It’s kinda like Valentine’s Day when you’re single, or Christmas when you’re Jewish. Labor Day has a certain bitter taste when it’s just another day in the series of days when you’re not working.
You see, recently I was downsized from my “dedicated legal staffer” position in a large law firm, a position that I held for 11 years. It’s had more of an impact on me than I thought.
Of course, I have little choice but to cut my costs and overhead, jettisoning all of the accouterments of contemporary middle-class life in the United States. These changes have included trips to the mall to buy new clothes, spending $5.00 on a cup of fair trade coffee at some hipster haven, or spending money on such useless things like Netflix and living in a lavishly decorated and large apartment.
But it’s really not the loss of money that I’m having trouble with. My job formed a huge part of my identity and dominated my life. I took pride in what I did for the “man;” I took pride in where I worked.
People don’t often realize (when they’re nagging about people on welfare or unemployment insurance) that most people want to work. It gives them significance, a chance to make their contribution to the “common good.” The fact that I once had remunerative employment enhanced my self-esteem, mental health, and overall well being.
I didn’t just lose my job. I lost a huge part of my identity, and I’m not okay.
I am grieving. You don’t do something for 11 years, see the same people, go to the same place, and do the same work without getting attached. Like with any loss, there is a large emptiness now that I cannot fill. I am trying to fill it, to move on the best way I can.
In coming to terms with my unemployment, I have tried to make the best of my newly terrible situation. I try to remind myself that my situation is an opportunity to return to the roots of my professional trajectory and redirect my career, and it isn’t going to be all that bad. I have always wanted to work overseas and live as an expat, become fluent in languages other than English. Here, finally, is my opportunity.
Moving on is going to be difficult, but knowing that there are more things I can do—that my life is not over—is keeping me grounded. I can now appreciate the late summer in the Midwest, the brilliant fading light of the sun, the slow turning of color of the leaves. Rooting in nature reminds me that this too shall pass. I will move on to the next installment of my life’s story.
My job was a huge part of my identity, but now I have to time to refocus, reflect, and determine the next step in my career. I’m not okay now, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be.