My Unemployed Life: From Corporate Desk to Squad Car
January 8, 2010. That's the day I walked out of my office in Melbourne, Fla., with a box full of personal belongings: A picture of my boys, a smiley-face coffee mug, mementos from my military past that I had used to decorate my office. All were just remnants of the five years I had spent working behind a desk.
I started out at the small-boat manufacturing company in 2005 as a part-time receptionist. Within a year the part-time gig turned into a full-time management position as the boat company's purchasing agent. The money was good, the hours were great and the atmosphere was fairly laid-back. My husband and I had a lot of fun spending the money just as fast as we made it. We weren't completely wasteful about saving, but we certainly could have -- should have -- put more into it.
By the end of 2008 the housing market started to take a downward spiral which affected the construction industry. And when people quit building and buying houses, they quit buying boats. The company I worked for employed almost 100 employees. That number started to dwindle by mid-2009. At one point the management team took a 40 percent pay cut and was working on the production floor to cover laid-off workers and meet orders.
I became disheartened, knowing that my end with the company was nearing. In November of 2009 I started applying for jobs anywhere and everywhere to try and get a lead on another position before I was handed my pink slip. My boss knew I was doing this, and was actually supportive of my decision. It didn't make sense to keep me there when I was already making less by working than most people were getting on unemployment. At the time, my sons' daycare cost more than I was bringing home.
The Police Academy Beckons
The week before Thanksgiving I decided to swing by the community college to check postings for internships and job opportunities. Instead I signed up to take the CJBAT, the entrance exam for the police academy. I'm a former active duty Marine, so this really wasn't a far-fetched career idea for me, except for the fact that I was 31 years old. I aced the exam and was given a physical fitness test date of Jan. 4, 2010. I considered it a bit of a challenge to at least see if I could pass. That day came and I ran my butt off, nothing like I was able to 10 years prior in my military days, but still, I passed.
The following Monday I showed up to work with thoughts of actually going through with the academy. That afternoon I got a page from my boss and I knew my time was up. The meeting was short and to the point -- I was laid off. He teared up when I told him I was OK with their decision and understood. He asked me to finish out the week so I could help them organize customer orders. At least I know I was appreciated, but it didn't make the drive home any easier. I blared my music and tried to keep the lump in my throat from turning into a full-on sob.
I've worked since I was 15. My energy level goes from 0 to 90 after a cup of coffee in the morning. Sitting at home was not an option.
Not having a job meant I would have to be dependent on someone else financially. My husband always has been the main breadwinner, but I managed our finances and always brought in a salary, too. Not being a contributing member financially made me feel like I shouldn't have a say in what we did with our money.
My husband could care less as long as he didn't have to stress over the bills. Unfortunately, our bills mounted as our income was cut in half.
After a week of deliberating my next move, I convinced my husband that it would be great for me to go into the police academy. Every agency I spoke with was in need of female officers and I was a shoo-in with my military background. The only problems were paying for the academy and child-care.
I ended up cashing in my 401K and enrolled in the night academy, so that I could stay home with the boys during the day. Unemployment helped for a little bit, but my old company had used what was called STC benefits, which pulled from unemployment to help cover the decrease in our pay -- basically using up our benefits while we were still on the job. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but little did I realize how fast those funds would run out.
Things Get Worse Before They Get Better
That February, we hit another financial setback. Our house got soaked from a leak in the foundation. We fought for six weeks with the insurance company to get the repairs done, all while living with bare cement floors and industrial fans running 16 hours a day to dry the walls. With two sons, three dogs and a house full of mayhem, we felt pushed toward insanity.
I started the academy on April 6, 2010, as repairs on the house began. Graduation wasn't until November 2010. It was going to be a long eight months, and I still needed a job.
During the day I sat at my computer for hours, searching online job sites and submitting my resume. I must have written hundreds of emails, cover letters and thank-yous. Yes, thank-you notes. I'm old fashioned when it comes to taking up someone's time and would send a thank-you note if they took a split second to reply.
I had numerous interviews, the majority ending with "We love your experience and education; however we are looking for someone with less experience that will be able to grow with our company." However, I preferred hearing that phrase over, "We'll be in touch," and never hearing back.
When I caught on to that "less experience" thing that most companies were looking for, I decided to dumb down my resume, only using the previous five years of work history. That came back to bite me -- now they said I didn't have enough experience. I almost felt like I was on a carousel trying to find an empty horse, except every time I would see it within my reach, someone else was able to jump in front.
I spent months screening calls from creditors. It got to the point that I had our house phone disconnected and we used our cell phones. The creditors played that game, too, and started calling our cell phones at all hours.
I ended up saving all the numbers they would call from into my phone, under the creditor's name, and then set the ring tone to silent so I at least didn't have to hear how broke we were. Our main bills, the ones that kept the lights on and water warm were the big priorities, next to food on the table.
The rising cost of gas didn't help, either, since my husband worked 45 minutes away. Some weeks we would raid our change jar for milk and bread money.
It was getting hard to keep a positive outlook when everything kept falling apart around us and money became increasingly tight.
When my husband came home from work, I'd have to leave for my academy training each night. By the time I got home after 11 p.m., everyone was asleep. I trained every Saturday, too, which made my husband basically a single dad, running the boys to games and birthday parties.
I missed my old life, I missed how it had been with my boys before I lost my job. I missed my husband. Most of all I missed me. This wasn't the life we set out to live for our family and it was taking an emotional toll on all of us.
Financial stability seemed like a fairy tale. My training was moving along, but not only was I 10 years older than the majority of my fellow recruits, I was also in charge of them as their class leader. Dealing with that chaos on top of my rocky personal life was putting my "adapt and overcome" attitude to the test.
I Make the Grade
In October I caught a break. After months of going through the background-check process and interviews, I received a phone call from my local sheriff's office. Pending my successful completion of the academy course and passing the state exam, I was being offered a position as a deputy with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office.
I got the job, and today I am a deputy sheriff and still madly in love with my new career. There's never a dull moment, and short of deploying for months or years, it is very similar to the atmosphere that I yearned for after leaving the military.
My husband is a bit jealous at all the fun I'm having on the job, but he likes the paycheck and says it's nice having me come home with a smile on my face and a good story to tell.
A valuable lesson is to pay yourself first -- in a savings account. Put money away now, because inevitably it rains. And in my experience, when it rains, it pours.
Though we still are struggling to catch up on bills that mounted during my unemployed life, we are making sure that our future is a little more stable in case another "storm" brews.
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