Friday, August 31, 2012

[Unemployed Life]: The Truth Comes Out Eventually

While I know I've mentioned it a few times before, I don't really talk too much about being unemployed on this blog.  If you trace your way through the archives, I'm sure you'll find the word unemployed said in passing on more than one occasion, but you won't find the full story behind that word.  I started this version of this blog months after I quit my previous job, so many of you probably don't even know the story behind the full story.  I think I've been quiet about it for a few reasons: embarrassment, and a desire not to pollute this blog with negativity.

But here's the thing: I'm not really all that embarrassed, and this experience has been almost anything but a negative one.

So I've decided to break my semi-silence and be as honest as I can about this whole unemployment biz.

I guess that starts with giving you the full story.

Three years ago, I graduated from law school with a JD I didn't really want to use, an upcoming bar exam that I didn't really want to take, and no idea where I really wanted to go from there.  I took the bar, didn't pass, and spiraled into my quarterlife crisis.

Nate and I had just gotten our own apartment and adopted the cutest dog on planet earth, and the expenses were rolling in while I was rolling in uncertainty.  I began looking for work and applying for anything I could find in the immediate area.  That was my first mistake.  Eventually, three months into freaking-the-fuck-out, I got an interview at a nonprofit that would hire me to do a job I was completely overqualified for and pay me a fraction of what my JD is actually worth.  Despite feelings of unease and reservation, I took the job.  That was my second mistake -- not trusting my gut/guide/inner-smarty-pants.

I spent a year and a half there (my third and final mistake), working for someone who, while a great visionary man, wasn't the best at managing a staff.  I was good at what I did, I didn't shirk my responsibilities, and I always kept a positive and professional attitude in the office.  But I was also overworked, under-compensated, held to near-impossible expectations and just plain old unhappy.  I'd cry before work in the morning.  I'd try to figure out ways to contract non-fatal diseases so I could get out of work trips.  I'd take my work home, on vacation, and out to dinner with me.  I was unable to separate it, to compartmentalize this now-toxic part of my life.  So much of this was, I now realize, on me and not the job or my boss.  But it still needed to change.

My self-esteem was shot.  My mood was in the dumps.  My relationship with Nate began to suffer.  I was anxiety-ridden.  I felt like there was no way out.  I knew this feeling.  I'd been there -- for other reasons -- before.  I was depressed.

So I got out. 

I cried when I told my boss I was quitting.  The conflicting emotions -- guilt, relief, terror, uncertainty -- it was all too much.  After all, I was giving up a steady paycheck in the middle of a recession -- who knew when I would get hired again?  Nate and I had talked, and my quitting meant we needed to leave the apartment we loved and move in with his mother.  We just couldn't afford our place on one salary.  So while I knew I was making the right choice for me, for my health and hopefully for some future career I couldn't yet see -- I felt like I was failing him.

But once we were resettled, once things quieted down and I was far enough away from the bad choices I had made once upon a time...things began looking up.  And when I say they looked up, I mean they looked WAY UP.

I took an internship at an organization that worked in one of my passion areas (it was unpaid, which just goes to show you how much I wanted it).  I started taking some long, hard looks at my health.  I re-prioritized my relationship with Nate.  I made new friends that are so freaking supportive of my dreams that I wonder how I got by without them.  I learned that there are places out there that really do respect the work/life balance.  I began recognizing other passion areas, and taking steps to explore them, you know, just to see.  I found my back-bone, my hard limits and my desire to just be happy.

For now, I take work opportunities -- as a project manager, as a legal researcher, as a writing/editing consultant -- as they come, and on a case-by-case basis.  Being with a partner who supports me both financially and emotionally gives me the luxury of doing this, of holding out and searching long and hard for the type of work that will light me up.  It gives me the luxury of looking at opportunities and asking: Does this work have anything to do with my Big Dreams?  How will it effect other areas of my life?  Will it build skills that I need to work toward my Big Dreams?  If not, then do I need the money enough to settle? 

So when I say that unemployment is not embarrassing, and when I say that it hasn't been all that negative of an experience, that isn't to say that it hasn't been a struggle.  It has.  It is.  All growing experiences are a struggle.

I'm going to continue sharing this particular growing experience with you as part of a new series on this blog called, Unemployed Life.  It'll be the good, the bad and the practical of my attempts at finding work that fits into my life while still managing to live my life in a positive way.

No more hiding.

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