we recognize the importance and necessity of following our passions, we might just realize a much greater degree of happiness. There’s certainly something to be said for depending on yourself instead of an employer who may, or may not, grant you a 3-4% raise every year…and expect you to be damned grateful for it.
I grew up listening to the stories of the Depression that my grandparents’ generation told. It was a horrible time that tested (and broke) millions of Americans, leaving them scarred and forever fearful. I never dreamed that my generation would ever be facing some of the very same things…and yet here we are. I could whine and moan about it, but I know that ultimately, feeling sorry for myself and playing the victim will get me nowhere. It’s time to figure my way out of this mess, because my own situation is all I really have any control or influence over.
Things are not what we might have thought they were…and they likely never will be again. The question now is what comes next? How do we move forward and create a future for ourselves that will allow us to provide for ourselves, our families, and our future? I’m still working on that one, but I know that I need to figure out how to do things differently- and I’m not just talking about buying more lottery tickets.