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Unemployment, Week 2 March 5, 2009

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Workplace.
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I’m now several days into this unemployment thing, and a couple of things have caught my attention. I’m still processing this, but felt that the observations were worth noting.

Self-Esteem

As much as I might want to not be defined by what I do or what I earn, it’s an interesting social experiment to strip away someone’s livelihood and see how their self-esteem and self-image suffers. It’s one thing to be intentionally not working outside the home. I have good friends who do the “Mr. Mom” thing, and they don’t seem affected in terms of their masculinity or feelings of self-worth. (Perhaps they’re just immersing themselves with feelings of “yeah, I’m not making $100,000/year, but I’m spending time with my kids that Mr. Smith will never get!” Those feelings may be rooted in something other than the truth of that statement.)

For me, it’s hard to shake the feeling that as you walk into a public place, people are seeing a huge “I’m Unemployed!” sign on your chest. (Given the nature of the current job market though, I’ve wondered that such a sign might be a good idea.)

Sympathy

Unfortunately, when you lose your job for cause or by way of “right-sizing,” feeling good about your abilities is much more difficult. When friends see you at the grocery in the middle of the day, they pleasantly say, “Are you taking the day off too?” How do you respond? Do you tell them the truth and then suffer though the almost certain sympathy parade, or do you hide the reality and push that conversation off for another day?

This Friday, it will officially be two weeks since my job was eliminated. Now, even though I know that “the clock is ticking” in terms of each day burning up the severance pay that I received, things are not yet in dire straights. If need be, I can find any number of ways to cut monthly expenses, and I’ve already found some short-term contracting jobs that may result in some income. Because of this, it makes it even more frustrating when someone calls and wants to bring us dinner, or provide us with some other financial assistance.

People are homeless in my hometown. People are living on the streets, and starving. How could I, sitting in a comfy house with lights, heat, and an internet connection, possibly accept something from someone? On top of it being a huge hit to the male ego, it just seems ridiculous from the outset.

Control

One of the hallmarks of unemployment, as I’ve learned, is the sense of “no control” you immediately feel. As a Christian, I’m fully aware that this is not necessarily a bad thing for me to learn and feel, since it should cause me to become more dependent on God. As Christians are wont to say, “None of us are really in control. God just let’s us think we are.”

One of the few things that an unemployed person can control, is who knows that they’re out of work. Accordingly, if well-intentioned friends decide to “cast the net” for you, and spread word far and wide, the one thing that you can control suddenly is also out of your control. If you have friends who are currently unemployed, I strongly encourage you to treat the information as confidential unless and until your out-of-work friend asks for you to help spread the message.

Emotional Land Mines

The last thing I want to note here is something that I was completely unprepared for: emotional land mines. These are the little things that surround you that look completely innocent, but in the context of unemployment, suddenly seem very different.

That container holding all the loose change on the counter? Suddenly, late at night, you find yourself counting it. You know this is ridiculous behavior, but you do it anyway. The other night, I found $38 in quarters and dimes, and another $20 in pennies and nickles (counted by one of those noisy machines at the grocery). I can’t remember the last time I had noted the change in that container. Now, even though the amount is trivial when compared to the upcoming bills, I’m unable to walk past it without stopping to count out a bit more.

Yesterday, I discovered that my son had “taken his lunch” to school. What he took was a small snack pack of cheese and crackers. The fact that he did so reminds me that he senses the looming financial issues, and feels like he needs to do whatever he can to cut costs. The fact that he knows, and that he’s trying to “do without” cuts into my soul. I fully recognize that I can teach him important life lessons by how I respond to this situation. Even so, they are lessons that I would much prefer to not teach… lessons I’d prefer that he not be forced to learn by observation.

Books in boxes seem innocent, don’t they? However, when there are framed pictures, pencil holders, and other “office knick knacks” sitting in boxes, they represent an office worker with no office. I keep vacillating between pulling all that stuff out and putting it up in a room in the house (as if to put a stake in the ground that says, “I’m going to work from home!”), or leaving them in the boxes so I can easily move them into a new office somewhere. The longer they sit on the floor, right by the back door, the more they remind me of what has changed.

The truth is, much has changed, and so have I.

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