In the days following the untimely death of Steve Jobs, the genius behind Apple’s world-changing i-devices, several variations of this meme made the rounds of social media: “Ten years ago, we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, and Steve Jobs. Today, we have no Cash, no Hope, and no Jobs.”
Well, I thought, sadly flipping through a thousand irritating emails on my iPod Touch, I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve got a job. A full-time job that provides a fair wage, subsidized health insurance, pre-tax spending accounts for medical copays and day care costs, paid vacation days and holidays, and a bunch of nice people to work with in a nice office building. I shouldn’t take this for granted.
But, even though I paused to give thanks for full-time employment, I realize now that I didn’t really take my own advice to heart. I didn’t think it all the way through: What if I suddenly don’t have that job anymore? What would my plan be? Eh, I’ll think about that later, I told myself.
Well, wouldn’t you know it – now I suddenly don’t have that job anymore.
It wasn’t on account of anything I did wrong or ingratitude on the part of my employer; the work just went away. I’ve never experienced a job loss like this before. In the past, I’ve quit jobs because I wanted to, after having made a conscious decision to move on to something different--something specific, with an offer letter attached to it. This felt more like a death in the family. I felt unmoored, sick, powerless.
It’s been two weeks (so far) of emotional highs and lows. I’m still not sure exactly what comes next, but I have some freelance work to tide me over while I figure that out. But I continue to find myself falling prey to some classic emotional traps, responding to every victory as if all my problems were solved forever, and to every setback as if I were destined to fail. So, for my fellow warriors of “funemployment,” (as one friend calls it), I’m preserving two of these unhelpful emotional states in writing. Be aware of them, and when you find yourself succumbing to one, do whatever you can to scurry on back to your rational place.
1. Imposter syndrome. Beautifully described on CurrentMom by Karen Paul-Stern, imposter syndrome strikes especially hard when the chips are down. Sure, you were laid off through no fault of your own. Everyone raved about your work and was sad to see you go. But you have this sneaking suspicion that balloons into certainty when you're all alone in the house staring at the computer screen. You lost the job because you weren’t qualified for it to begin with. You aren’t finding a replacement job in the same salary range because you don’t deserve that salary. You got that job because of some kind of fluke, but now you’ve been found out. You should just take the first offer you get, even if it’s $20k less than what you were making before.
Don’t go there – just don’t! Unless you have real, hard evidence that salaries have decreased for your type of work, there is no reason to accept a pay cut. The best way I’ve found to fight the feeling of being a fraud is to pick up the phone and talk to people who know you and know your work. Just having a casual conversation with a former colleague can lift your spirits – “Hey, remember that time we worked all night on that annual report and that’s when you found out the subway trains don’t run at 4am? Hardy har har!” Suddenly, you remember that night, that report, and the fact that the client called you a “godlike genius” when you handed it over on time and under budget. You’re good at what you do. Someone’s going to pay money for that.
2. Now I have time to CLEAN ALL THE THINGS! Inspired by the web comic Hyperbole and a Half - “This is why I’ll never be an adult” , this self-delusion can send you straight into a shame spiral if you fail to recognize it. Now that I’m not working 8 hours a day outside the home, I told myself, I will finally have time to catch up on all the things I’ve been putting aside!
Here are just a few items on that list:
- Finish backlog of laundry, ironing and mending
- File all the stacks of paper in neat, labeled folders
- Paint two or three paintings a week and catalog all of my artwork
- Throw out all the CRAP
- Train for another half marathon
- Finish my final projects for school 2 weeks early
And the list goes on. Here is what I’ve accomplished so far:
- Washed two loads of laundry
- Caught up on my favorite web comics
- Ate pie
Now, given that I’ve had two whole entire weeks off, that seems pretty sad. But in this situation, you must remind yourself: It takes work to find a job. Just about 8 hours a day of work, in fact. You have to update your resume (or even come up with multiple versions of your resume). You have to search for jobs. To do that, you have to network – meet up with people, talk on the phone, send a bazillion emails, go to networking events and workshops, etc. You have to write cover letters. You have to organize your work samples. And, most important, you have to get through job interviews without having a Rick Perry-esque brain meltdown.
These are just two of the evil tricks our minds can play. We must stay vigilant against these confidence thieves and fight them off when they come sneaking up on us. Whew - It's pretty exhausting being unemployed! I think this calls for another piece of pie.
Photo of pies by AlyssssylA on Flickr.