My Unemployed Life: A Grandmother's Lament

My name is Alma Grady and I'm a single 58-year-old mother of three sons and a grandmother of six grandchildren.

I was employed as an executive administrator at American Express for 7.5 years. After watching the departures of many employees around me as a result of company restructuring plans, my turn finally came.

After notification of my layoff, I immediately signed on with a temp agency.

I left American Express as an employee on a Friday and returned as a contractor that next Monday. Employee dismissals continued, only now it was called downsizing. I was spared for four more years, but the inevitable finally happened and I was laid off again in November 2008.

My work history, which spans almost 40 years, consisted mainly of working in offices as a temporary worker (now called contractors), generally working on assignments which lasted four to seven years at a time.

Working on temporary assignments worked perfectly for me, because I was a mother of three young children, and my primary interest was working in the entertainment field. So it was convenient to be able to take off from the temporary job I had whenever and as often as I needed, to take proper care of my children and to be able to work on theatrical projects when the opportunity arose.

A dismal time of it

Unemployment was never a word in my vocabulary, because whenever I needed and wanted to work, work was always available. After I was laid off in 2008, however, I was suddenly face-to-face with a morbid picture: I was 56 and unemployed, during a time when the economy had taken a dreadful turn for the worse. To say the least, the outlook was dismal.

I recaptured a hopeful spark of motivation by remembering how I embarked on job searches in the past. With my unique gift of organization and presentation skills, I had always been able to seek out and obtain good jobs. I began by searching through the Internet Yellow Pages from A to Z, and selected all the employment agencies that handled placements in the administrative field. With my list in hand, I began the systematic and methodical approach of visiting agencies and leaving my resumes everywhere.

It became more and more difficult to retain my determination though, because with each passing day, I was met with dreary greetings and told there was no work. The picture was the same everywhere I went. There were no friendly receptionists to greet and assist you, and the offices were only occupied with empty desks and chairs where recruiters once sat.

My spirits hit rock bottom when I went into one office and had to tap on a hotel bell to signal to the only agent present, to bring him up from the back of the office.

After approximately six months, I gave up on wasting my time and carfare on visiting employment agencies and began applying for jobs online. I did this faithfully for about 10 months and found this to be an exercise in cyberspace wheel spinning. Barring one or two calls for interviews (which still left me jobless), I never heard from any of the companies

Little help from family

While dealing with this wretched situation, I also had to face my family. I left New York City eight years ago to move to Phoenix, Ariz., running from that hideous day in 2001 when the World Trade Center was bombed. I'd been working in that area at the time and after the renovations and clean-up process was over, I cringed at the thought of returning there to work. When the opportunity to leave presented itself, I grabbed it and didn't look back.

My sons accepted my decision to move, but all three made it perfectly clear that they weren't happy about it.

Now that I was unemployed and alone and the outlook looked grim, everyone in my family had advice for me. I was tormented to the point of doubting my every move; many times, after some of the battles I had with my children over what I should do, I considered relinquishing everything and crawling back to my father's house.

But eventually I collected myself, got some perspective on my life and stood my ground despite my sons' displeasure (and sometimes anger) at my unwillingness to do what they considered to be the best solutions to my problem -- solutions like returning to the East to live with one of them, or my father.

Here in Phoenix, I've been receiving unemployment since my layoff, my house has entered into the foreclosure process (but hasn't been foreclosed on yet) and I've lived through some very lean times. But I don't regret my decision to wait it out here, in my own home, making the best of my situation. So far, I'm surviving.

The silver lining

These past two years have been a combination of nail-biting frustrations, nagging anxieties and, surprisingly, a welcome serenity. During my years as an office worker, I became painfully aware of the fact that not only was that job not what I wanted to do with my life, but I also felt a growing contempt of being a part of the 9-to-5 rat race. So, in spite of the fact that I no longer had a bountiful income, I was experiencing supreme joy in not having to get up every morning to prepare myself for the mad rush to catch that 9AM bus.

I reveled in the sheer pleasure of spending my days doing precisely what I wanted to do, on my own schedule, instead of spending 12 hours or more of my day imprisoned in an office.

I began to focus more intently on another interest of mine: writing. My childhood dreams of writing and pursuing an entertainment career had been placed on the back burner for the sake of devoting my early adult years to raising my children. As my sons are now adults with their own families and lives, I viewed this to be the ideal time to pursue my true passions.

I'm now focusing my complete attention on developing my writing career and I'm extremely happy with the results so far. The best part about it is that, even though the pay is currently insufficient to meet my needs, the fact that I'm receiving paychecks for the first time in almost two years is certainly something to celebrate. What's more, I'm being paid to do what I enjoy doing and to me, there's no greater satisfaction.

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