Laid off in America

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

A couple of days ago I woke up feeling odd. I couldn't put a name to it. Then I realized that I was happy. It had been so long since I could say I was happy, I didn't even recognize the emotion. So today I want to talk about the toll being in a poor fitting job, then being unemployed takes on a person. Or at least the toll it took on me.

I'm generally a happy-ish person. I usually identify myself as a cynical optimist. A paradox, I know. When I think and talk, I can come across as pretty cynical, but combined with my generally upbeat personality, it makes for an interesting combination. I haven't been that way for a long time.

I was never happy in my past job. Never upbeat. I couldn't be myself, for one thing. I was hired for a certain set of skills that I am particualry strong in--curious, visionary, creative, forthright, questioning, quickness in learning, and my cutting edge knowledge of my field. But once in the job, those very skills were considered weaknesses. And the skills I needed were undeveloped so were weaknesses. I heard daily how I was doing this wrong and that wrong, all the feedback I got was negative. Even the positive feedback had that "but" component. There were no formal policies and procedures--which the company was proud about. But they were all informal and ingrained--I was expected to guess. Given my creativity, I could come up with thousands of scenarios--none of which were "right" because they weren't the way it was done around here. I was told I was too sensitive and that I came across as too young and naive. I spent everyday feeling bad about who I was and trying to please. I had gone from being a golden girl in my previous position to a mound of shit. Outside of work, I was dealing with moving to a new part of the country, a poor economy and a house that wouldn't sell, 9/11, and developing a daily relationship with a guy I was to marry. I was anxious and depressed. I couldn't sleep, I lost weight, I gained weight, I got a cold once a month. After a while, I forgot what it was like to be "me". This was the real me, the new me.

I was relieved when I was laid off. Thrilled. On the one hand that is. But on the other, it hit hard. I AM sensitive and I was still reeling from the mirror that this company had held up to me and said "this is you". I didn't recognize that failure in the mirror, but when the mirror is held up long enough (less than a year!) it starts to look familiar. So I entered the job market frightened--who would hire me? I had no good skills to offer and I was a failure. To be upbeat and positive felt phony.

As I slowly started to pull all my job search "stuff" together, I began to remember that I did have some strengths. And now I was much more aware of my weaknesses. And I was also aware that strengths could be weaknesses in the wrong setting. But in this job market, positions are few and far between. There weren't a lot of jobs out there and the few that I found weren't exactly a good fit with my strengths. Despite the fact that I was not getting the jobs I was getting good feedback from some of the folks I was talking to (I wasn't getting any feedback from others, so I never really got any negative feedback). And as I have said previously, people were eager to meet with me, and gave me tons of their time. Slowly my view of myself was turning around. I was still scared--no jobs in sight, but the real me was beginning to emerge. When I looked into my own mirror, I didn't see either a golden girl or a pile of shit. What I saw was still being carved out, but it was certainly a positive, yet balanced image.

As horrible as it seems, I think the process of being unemployed, at least for me, was healing or at least let me begin the healing process from my past position. But I was lucky--I had good outside support so didn't have to worry about landing myself or my family out on the street. And then life couldn't get even better. I was offered a position as a professor at a local state university--these folks went after me! Weakness, failure, me. They wanted me, I was their top choice exactly as I was. And the job looked like the perfect fit as well from my end. I would have been attracted to them regardless. They offered me the position, I accepted, and even better, it didn't start for 8 more months. I could enjoy some time off.

Once I spread the news that I had accepted this new position, things continued to slide into place. I have already started "working" although I am not receiving any money. But I'm loving it. One of the professors who wrote me a letter of recommendation, the moment I told him I had accepted a position, asked me to write a book with him. So I am writing a book. Along with another professor, I have just submitted a paper for review and possible publication at an academic journal (I'll need these to get tenure). I have another paper underway with a consultant mentor of mine. I will hopefully work with the faculty I will be joining to do a piece of research--starting this summer. I was asked to become editor of a section of one of the top journals in my field (I haven't decided whether I will take it or not, but am completely honored), and the professor who chaired my dissertation committee, a past mentor of mine, wants to get together to discuss research ideas to pursue together.

I'm back to being upbeat. I like to get out of bed in the morning. I no longer feel like I have to watch myself so closely, what I'm doing naturally is "right". I no longer feel like a phony. I can relax. I can be me and that me is good. Now of course, once the reality of the job starts in the fall (think academic politics, etc), I'm sure that this feeling will normalize into something more neutral. But at the moment, I'm enjoying the feeling of being happy. Remember happy?

And I guess that's the lesson I learned. A bad job fit, for me, pervades my whole life, my whole psyche. I can't do it. I can't survive for long. A good job fit also pervades my whole life, my whole psyche. It was a blessing I was laid off. It was a blessing I have had a whole lot of time off to recover. I think I will come out of this situation with a more balanced view of my self, some new skills, and more compassion for others.

Are other unemployed people reading this blog learning similar things about themselves? Is there a silver lining to this unemployment cloud? posted by Valerie 9:02 AM

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

Contact me
You can contact me by sending me email at

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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