Cue up the theme song from the Greatest American Hero (and George Constanza’s answering machine):
Please leave a message at the beep
I’m not around (anymore) or I’d pick the phone
Where could I be?!?
HellOOOOO Chicago! I am back!
6+ months ago I shamelessly announced I was unemployed and living with my parents. It was bar none, the most attention grabbing blog post I’ve written to date. I’ll admit it was a little self-indulgent. Who am I kidding? It was a lot self-indulgent. Thanks for everyone’s support through a tough time.
I’m sure everyone has been waiting waiting with baited breath to find out what happened to me, so I’m happy to tell you that the unemployment chapter of my life is now over. I started a new job back in Chicago last month.
Unemployment was a weird experience. People acted differently around me. Everyone was trying to either cheer me up or inspire me. Multiple people encouraged me to look at this situation as an ‘opportunity’ to reinvent myself.
I tried to reinvent invent myself. I proudly (and self-indulgently and shamelessly) proclaimed I was going to write a book. It was exciting and fun. I was motivated. I spent most of my days working on that ‘project’. It was tiring but I went to bed energized…that is until I didn’t.
As it turns out writing a book is REALLY hard. I fancy myself an organized person, but holy hell keeping your thoughts organized to write a 200 page book is on a completely different level than anything I’ve done before. Reinventing myself was no longer fun. It was overwhelming. It was a job that paid nothing and sucked up all of my time, time that probably should have been spent looking for a source of income. I squirreled away plenty of money before my involuntary sabbatical, but I still needed to be cash flow positive in the next 6 months, and really more like 3 months. My imaginary book was not going to meet that very real deadline.
Beyond money, there was a gaping and growing hole in my resume. Sure I could hide that by listing experience as a ‘freelance consultant’ but that’s a pretty hallow and transparent trick. That part of my resume stretched the limits of my credibility. I knew it, and so did almost everyone else who looked at my resume.
Multiple friends commented that I was taking my unemployment in stride, but I was secretly worrying. It’s easy to hide anxiety and suffer in silence when you only talk every few weeks. You can just put on a happy face for the world to see for a few hours and then retreat to your cave. It’s even easier to do via text and email. However, you can’t suffer in invisibility from the people you live with. And I was living with my parents.
Let me preface the following few paragraphs by saying that my parents are awesome. Moving back home with them was an easy decision because my parents are compassionate and understanding. And most importantly supportive of whatever I do. Other peoples’ parents might have subtly (or not so subtly) expressed reservation if a child moved 1700 miles away from home. My parents did not, nor would not, do that. They truly want me to be happy. Everything they do is with the best intentions. They want to help in any way that they can. Including letting me crawl back those 1700 miles with my tail between legs to come back home with no questions asked. When they saw me suffering in silence they worried and tried to help. I appreciated their attempts to help, but there’s a distinct difference between trying to help and actually helping.
My dad tried to help by offering unsolicited tips for searching for job: Why don’t you talk to a recruiter? Why don’t you talk to a temp agency? My response was some lighter version of “Stop it DAD! You just don’t get it”. (God that made me like I was 15 years old all over again.) Dad hasn’t looked for job since the 1980s. He doesn’t know how the rules have changed. His well-intentioned suggestions fell flat to me. They weren’t helping. They were just making me worry more about worrying.
My mom helped by taking care of all of the household duties. There was no need to go grocery shopping or even make breakfast, lunch, or dinner because mom had that covered. For example, every morning when I finished my run she would quickly go into her routine of making me an omelet and sausage links while I showered. Little did mom know, I actually like doing household chores. Folding laundry and ironing shirts is therapeutic. It relaxes me. Making meals makes me feel independent. Mom’s breakfast was nice as a once-in-a-while-treat (omelet > lame cold cut turkey sandwich), but it’s not a great daily habit. And there was a subtle message I was receiving: You can’t take care of yourself. Once again, I was starting to feel like I was 15 years old again. My mom was acting out of love, but love can be smothering.
Turning back the clock to high school was not a good thing, especially with the impending 20 year high school reunion that coincided with my ‘work transition’. I didn’t like myself when I was 15. I felt awkward and socially uncomfortable. I mainly kept to myself. On a Friday night I would typically stay in and watch a movie. Now I was (am…whatever) 38 and I was again keeping to myself. The main difference was that I would drink beer while watching a movie on Netflix. At least at 15 I had to go out of the house to rent a movie at Old Town Video, and I had hair.
That’s the thing about unemployment; It’s easy to get into a worry death spiral. The antidote is the same every time. You pick yourself off of the matt, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward. The only losing move is stopping.
Unemployment is not about reinventing yourself. It sounds like great advice to give to your unemployed friend, but in reality it’s not great advice to receive when you’re unemployed.
The motivation from trying to reinvent yourself is fleeting. It’s an escape from the drudge of day-to-day unemployment. Ironically the source of the drudgery that you’re running away from is the true motivation: survival.
In order to survive unemployment you need a new source of income. If it’s a freelance gig, great! If it’s starting a new business, even better! If it’s finding a conventional corporate job, so be it. Whatever it takes to get a new source of income in the foreseeable future. That’s what motivated me daily and helped me get over feeling overwhelmed from trying to reinvent myself.
In the end, I went the traditional corporate job route. It’s not perfect, but it’s what I needed to do in order to survive for the moment. It’s what I needed to do in order to end the first (and hopefully only) unemployment chapter of my life. I wish I could claim some profound lessons from the experience, but this is all I’ve got.
Instead, I borrow a lesson from Steve Jobs from his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address:
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs
Right now I don’t feel like I connected my dots to reinvention. I just feel that I survived. Nothing more. Hopefully Steve will be right in my case. Maybe with time I’ll look back at 2016 as the period of my life where I really changed. When I started reinventing myself. Maybe it will be in a year, or 5 years, or when (if) I write that stupid book. You can only realize reinvention in hindsight.
But you know what?! Survival is a reason to celebrate! I am back where I needed to be. Where I belonged all along. On that note, I’m going to take a mulligan on the Going Away Party I shamelessly threw for myself in June 2014 and do it over again at the exact same place, Revolution Brewing Tap Room, 3340 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL, starting at 3:00 pm on November 5. Just to reiterate, the TAP ROOM, not the Brew Pub on Milwaukee Avenue. (I’m looking in your direction mom and dad!)
As much as I’d love to stand in line for 3.5 hours at Hot Doug’s beforehand (and show up an hour late to my own party), that place doesn’t exist anymore (RIP). So instead I’ll eat at Honey Butter Fried Chicken before heading to Rev. You’re welcome to join for one, or preferably both! And let’s face, if you’ve made it thus far (reading almost 1500 words of me whining about unemployment) you might as well take that one additional step forward and show up for a party that has been 2+ years in the making.
Thanks for reading and thank you even more for your support.
P.S. Invitations to follow, but your welcome to join if I forgot include you (or we’re not Facebook friends).