The United States is one of the few places in the world where, “What do you do?” is the first question you’re asked when meeting someone new. It’s generally unnerving, especially if you’re unemployed. No matter how long it’s been since you defined yourself as your job title, perhaps now is a good time to take a look at yourself and figure out who YOU think you are. It’s not as easy as it seems because most of us spend decades in roles that we may have fallen into, not ones we carefully cultivated.
And, speaking of falling, if your situation is anything like mine and my husband’s after his sudden layoff, you’re reeling from the shock of it all. At one especially challenging and surreal point, I remember that life seemed to resemble the childhood game of Chutes and Ladders where just when you think you’re gaining a foothold, something else comes along and knocks you off the ladder and down the chute. For us, it was a series of catastrophic medical bills on top of taking a major hit in income that sent us down the chute. In fact, even after we went through all of our short- and long-term savings, we had to declare bankruptcy. (Note: This CNBC report cites medical bills as the number one cause for bankruptcy.) It’s been a difficult uphill battle, but in 10 months, we’ll be out of bankruptcy and are committed to righting our ship. At 56 (me) and nearly 64 (my husband), we are rebuilding from scratch. It was a long road, but that road begins with re-establishing your identity.
Volunteering Leads One Person to Self Employment and Another Person to a Job. Getting back to yourself takes work. The bottom line is that your job is gone and you have to figure out what’s next. If you feel like your only option is to get another job, go for it, but while you’re waiting to hear from a prospective employer, consider other options. As much as you’d like to crawl into a hole and have little or no interaction with the outside world, that’s the worst thing you can do. Two weeks after my husband was laid off, people stopped calling to check and see how he was doing. Fortunately, he’d been volunteering (as a big brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters), so reaching out was a natural (but not easy) step for him. He began volunteering as a tour guide and that sparked an interest that led him to where he is today (owner of a private tour company located in Miami Beach).
Mark Boorman experienced something similar after losing his job of 17 years at a ministry. After the founder passed away, he was told his services were no longer needed. At 56 years old, the news felt like a “body blow or a bad dream,” Boorman said. “Someone once said that if you’re feeling sorry for yourself, do something for someone else. Thinking that volunteering for the St. Jude FedEx golf tournament would be a good ‘career move’ turned out to be more than that. In catching up with a friend at this year’s tournament, he remembered an opening at his company for which he thought I might be a good fit. A few months later, I applied for the position and got it, my first full-time job in 7 years.”