Last July my job was eliminated. This came as a shock to me, after years of glowing reviews and previously unheard of success in innovation and growing audience. And then the air conditioner broke, and a lightning strike destroyed the external hard drives full of every picture I’d ever made, among a host of other expensive bad news events over the following month (that I don’t even remember now).
Closing the door and crying wasn’t really an option, so I tried to figure out what to do. The breathlessness and sleepless nights were pretty uncomfortable. What happens if nothing happens?
The only thing to do was to do something. I try to keep in mind that unless I am running for my life, then things can’t be that bad really. So I made a budget and pursued health insurance. I tried to take the time out as a brain vacation. Instead of worrying, I should think about where I am and what I want.
Do I really want to spend my life making some rich person richer? Do I need an office job at all? All I really need is income and health insurance, right? Is an office job the only way to get those things?
Here are a few things that helped me. Maybe they’ll have some value for you.
Say yes. I never pick up the phone. When I became unemployed, I made a habit to always pick up. For one thing, I might not talk to another person that day. It’s very easy to isolate. And one of these calls was going to be an opportunity, or an interview, or something amazing. Listening to messages just seemed like postponing. If it’s bad news, I’d rather have it now so that I can move on.
I said yes to new projects, like bringing back Art Relish. I launched a Kickstarter I’d been putting off for years. It failed, but now I know I can move on. If there’s no great community demand for what I’m offering, then maybe some changes are needed.
When I tell you, “I just say ‘yes’ and figure it out on the way,” I am only half-kidding.
Say no. I am valuable, and so is my time. If there’s a waste, cut it. I’m a “Sure, let’s!” kind of guy, and saying yes to everything can lead to a blow up of commitments. Something gets left out. So I learned to say no.
Make friends. One of the many areas where I could always improve myself is in asking for help. And when I do and have, it turns out people really are useful! Like, a lot. I had become so used to being a one-man team and convinced of my universal skills, that it didn’t occur to me that maybe I can’t do everything. Now I know I can ask for help. People are willing to give it. Also, have long lunch dates and don’t talk about your work situation. Also, talk about your work situation, because your friends have friends who need help, and they know you’ll come through.
Be alone. I got a lot of J-time. A lot. Quiet and … well, quiet is nice. After decades of incessant mouse-clicks and chatter, it is really, really great to have an extended amount of time to be with your thoughts and finish those projects you have been putting off. Also it gives you time to do the laundry and other chores that will make your partner happy, and partner satisfaction is critical. (In my case, she’s been the one paying the bills and carrying the heavy load. Partner. For better and worse. You make me feel like a whole person.)
Take it easy. Don’t stress. Try to enjoy the time out. Walk to school with your kids. Pick them up and go for ice cream in the afternoon. Control the things you can, and let go whatever you can’t. Go to the movies, and the driving range, and the lake (on budget, of course!)
Work hard. Make a budget. Look for something every day, apply for the ones you want, and keep track. I made a Trello project board called “job hunt” – people I reached out to, things I need to learn, resource sites, applications outstanding, rejections/no call backs (more than 16 for me!), etc. Those projects? Finish them. Do anything that is productive in any way. Bored? Wash the dishes. Wipe something down. Keep it together. Progress of any kind counts.
Think big. This is my time. What do I want? I made it to my mid-40’s before being laid off. So now here we are, unemployed but not desperate. I can continue on and get an accounting firm job or sell chicken sandwiches and sugar water, or I can ..?
Think small. Details. Assign deadlines to things and work backward from that date. What needs to happen right now, today? I started making a daily list of things that need to get done. Probably should have started lists years ago, but running around putting out fires and always responding to the next thing kept me busy. Now I write it all down, and cross it off. I know what’s done. I move forward. Slowly sometimes, but every step counts.
There’s probably lots more, but the washer just finished and I need to put the clothes in the dryer.
On Monday I start as the Web Communications Specialist at the Carter Center. I will be working on the human rights team, running The Forum on Women: Religion, Violence and Power. My workday efforts will now be dedicated to ending religious-sanctioned violence against women.
I’ve sought personal fulfillment in my life and career, getting closer and closer over the years. This one feels very good. If I can spend my time working to stop something horrible happening to a little girl somewhere, I’ll do it. I am so, so thrilled to have this opportunity. And happy for everything that has brought me to this right now, today.