The Heartbreak of Unemployment

UPDATE May 2012: I’ve been employed since mid-March (yay!). Then, the ex-boss pleads guilty to beating his stepdaughter. They say things happen for a reason. Yes. Yes they do.

So much of the value people place on others depends on employment. Aside from our name, one of the first bits of information relevant to another human being is “What do you do [for a living]?” I’ve asked this question myself – nonchalantly – many times of others. It’s generally a good conversation starter.

Of late, I’ve been a conversational dead end. I was fired/terminated/laid off/let go/castrated two weeks ago. I prefer fired as it describes the internal combustion I’ve been feeling… The layoff in itself isn’t as bad as the context: I was fired after less than five months at the post. For someone who prides herself in commitment, this is a hard pill to swallow.

And I loved the job. I was great at it. Excellent work ethic. Stellar performance and productivity. The stuff epic résumés are made of (I hope). And I felt, for the most part, that I got along well with my coworkers. Essentially, it was in the bag. I mean, I even had the whole diversity thing working for me (an ethnic, female nerd – really, if that doesn’t spell j-o-b, I dunno what does).

But it wasn’t enough.

And that’s been the hardest part about all this. I put more stock in myself as an employed person than I realized. My self-worth and confidence has been severely depleted.

Why wasn’t I enough?

I received no warning about the termination; no citations or inklings. In fact, just two weeks prior I received one of the best quarterly performance reviews of my life (if you know my work ethic at all, you know that’s saying something). So when the boss called me into his office after a full workweek and laid the “I regret to inform you” schpeel on me, it was like a wave of pure disbelief sunk me.

Just sunk me.

My 3-year-old would later ask me, again and again, why I had cried that night after work. She’d never seen me shed a tear – most people haven’t. She saw me full-out sob that night. As parents, you try to provide for and protect your children from the bad guys. But bad guys can sometimes be formless economics, or a grudgy attitude, or a severance package delivered via next day mail. You can’t really fight those bad guys. You roll over and bare your belly, hoping your jugular remains intact. My breadwinning paycheck – that was ripped and shredded to pieces, as was my ego and confidence. But my jugular — that’s still there.

And that’s my epiphany. Mimi is my lifeblood. She’s enough. My husband’s enough. My heartbeat and pulse.

My family. Our health. Our life together. It’s all enough – all I need. Well, that and Craigslist to liquidate some of the less needful things we purchased in the five months I jumped up in salary (le sigh). But it’s kind of nice to have cash on hand. Been kind of nice to hunker down and focus on what’s important. To have more time with my family, more time for grad school homework (I could actually do without that).

A good friend told me this is one of my life’s sucky moments. I’ve had plenty of those. This doesn’t even rank 5th or 10th on my list of sucky moments. Still… Carry on, she said. It’s been good advice. Because the alternative is to sink deeper. It’s carry on. Or quit.

My mom told me this experience would be similar to grief.


Pain. Sadness.

Anger. Depression.

But then:

Adjustment. Productivity. Acceptance.

I went through it all.

Telling people I’m unemployed is getting easier. I gain perspective from these people everyday. I am grateful for their words of encouragement, but moved by their own stories. Stories of spouses leaving after decades of marriage. A diagnosis of cancer. A son killed in a bad car accident. Oh, yeah. I’ve got perspective.


What do I do? I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a grad student. I’m a damn good worker, if someone would hire me. The cover letters are sent. The interviews are being scheduled.

What do I do for a living?

I’m living. I’m loving. I’m loved.

The rest is just details.


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