My Unemployed Life: Choosing Happiness Despite Being Laid Off Twice

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Being Laid Off Confession time: I am an unemployed writer. And I couldn't be happier.

No, seriously. I couldn't be happier.

I've been laid off twice since the Great Recession began and I've gone from being a Jaguar-driving, gourmet-food-shopping, designer-clothes-wearing marketing executive to being a yoga-pants-wearing, discount-shopping, work-just-enough-to-buy-some-groceries at-home mom, writer and professor. I still consider myself unemployed -- as I only work part-time in a new field -- but I couldn't be happier.

No, seriously. Happy. And it took a dual kick in the butt of layoffs to do it.

In fact, I'm writing this confessional in my pajamas, while a lovely beef Stroganoff simmers on the stove, my toddler snuggles against my arm, the dog is serving as a warm footstool and "Sesame Street" characters merrily sing on my television screen.

If that doesn't scream "happily unemployed writer," then I don't know what does.


Marathon Runner in the Rat Race

Let me tell you a bit more about my unemployed life. I spent some time in academia, as a writer, and then in marketing, then decided to go for the big bucks in advertising. I made the switch and I have to admit, I loved the rat race of ad-agency life. The stress of trying to please an impossible client -- it was almost a game. No, it was a race to see who could be the most clever.

Going out to expensive lunches constantly. Wearing those red-soled shoes. Beer on Fridays.

Anyway, it was a blast. Then I decided to have a second baby and learned an important lesson: When you're gone on maternity leave the powers-that-be realize they can, in fact, live without you. A month or so after my return to work, I was gone in a brutal round of layoffs. But I quickly landed in a new writing job and six months later had a performance review that was excellent. I even was given a small raise, despite the economy. Three days after that, the CEO decided to lay off most of the marketing team.

Ka-blam, I was out yet again.

On the way home, somehow over my sobbing, I listened to a talk-radio show as experts discussed the economy. One guest said that 60 percent of writers were out of work.

Figures.

I hadn't been at my new job long enough to qualify for unemployment. Our family had just lost more than half of our income, so what should I do now? Do I keep looking? Do I find something part-time? Do I go back to school? Do I just say "to heck with it all" and stay home forever?


The Never-Ending Job Search

At first, I did look for a new job. And I actually still do. When I see something that screams "fun" on one of the job boards I skim weekly, I'll apply for it. But overall, I decided to take my second blast of ego-crushing layoff into the ranks of the unemployed as a sign.

It was time to change my life.

I did some serious soul-searching and then decided to go back to school for a higher degree. I had enjoyed my time in academia and decided that its atmosphere was where I wanted to land, once the recession ran its ugly course. So, one class at a time, I'm re-educating myself and will come out with a stronger skill-set to offer a potential employer.

That said, getting more "smarts" and that extra piece of paper doesn't solve everything. I'm a firm believer in the fact that you have to have a job get a job. I've seen it in too many cases with recent college graduates -- a 4.0 grade point average, lots of on-campus activities, you name it -- but if they've never even taken a job flipping burgers, they are crossed off the potential-employees list before even garnering an interview. I've seen agency friends struggle for employment after being laid off, and the moment they take that minimum-wage gig at a nonprofit, they are suddenly bombarded with job offers again.


Need a Job? Get a Job!

Why is it easier to get a job when you have one? Well, networking is easier, your self-confidence is much higher when you have a job and there also aren't those annoying interview questions to battle, like, "So, why were you laid off?" or "Why have you been unemployed for two years?" Not to mention the other horrors they like to ask about during an interview. Oh, and they want you to answer them honestly!

Ugh. I'm a writer and former journalist. I'm much better at asking those kinds of interview questions than answering them. And even though folks in my industry are very much aware of the economy and its affect on our business -- well, to be blunt, other writers have managed to keep their full-time gigs, so why haven't I? That's a question I'm not prepared to answer. In addition, I suspect that having a baby in the middle of an economic downturn didn't help.

Then that maternal situation brings up another question: "Who are you more loyal to, the company or your kids?" Yikes. No prospective employer wants the truth from any parent on that query.

So, with the status of our industry, the economy and the crazy cost of daycare all pooling together as my main influences, I decided not to pursue full-time employment. My return to college as a student was a step in the right direction for the future I wanted.

But I worried, could I get a good teaching job, post-recession, if I spent three or four years unemployed? Or did the old adage still apply -- I needed a job in order to get one later?

There wasn't a clear answer -- until one day I was asked to help out a former colleague, to teach her online class for a bit while her son was ill.

It turned out that I substituted for the entire semester. I enjoyed the experience and decided to ask for another opportunity, if I could have a class of my own. I was quickly selected to teach several online classes the next semester.

My gig has me comfortably ensconced on my sofa, enjoying the quickly fleeting childhood of my two girls, and it helps pay the bills. It's not a lot, just part-time, but it makes being an unemployed writer that much easier.

It's a transition. And when this recession is over, I'll be in the position to move forward in my new career. Thank goodness for layoffs and those not-so-subtle kicks in the butt. Because I couldn't be happier.

No, seriously. I couldn't be happier.

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