Hell of Unemployment
was tormenting myself. I was bumming out. I was spiraling into darkness.
I started going a bit nuts'.
letting you go." How many of us have heard that, or words to that
effect, in the last year or two? As workers, employees, we dread hearing
those words because we know that those four little words can send us
into a long, dark spiral.
Eleven months ago I lost my job. I had held the position of Branch Operations
manager for the same company for fifteen years. "Were letting
you go," they said. The reason, I was told, was because "its
time for a change." Thats all they said to me. "Its
time for a change." Really? A week later I wrote the company a
registered letter asking that the reasons for my abrupt termination
be put in writing. I received a response from an attorney stating that
the company felt it was "time for a change." Hmmm! Just like
that! I wasnt on any kind of notice. In fact, just a couple months
earlier I was told that I was a member of the "original A-Team"
(whatever that meant.") So why was I let go? Well, this is the
very question I worried and wondered about.
I want to write about the hell of unemployment. I want to write about
the demeaning experience of interviewing for a job, collecting unemployment
benefits and wondering what happened to my cozy little, comfortable
world in my so-called profession. Id like to offer some advice,
unprofessional though it may be, to those out there who may be in the
same predicament. I actually began keeping an unemployment journal where
I intended to put my feelings into words. I didnt write in it
every day, but when I did it was more of a place to vent. My entries
became rather vitriolic. You see, my wife went to work and my son went
off to school and I had each day to myself. To do what? I had been getting
up in the morning and going off to devote my mind to working for someone
else for so many years that suddenly finding myself alone proved daunting.
I spent hours just thinking, well, brooding is more like it. Oh, I did
things. For instance, I painted my house. But while I was painting I
was thinking, well, brooding. I was thinking about the company I had
just given fifteen years of my life to. I was analyzing the whys and
wherefores of judgment and execution. I was making up scenarios and
conversations that never happened and would never happen, conversations
that should never happen. I was dwelling on it. I was tormenting myself.
I was bumming out. I was spiraling into darkness. I started going a
I decided I had to keep busy, keep active and not wallow in unpleasant
thoughts and memories. I decided, with the advice of my wife and my
father, that if I did things, real things, things that were important
to me on a personal level, I would avoid the traps and pitfalls of being
alone with my thoughts and negative musings. So I went trout fishing.
I exercised. I did Yoga. I went to bookstores and coffee shops. I took
jazz guitar lessons. I helped out on my sons basketball team.
I planted a vegetable garden. I walked in the park and went on long
bike rides. I wrote stories and poetry. I went to movies alone. I read
a lot of books. I cleaned the house, did the laundry and ironing. I
cooked amazing meals for my family. I should have been enjoying this
but I wasnt. Sometimes I actually drove by the old place of work
to check out what was going on. (Just a hint, do not do this, its
a waste of time.) I searched Monster.com every morning and e-mailed
my resume to potential job prospects. I looked in the newspaper every
day, especially Sunday, poring over the help wanted ads, sending my
resume to company after company after company after
I e-mailed, faxed, or mailed my resume, a good one by the way; to close
to a hundred places and in the course of about four months I went on
a total of six, yes only six, interviews.
There was no other interest. What was also interesting to me was that
all six of the places I interviewed with never responded in any way.
They never sent me a note saying "thank you for your interest in
our company but at this time we have decided
blah, blah, blah."
But I figured that out for myself, thank you very much. This, after
putting on a suit and tie, presenting myself in what I thought was a
professional manner and walking into an office to be interviewed by
someone whom I would never have hired when I was manager of the previous
company I worked for. One guy chewed gum, popping it loudly while he
spent most of the interview looking out through the window of the office
(instead of engaging in eye contact, isnt that what they teach
in school?), telling me about how wonderful and qualified and valuable
he was to the company but that there were "a million guys like
you (me) out there." Oh yeah, that was fun.
It was almost laughable. I was told six times (in every single interview
I went on, all six) that I was over qualified for the job. One guy told
me that hed love it if I could work for his company but that he
knew it would be a "step down" for me and besides, all he
could offer was $10.00 per hour. I stood up, shook his hand, thanked
him for his time and bid him good luck and good day. In each case I
wrote a nice thank you card to the interviewer yet still never heard
a word in response. You know, it wasnt almost laughable, it was
totally so. At least it would have been if it hadnt been so frustrating,
demeaning and belittling. I began, as have so many others in the same
place, to doubt myself. There must be something wrong with me, I surmised.
I hadnt had to interview for a job in over twenty years. I was
comfortable in my position and reputation and industry knowledge. I
had the rug yanked out from under me and I lost my footing. There must
be something wrong with me. I was beginning to think it simply had to
We tend to think of ourselves in terms of what we do for a living. Others
think of us in these same terms. "What do you do for a living?"
How many times have we all been asked that, as if it matters? "Oh
Im a_____________ (fill in the blank), mechanic, teacher, salesperson,
accountant, brick layer, window cleaner, financial analyst. Thats
what we do. Thats what we are. But in the hell of the unemployment
world we cannot answer the question that way. "Oh, Im
(Wait a minute, what am I?) This bothered me. What the heck am I? People
would ask me that question, as people do, and I would get nervous. I
began making things up. "Oh, I work for myself". If you say
this and they push it, though, youd better have something ready.
I actually told one person that I owned a company that made canes and
walking sticks. Where did I get that one? I told people I was a musician.
(Well I am.) I told people I was a writer. (Well, I am.) I told one
person that I was compiling a book of essays on the history of rock
and roll music. (Hey, Im actually doing that too.)
What I wanted to tell people was not what I did for a living but who
I really was as a man. There is a poem by D. H. Lawrence entitled, "What
Is He?" The first four lines are,
"What is he?
A man, of course.
Yes, but what does he do?
He lives and is a man."
Thank you D. H.! The point is, and this is what it took me several months
of spiraling into anguish and self doubt to figure out, that we are
not what we do for a living. We are people with interests that range
farther and wider than the company we may work for. Now, I know there
are people who work at a job that they love, in a profession they love,
and they identify themselves with that and thats great. I just
dont know any of them. Well, no, I take that back. I do know a
few people like that. One of them is a writer, one a classical guitarist,
another a jazz guitarist and one of them is a trout fishing guide on
the Yellowstone River in Montana. Not bad! Theres hope for the
rest of us.
I realize I sound like a bit of a cynic. I realize I may sound a little
bitter. But honestly folks, Im not trying to. With the economy
as it has been there are many people like me who have lost their jobs
and who are having a difficult time finding work. Like that gum popping
guy said, there are a "million" people like us out there.
People who are confused, going broke, lost, belittled, frantic, and
lonely. People who want to work, who are qualified to do a great job
who are wandering through this hell of unemployment in a daze. They
are painting their houses, walking in the parks, going to book stores
and coffee shops, planting vegetable gardens, doing housework and cooking
incredible meals for their families. (And by the way, doing all those
things, especially the family oriented ones, are important. These things
can and do keep us sane.) But these people just want a little respect.
Oh, they want a job, yes, but they want to be recognized as people.
They want to understand why they lost their job. In most cases it was
probably just the economy and the proverbial axe just happened to fall
their way. Its too bad.
The thing is, and this what I really wanted to say to any and all of
those people; the thing is we need to realize that we are not what we
do to earn a paycheck. We are so much more than that. We are_______
(you fill in the blank) But the economy is getting better, or so I hear.
In fact, I started hearing on the news that the economy is getting better
and dang if my phone didnt start ringing and I went on some job
interviews, then I went on some second interviews, and the next thing
I knew I had three job offers. Three. I took the one that I felt best
suited the needs of my family. But you know something? Im not
a sales manager, Im a jazz guitarist, a writer, a husband and
father, guy who likes to go fishing with his friend the trout guide,
a guy who likes to hang out in book stores and cook wonderful meals
for his family.
During this past summer my son joined me on those long bike rides and
we went to movies together and shot baskets together. My wife and I
had long conversations about music and poetry and life, love and the
..well, happiness, not work. I started enjoying doing
all those things I mentioned earlier. Through my family I rediscovered
myself. I realized that I really was the one who emerged the winner
throughout these last eleven months. I realized that I live and am a
man.And that is the point. Be who you are. Do we have to work? Yes.
Should we take pride in what we do to earn a paycheck? Yes. Should we
work hard and earn the respect of our company and our peers? Yes. But
if you are now out of work, and again, Im no professional, just
a guy who went through it with you, rediscover who you are, remember
what it is that makes you a person who lives and is a person (to paraphrase
my old friend, D. H.) and when you do go back to work, and you will,
dont forget what you learned about yourself because that is really
what is important and what will make you a better worker in the long
run. Go through this period with grace under pressure.
© Jeffrey Beyl November 2003
all rights reserved