For someone who has worked their entire life, unemployment is a peculiarly unsettling kind of purgatory. This social work practitioner was not “practitioning” for nearly 16 months, having resigned my position in keeping with a favorite John Lennon lyric that says, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That thing that happened had to do with family illness requiring boots on the ground on a full-time basis, and mine were the most qualified boots in the family. Leaving the workforce was the easiest hard decision I’ve ever had to make.
At first it was fine, as my attention was appropriately drawn to the business at hand, but then, in my in between moments, I started noticing the figurative dripping of the faucet. I felt left behind, somehow, that the pace of life had been slowing dramatically as the world rushed forward without me. And as sweet as that slowing was, in some ways, it soon became scary and disorienting. Living close to a major highway I had, for years, been used to the sound of traffic. Several months after plucking myself from the workforce, that formerly familiar sound of cars and trucks took on a different tone. When the wind blew in the right direction I’d hear the morning rush and think, “That’s the sound of people going to work.” It was a lonely time and as the months wore on that sound took on an increasingly ominous tone.
As the health of my beloved family member slowly began to improve, I had time to start worrying about dwindling savings and the ripple effects that would have throughout my life—housing, health insurance, car payments, the list goes on and on. Oh, and did I mention student loan debt? Three months into my self-imposed exile from the workaday world, I began my job search in earnest. Three months after that I’d had a number of interviews and a few second interviews, but no offers. I started to feel that I was at the whim of circumstances that I had no control over and honestly—I started to despair.
So what did I do? What all obsessive-compulsives do—I made a list. Two lists, actually.
In the first, I counted my blessings, laughing at the poignancy of what I’d said to a friend years earlier. “When you have to count your blessings,” I’d quipped, “things aren’t going so good.”
- I’ve got my health
- I have a roof over my head
- I have love in my life
- I have enough food
- I’m bright and ambitious
- I’ve got a strong, marketable skill set
- I look good in a suit (old joke)
In the second, I jotted down what I believed I had control over.
What I have control over
- How well I love
- How honest I am
- How focused and organized my job search is
- How I react to events as they unfold
- How much I exercise
- How kind I am
- What and how much I eat
- What time I go to bed
- What time I get up
- What media I choose to consume
- What I want to write about
Unfortunately, the only thing that would assure #7 was #3. So, I ramped things up.
I revamped my resume. Overhauled my LinkedIn profile. Created excel spreadsheets to track my applications and follow-up. Rekindled old business relationships. Attended events sponsored by organizations I was interested in working for.
And, I created The Social Work Practitioner blog.
Not only did I want to share my knowledge and experience, I wanted to create a presence on the web that I had complete control over, that highlighted my skill sets, my approach to work, and demonstrated whatever abilities I’d developed as a thinker and writer.
Ten months, 77 applications, 18 interviews, 4-second interviews, and two offers later, I was back to work. Three months in, I’ve attacked my role as Program Director of a residential facility for single adults recovering from mental illness con mucho gusto, to say the least.
Folks, gotta tell ya—it’s good to hear the sound of rush hour traffic again. From the inside.
Fabulous article! I am currently trying to continue to work at my present position as an operations directors in a smallish nonprofit (wearing way too many hats) while taking care of my mom and her decline into Alzheimer’s 4 states away. It’s been harrowing and beyond difficult to tend to all aspects of her care (legal, financial, health, family, her attitude – she still thinks she can do it all). Oh my goodness! I wish I could step away, but am afraid I’d not be rehired, so I am enduring what stress does to a body and mind, and pushing forward as I can. You have given me hope and gotten me to consider if I should need to step away and/or even relocate as the stress is just unbearable. That it is possible to start again and, perhaps, have it be an even better opportunity at the end of the day. Thanks again for your inspiration and I’m so glad that things have worked out for you!!! M
Given everything you are going through with your mom, I find it remarkable that you have found the time to read, much less write back. Thank you for that.
Honestly, I cannot imagine how you are managing this. I hope you are not entirely alone in your caregiving and at least have supports of some kind in place as you take the lead. As if this wasn’t challenging enough on a day-to-day level, there are the heart-wrenching considerations related to determining when it’s time for 24/7 professional care. For anyone anticipating having to make this decision, I say this—a move to Assisted Living or some other long-term care arrangement for our aging parent(s) is not conceding defeat. It is an appropriate response to the needs of not only our aging parent(s), but to the larger family system, particularly the caretaker(s) (meaning you!).
As for work, this is a tough one, and of course the answer to how you handle this is a purely personal one. The factors involve include, but are not limited to: your specialization, skill set(s), age, gender, salary requirements, status of retirement accounts and how close to retirement you are, personal needs in terms of the quality and quantity of living space you require, the job market in the geographic area you are considering relocating to, whether or not you have children and are supporting or assisting them—the list goes on and on. Very, very tough. The takeaway? Although incredibly challenging at times, this is territory that can successfully be navigated.
I will be writing about this topic a bit more in my next article, not exactly your situation, but an exploration of my back-to-work process. Where I started, and how I moved forward. I sincerely hope there will be something of use in there for you, as well as others. I am entertaining thoughts of starting a consultancy in this area, and will give the idea a thorough fleshing out during the next six months or so.
Melissa, thanks again. All the best to you, your mom, and all the loved ones who are affected by her illness. If you like, please feel free to reach out to let me know how are you doing.
Craig, I love this blog! It’s honest, to the point, real and what can I say exactly “my life right now” ….WOW……Happy to know your back doing what you do best…..helping people. Your right about there’s no sound like the sound of rush hour traffic…LOL…..
Hire me….I need a job!! 😦
Thanks a lot for taking the time, and for your kind words and support. Now, when I catch myself griping about sitting in traffic, I quickly put a lid on it!
Take heart, with your job search. When I have something to offer I’ll certainly give you a heads up. In the meantime, just trust in what you know—you have a lot to offer—and keep your shoulder to the wheel.
All the best!
Thanks for posting this article. I hold both MBA and MSW degrees along with a Nonprofit Leadership Certificate. I have worked in both for-profit and non-profit arenas. My spouse is a hospice/home healthcare social worker. Sadly, the non-profit arena is behind the for-profit companies in realizing the value of an experienced employee by providing an extended leave of absence for someone in your situation versus a layoff/resignation and hiring a replacement. As a Head Start Executive Director, I have made sure that our personnel policies would accomodate individual situations like yours. I hope you can use your experience to advocate for change in the nonprofit world.
Thank you for reading my article.
Unfortunately, I know you speak the truth with regards to how the non-profit arena lags behind the for-profit folks in this regard. In my case, even if there had been an opportunity for extended leave I may not have qualified because of the relatively short duration of my employment at that point. As you know, very often organizations have a three or six month probationary period before various benefits kick in. I wish that weren’t so.
You have my respect and admiration for being a leader who values their employees in a way that’s sorely lacking in most not-for-profit settings. I will think carefully about your encouragement to create change in the larger sector, as opposed to just at my program or in my organization. Lord knows it’s needed.
I hope this message finds you well and still loving your job!
I am so happy to hear your loved one is back on the road to recovery. I took care of my mom for five years while working and was very blessed to have flexibility. But it was quite difficult and took a toll on me.
Your blog was quite inspirational. I loved it!!
Thank you for so much for sharing with me.
Faye A. Farese
Director of Anniversary Class Giving
College of Physicians & Surgeons
Wonderful to hear from you! Thanks for taking the time to read my article (there is SO much out there), and for taking a moment to reply.
You were indeed blessed to have the flexibility so many of us would benefit from and even so, what a toll it can take.
Thanks for your support, Faye, and hope to hear from you again.
Thanks for sharing once again so honestly and coherently, Craig — many social workers have or will experience similar transitions. Best wishes “on the job”! Tony
So nice to see your name pop up after you shared!
Yes, so many of us have to find a way to navigate that stage of the life cycle when we are caring for aging parents while, in some cases, caring for children at the same time. Very challenging stuff, but fortunately for those of us who are social workers or who work in human services, we are skilled advocates who know how to navigate the systems that, with a little prodding, can truly make a difference. Otherwise… it’d be even MORE challenging!
Take care, Tony! Hope to hear from you again.
Congrats! The job market has changed so much for social workers over the past decade, I know how hard it is to find work, let alone something we enjoy. Sounds like you nailed it though.
The market is changing, yes, even as aging baby boomers expand opportunities. So many organizations are willing (or claim to be forced by circumstances) to forego social workers in favor of some wonderful and kind-hearted para-professionals——this can make it especially tough on our newly minted colleagues with big student loans to pay. I hope our colleagues in social work research are able to quantify the value of having social workers staff front line positions, so that funding sources are more willing to think long term about the value of “human capital.”
Thanks for taking the time to write, and please come on by again sometime.