Whistle While You Work (in the Dark)

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’ve come across three people who were recently offered a job, and then the offer evaporated because the company decided to do lay-offs instead. Another friend was fired from an organization where she’d worked for fifteen years, and yet another friend has been told (by her third manager in 90 days), that her position is being outsourced soon.

I did not realize when I bounced into the government contracting industry after college that I had chosen a chronic-job-loss field. When a contract ends, when a major program is taken over by a competitor, it’s standard practice to lay off your people and hope the next contractor picks them up. Security clearances can help, but I had those, and as an administrative resource, I was among the first to go.

Four times I’ve been told, “You do a great job, but you are surplus to requirements. Buh-bye.” No severance, no COBRA coverage. In each case, I was already pretty broke (see single parenting), and in each case, I was terrified, angry, and intermittently despairing. Family would have taken me and my daughter in, provided I was willing to move thousands of miles away to places I actively loathed living.

I learned that part of a successful job search is simply patience. The day you send out a hundred resumes, there might be only five truly appropriate job openings. They get filled, but next week, five more open up, and your resume is still near the top of the queue.

Persist. Do some job searching, some informational interviewing, something every day. The dots often don’t connect in a straight line, and taking productive action helps tame despair and worry–and the shame–while it bolsters the patience.

I also learned that job loss is not something to keep to myself. I learned to tell everybody that I was on the hunt and what my quals were–my daycare provider, my neighbor, the other people in the choir. Friends of friends are the most likely source of a great new job, and every lead was grist for hope.

And the last thing to come from my various job searches is that I keep in better heart if I can indulge myself in small ways despite looming homelessness and worse. Library books. A single piece of excellent chocolate. A few yard flowers. A half hour sitting in the sun with a cup of tea. If I took a moment here or there to cherish myself between rounds of job searching, I went back to the fight with more determination.

All that aside, I was raised with the axiom, “Never leave a job unless you have already have the next job.” The sheer terror of unemployment when I had a child to care for still haunts me. In the end, I was lucky–I found good enough jobs, and then I had enough skills to become self-employed. But those weeks on unemployment, or contemplating foreclosure or eviction, were among the scariest of my life.

How do you cope with the scary times?






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13 comments on “Whistle While You Work (in the Dark)

  1. “I keep in better heart if I can indulge myself in small ways” YES! Do you remember when everyone was talking about “Finding” their Bliss? I don’t believe we find blis, we unleash it, and sometimes in just nano- and micro- ways, like your bite of chocolate. A child’s smile, a rainbow, a butterfly, bee, or hummingbird on a flower are little things to make me smile. I always try to say “Thank You” to the universe at large for allowing me to appreciate small moments of Bliss. It does help relieve stress if we allow ourselves to stay open to the little enjoyments.

  2. This article reminded me of a couple of times when I got laid off. I’m a graphic designer and with the rise of such powerful word processing and graphics programs for the average user, I’ve been laid off at least twice. The first time I was working for a service bureau attached to a large, multi-National magazine. The work simply dried up, and because I was working part time, I was the first to go. It didn’t matter that I was good enough at the job that I had been tasked with literally writing the training manual for the position. Unfortunately I was laid off exactly one week before 9/11. Like many people at that time, I became very depressed at the state of our country and the world. For some months, I consoled myself with food and gained quite of bit of weight. Eventually I pulled myself out of it, began watching what I ate, ran on the treadmill every day, and regained my health and my sanity. Soon I found a job that I loved, much closer to home, where I got to be creative, all day, every day. After working there for nearly 8 years I was dismissed with barely a goodbye when business became too slow to justify my pay. That time, though, I was blessed in that I didn’t have time to sulk. A few months after my last day of work my beautiful grandson was born. I began the best job I could ever have imagined, watching that amazing little boy 4 days a week for the next four years while his Mom & Dad went to work. Three years in, his little sister joined us and life got even better. I’ve had a couple of jobs since then, one that I left on my own terms, and one where I still work and absolutely love. But I have learned that I can survive these ups and downs and often, life on the other side of disappointment gets even better! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  3. Oh, my heart aches for you reading these words, Grace!
    I too just try to keep my spirits up while marching determinedly forward. My persistence and stubbornness are fairly vast, which can be a big help in times of trouble. Sometimes a leasing, sometimes a curse.

  4. How do I cope with scary times? Not well is the honest answer. I was fortunate to graduate into a field where there was a chronic shortage, so while I didn’t always have the job I wanted, I did always have several choices. I solo parented 2 children and so learned to live lean and was pretty content “doing without” as long as my kids got most of what they wanted and all that they needed.

    My scares come from crazy world happenings. All I can do is work to control anxiety, remind myself of core values and pray. I also hug my dogs, they are a wonderful comfort.

    • Dogs RULE. They have been literal lifesavers several times in my life. I feel they were created to illustrate on Earth the unconditional love of the heavenly Father.

  5. Thank you, Grace, for a wonderful encouraging column. I didn’t cope very well when I was let go– twice–due to vindictive bosses at poorly-run businesses back in the 2000’s. You don’t realize just how much of your self-esteem is tied to your being employed and your work valued until you become unemployed. Depression and destructive coping mechanisms can become a real problem.

  6. Fortunately for me, when things get scary, I get calm or possibly numb. Anyway, I function. I’m the one who calls the ambulance, or, if it is a task that seems overwhelming, I break it down into steps.

    • I’m editing to add that while I have been poor, I’ve been constantly employed for over 40 years now, and having no income would be one of the scariest things I can imagine. As long as I can keep the mortgage or rent paid, keep the power and lights on, and have enough to feed the family and pets, I call myself doing just fine.

  7. I have been fortunate to have always been able to to make my payments although I have been an involuntary vegetarian. My “scary bits” to date have been blessedly brief as I don’t handle them at all well. Then I bore everyone giving them chapter and verse forever.

    I’ve run away from some less bad times and places by moving, traveling or disassociating. Melanie Safka sang, “I wish I could find a good book to live in.” I’ve found a few.

  8. I use my cats as therapy purrers…
    I’m a great one for “panic first, ask questions later” and I do allow myself to wallow for a bit, but there always comes a time when I say, “Ok. So, now what do you do?”
    I connect with friends and do little things to make me happy.
    And, sometimes I organize.
    Most of what I do falls into the “delay the inevitable” category.

  9. I do not do well in situations as you describe. I like having a plan and a backup. Life doesn’t always accommodate me. If I’m stuck in a stressful situation, I ask myself “What’s the worse that can happen?” That jump-starts me.

  10. My husband may be let go this summer, and is trying to work up the fortitude to reformat the resume. This will be the fifth time since we have been together that he gets laid off. The first was when I was 8 months pregnant with my first and having complications, moving apartments, and so very exhausted. We got through it then and we’ll get through this summer. It is just one thing at a time, cut expenses and don’t panic. It’s hard with one kid in college and another approaching it, but I’m making don’t panic my mantra.

    One great thing about working at a bookstore is all the free arcs, it always makes me happy to have new books regardless of their bindings. And my new indulgence is whole milk and honey in my tea.

  11. I like to do my panicking curled up in my bed. Whenever I have a truly bad day, that’s usually where I go to regroup (and also do some short-term hiding from the problem). Coffee helps after that and of course a notebook and pen.