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.