A couple months after being downsized, current and former employees were still angry, complaining and blaming. I still didn’t engage in it because bitterness needs an expiration date, plus it dominates your life whether you realize it or not. It is also a toxic tool in a job search or interview. When someone draws a line through your name, you can pick up the pen to write a new chapter, or continue drawing the line by being stuck on something you can’t change. I understood a grieving process was needed and I also experienced some anxiety, but being bitter wasn’t helping.
No matter how optimistic you are, the longer you are unemployed, the greater chance you will run into frustrations, insecurities, disappointments, and self-doubt. Since this is part of the journey, the challenge is deciding how much of it to keep on your drive. If you aren’t seeing progress, you may need to change lanes, especially when the familiar lanes aren’t taking you where you need to go.
To me, a career, like life, isn’t a straight path. It will include detours, exits, and hard choices, and sometimes you have to back up to move forward. Suddenly losing your job is a change that can make you feel incomplete, but so does working in a job that isn’t fulfilling. So what do you do in either case? Wait for something to change or change you?
Victor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” One coworker told me when it came to feeding his family, if his degree wasn’t working, he’d leave pride by the roadside, switch lanes, and do what needed to be done. Whether he had to drive trucks, mow lawns, or pick up trash … or all three at the same time, he would do it. His ego was pragmatic; unlike others who would starve waiting for a job offer in their degreed field.
This is why having a good support system is critical during these times; it should include patience, understanding and most importantly, honesty. You need people to tell you what you need to know rather than what you want to hear, to tell you to be productive whether it is volunteering (in person or virtually), reducing the items on your never-had-time-to-do list, or working somewhere part-time or full-time if your savings warrants it. Most importantly, when needed, they should tell you to get a job, any job—to do something besides wait.
While I was waiting, I increased my volunteering efforts because it was productive and allowed me to help others more than I could working a fifty- to sixty-hour workweek. I could afford to do this for a certain time while waiting for a job I wanted, but once this time was up my needs would take precedence over my wants. I met some of the nicest people who tried to help me. Some asked for my résumé because they knew somebody who knew somebody, which was surprising because my intent was to help them. It was heartwarming to say the least.
After six months of searching and being contacted about positions I was over and underqualified for; not being contacted about positions I was qualified for; being rejected over the phone, through email, mail, and silence; considering interesting jobs in uninteresting cities as well as uninteresting jobs in interesting cities; working through anxiety and some fear … I was employed again with minor changes in responsibilities and salary. I was fortunate. The coworker who said he would do whatever he had to for his family was fortunate too; his next job was a promotion from his previous position after being out for about three months. Some of the bitter people accepted new jobs and were still complaining about their old job in their new jobs … and some of them were still searching and complaining. The lowballing, shameless company was still shamelessly looking for a sale while not advancing its initiative.
My ride through the unemployment waiting game included battles with egos, insecurities, and anxieties … and I embraced it. I weathered the storm by riding some of my rainy-day savings, but I survived without being angry, upset, or bitter. Being unemployed revealed sides of me that were strong, weak, and neurotic, but I learned that you can’t always pick your challenges. Sometimes they pick you.
It was up to me to grow up and either overcome my challenges or grow old complaining about them. Challenges and coping with change can add layers to your life, which is clearly expressed in the quote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Simply said, you can go down swinging or just go down.