Falling out of the Tree

Nearly 30 years ago my life went to hell. I’d graduated college. I was exhausted, sick of studying, and so I was looking for a job. When I asked my advisor how to proceed he just said “Oh, nobody is hiring BS degrees. You need to go to Graduate School”, which seriously pissed me off. It would have been nice to know that four years earlier. When I left school I lost my student jobs and was unemployed. Weekly I got letters from the government asking about paying back my student loans, which I couldn’t do because I couldn’t get a job. I had to leave my apartment and for six months I was literally living in my folks garage worrying about spiders in the middle of the night. I sent letter after letter out, all hand typed on my old Smith Corona (personal computers and printers were far in the future) and mailed in an envelope with a stamp. Week after week passed and nothing. One day I was so depressed that I didn’t get out of bed until 4:30 in the afternoon. There was no point to, and that scared me.

Finally in early December I got a nibble. One place I applied to had an opening and wanted me to fly across the country for an interview. I borrowed some money from my folks and two days later I was on the other side of the country. The interview went well and I got the job. I cashed in the return part of my ticket to rent a tiny efficiency apartment where I lived with no furniture, no phone, on the floor in a sleeping bag, eating Cup O’ Noodles. I had no money to do anything and knew no one in town. I distinctly remember on Christmas Eve I was in the public library. The place was deserted. Just before closing I found myself standing by the window looking out at the city below. Clusters of people went by laughing and chatting on their way home or to parties or to shop for family and friends. A light snow fell and when it hit the window it melted, running like tears down the cold glass. I went home and fell asleep listening to the BBC Christmas broadcast from Kings College in my dark little room.

I’ve never felt more alone.

Over the years it’s gotten better though. I moved from job to job, but I always was careful. I never quit before I had something else lined up. I was like a monkey that wouldn’t let go of one branch before having the next one in hand. I sometimes stayed at jobs too long. Looking back I can see where I took the safe option rather than the riskier one that would have been the better choice. I saved. I didn’t take chances. Even when we decided to move back out to the west coast we made sure that we had a years salary in the bank just in case we couldn’t find work. But when we got here I took whatever crap job I could to pay my way. I worked terrible hours, lousy jobs, for lousy pay because I was not going to get trapped again. In fact after five years out here on the coast we had more in the bank than we had when we arrived.

Then in 2011 the unthinkable happened. My boss drove up from the main office. I thought he was coming to discuss some system upgrades. No, instead he laid me off, right there, with no warning. The company was in much worse shape than they had let on. Something like a quarter of the staff was let go that day. He took my laptop, phone and keys and ushered me out the door. For the first time since college I was unemployed and it scared the hell out of me.

I spent the next four months pounding the pavement. Every day I’d check the on-line job boards. I applied for positions in my field, positions related to my field, positions in totally different fields that I thought sounded interesting. I took classes, I worked the phone. My job then was to find a job and I treated it like a job. I got up every morning as I had always done. I got to the office by 8:00 as I had always done, though my office was now the back bedroom. I studiously worked on finding a job every day, forty hours a week.

As I said, it took four months but finally I found a new job. It was even in my field. I realize that I was luckier than many that find themselves out of work, however what is most important is what I learned about myself.

I learned that the worst can happen but I’ll make it. I can lose my job but it won’t be like 1985. I can fall out of the tree and I will catch myself, somehow. I learned I could take a chance. I now approach the world with a different mindset. I’m less fearful. I am more willing to take the risky path. I trust to luck more. It was rough but in the long run getting laid off was a very good thing for me. It made me reassess my expectations, what I wanted, and what I worried about

It was scary but I’m in a much healthier place now.

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