Laid off in America

Monday, April 07, 2003

I need to stop reading the paper. Between the war, the economy, and the state of unemployment, I keep getting depressed. In Bob Herbert's op-ed today in the New York Times, he says "The U. S. is hemorrhaging jobs. 108,000 more jobs were lost in March. 2.4 million jobs have vanished in the last 2 years." The reason he says the jobless rate stays at a steady 5.8% (which doesn't sound too bad) is that people are so discouraged they have stopped looking for work. He says that there are 5 million in the discouraged category. Then there was an article in the job market section of the NYTs yesterday that emphasizes what the economic indicators miss. There is a "Fordham Index" that looks at a whole bunch of social indicators--including things like infant mortality, child poverty, and health insurance coverage--and turns them into one index. This social health index used to keep pace with economic progress, but hasn't done so since 1976!!! So while the gross domestic product may go up, average wages (of those working) have gone down. To top it off, in another section of yesterday's paper, articles talked about the ludicrously high CEO salaries. While the rich get richer, the middle class and the poor get poorer.

So I thought I would talk today about a book I read called "Losing your job--reclaiming your soul: Stories of resilience, renewal, and hope" by M.L. Pulley. I worked with Mary Lynn after she wrote the book. She's a very cool person and was fired, like, 3 times, in her 20s, so draws from her own experience as well of that of others. She wrote about the downsizings in the 1980s and 1990s, but it feels like she is talking about today (on the upside, it reminds us that we seem to go through or survive this every 10 years!). And she collected data on people who had lost their jobs but seemed to learn from their job experience and change their perspectives as a result--whether they were re-employed or not. She called this "resilience--the ability to bounce back from adversity... Resilient people have an inner life force that allows them to spring back and carry on."

Mary Lynn outlines the steps resilient people go through during their actual layoff. First, many people say they saw it coming or that they weren't too happy about their jobs or their companies in the last several months (or years) either. Despite that, many were still shocked and felt betrayed when the layoff did happen. Others felt relief right away. Many of the resilient people who were at first shocked and betrayed, also soon came to feel relief. And in some cases, people went through a pretty dark time before feeling relief. In retrospect, I think I felt relief and and dark (I know, paradoxical). But I think the dark time was the result of failing at my job, then really failing and getting laid off--all new to a person who had rarely failed, and never quite so publically before. I wasn't thrilled with the situation and I was scared about my future, but I could sleep through the night for the first time in a long time. And in this job market, it was hard for me not to go into other "dark times". I just tried to have something to do each day--whether it was planned job search activities or planned fun. Many people take time off, a retreat or something, to really re-connect with who they are and what they want out of life. It took me a while before I could do this. Like 6 months, and only for a few days here and there. I ended up shifting my job search strategies and got a job offer that is in a place that is a much better fit for me. Finally, resilient people move forward rather than dwelling on the past. Although I am not working, I'm already working at my new job. I have quite a few research and writing projects under way that I am using new position as my affiliation. I'm not getting paid but I feel like I'm settling in (let's hope that the job turns into reality--you never know in this day and age!).

Finally, Mary Lynn looks at what helps people really use their job loss to transform themselves. She suggests that those with good relationships (including those who just made sure they sought out others), those who were able to create a fluid and multidimensional sense of who they were (beyond their professional identity), and those with faith, hope, and imagination that there was some purpose for this, ultimately changed their assumptions about their self and about the meaning of work. The experience enrichens them, they don't stay the same, nor do they go "down" or get bitter. The resilient people may not have come out of the situation with a higher paying job, but they usually ended up in a "better" place.

I'm glad I re-read the book for this blog. It's much more uplifting than the newspaper. So go to your library and check the book out. Mary Lynn is a good writer, so it's an enjoyable and fast read. posted by Valerie 10:53 AM

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The experience of the new rite of passage among today's professionals: Being Unemployed

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This blog's mention in the July 2003 issue of Fast Company
Web of Despair.

Other unemployment blogs I have found
Ask your ass.
All about Jen.
Homee's job search.
Get that job.

Some blogs I like but haven't been updated in a while
Where The Hell Did My Job Go.
Invisible Matrix.

Credit problems?

What's keeping me occupied while I'm unemployed?
My husband and my travel photography blog.


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