Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I am the 9.1%: Perspectives from The Event Horizon

See previous post in this series: click here

In a flagrant disregard for local traffic laws, the first thing I did from my car as I drove home from my last day at the office was call my girlfriend. Not to vent, not be emotional, but to set up a routine of taking her son to school every morning. At that moment, I had to build a routine for myself; my impulse defense against sinking into quicksand.

Up to this point, I believe that simple and immediate action was the best possible response I could've had to the situation, and I'm glad it's the first thing that occurred to me. That one daily function has become a single point of reference that's kept me on task with the rest of my duties. My point of reference could've been anything else--the rapid countdown of my meager savings being spent on survival, the approaching end of health benefits, the impending rapture (rimshot!)--but somehow my brain settled in on something constructive in the face of fears. For me, that's a major triumph, because I've spent most of my life as a slave to fear.

As a high schooler, I was too afraid to do much of anything. For all four years, I was too afraid to get in trouble or suffer consequences to have any fun at all. In college, I had some glorious moments of disobedience, but honestly just repeated high school by consistently taking the path of least resistance, avoiding risk, and accomplishing very little. That fear followed me through most of my professional life. Every job I've had as an adult has been 100% more about paying the bills than any kind of satisfaction from the work. That's not to say I haven't enjoyed my jobs--I have. But I've never yet done a job that fully engaged me, that was really a good fit, because I've always had this perverse fixation on the practical.

Despite several examples amongst my friends and family of people who manage to synthesize their passions into a profession, the model in my head of practicality dictated that it's not possible. Somewhere along the way, I picked up the notion that you can be anything you choose to be, provided it fits into the corporate mold. If you want to be a writer, go into public relations or marketing, for example. Following a dream purely for the sake of the dream is vanity and folly. It's so much easier, so much less risky, to mold yourself to an existing job.

Getting fired is the kind of thing that throws that perspective into harsh relief, as that reality warps around the event horizon of a career black hole. Suddenly, the flaws in this line of thinking become quite obvious. Chasing down a paycheck, forcing my square peg into a round hole, is exposed as fraud. Eventually, doing the wrong job, suppressing career desires and goals, and ignoring what's important on a visceral level catches up. Instead of waking up and saying, "Another day of this shit," it becomes, "Another thirty years of this shit," and soon enough that's no longer an option. Maybe you get fired, maybe you have a nervous breakdown. Whatever the case, your momentum is impeded.

At that point, it's time to evaluate things. That's what I've spent a lot of energy on. Why am I here now? Is it because the economy sucks, employers treat people poorly, and shit happens? Or is it because I was in the wrong job, doing the wrong work for the wrong people, with the wrong perspective on how to have a career? By completely disregarding my dreams and passions, did I set a timer on my career self-destruct mechanism? One thing is certain: I'm not being steered by fear at the moment. Once the bottom falls out, you can't afford to be afraid, risks and consequences be damned.

One of my friends, Mary Tyler Mom, (read her blog, it's outstanding, touching, human, tragic and triumphant) has a mantra that I've been using. It might seem simple or mawkish, but it makes a difference. It keeps me positive, and steers me toward productivity: Choose Hope. It's a simple reminder that my mindset is up to me. I can decide to see the harsh realities of the world I live in, or I can decide to see the potential to move forward and improve that world.

See next post in this series: click here


Brendan said...

Hope's a pretty good choice. Good blog.

daylabor said...

Thanks! Please be sure to read the previous post, and the following posts. And share it with your friends and family who might be going through the same experience.

Connie Saunders said...

You brought tears to my eyes, Dan. I see so much good coming out of you as a result of this challenge in your life. And by the way, you are a wonderful writer.

daylabor said...

Thanks, Connie. That means a lot.

Carrie said...
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Carrie said...

I had a nervous breakdown. And then I got fired.

I'm one of the lucky 9.1% though. I have a wonderful support system, including the man who will be my husband in less than 48 hours. He encouraged me to not just find a job, but to find a job that interested me, that I was excited about, that wasn't just a paycheck.

I am also lucky to have a degree in one of the few fields that is actively hiring. It's a field that I wasn't even sure I wanted to stay in after this June.

My unemployment ends November 7, four days after I return from our honeymoon, and I start my new job in a position that is similar yet very different from the jobs I have held the past 11 years.

And for the first time in longer than I care to admit, I do feel hopeful.

daylabor said...

Carrie, thanks for sharing your story. You just gave me a great idea for a future post: tapping your support system. I'm also a big fan of success stories, and yours is pretty inspirational. Please keep reading and sharing!

Beth said...

I'm a friend of Mary Tyler Mom's, too, which is how I found my way to your post.

Good stuff. And the answers your rhetorical questions, as you well know, is "Both."

Yep, the economy sucks and employers are loyal to their balance sheets and shareholders, but I've been where you are, in that place of doing for the sake of income, and eventually, the Universe says, "Time's up! You know you should be doing something more. You need a big nudge."

And wooosh! The safety blanket is stripped away.

But from what I read in this post, you are going to turn this into a great new adventure.

I'm rooting for you.

TexanArtStudio said...

I had a similar experience almost 2 years ago. 16 loyal years and whoops, the department is gone. Ironically, I'd had a family medical emergency the month prior (everything is fine) so the "tragedy" of the job loss wasn't mind numbingly huge. I know the phrase "things happen for a reason" is so cliche, but I believe it's true. That "reason" just may not reveal itself to you for a bit. You're obviously a well educated man, just keep looking for that thing that ignites a bit of passion in you. I volunteered, pet sat for friends, etc on my sabbatical. Your routine is good and much needed.

Best of luck!

Ashley T. said...

Reading this hits me hard today, I have been unemployed for a month tomorrow. My husband and I had just closed on a house two weeks prior to me being fired, we had used every bit of our savings for a down payment on above mentioned house. Yesterday I made the decision that I have to let the bitterness go about losing my job and move forward. We are struggling right now but I know that we will make it, I have hope. Thanks for writing your blog!

daylabor said...

Thanks, Beth, TexanArtStudio, and Ashley T. for reading and sharing. Knowing that this blog is actually reaching people who identify with it is a powerful high. I hope to see more of you as this blog progresses!