In the midst of record low unemployment and looming recession talk, I’m reminded of how financial highs and lows can coexist. I am fortunate to be on the relative ‘high’ side of things right now. I am comfortable. Sustaining. I mean, I’m still giving my grocery receipt the side-eye, but I’m not underemployed or living in that precarious state of check-to-check. I do remember when things were different, though.
I remember being out of work, thanks to the last recession, and in the frustrating no-woman’s-land of between jobs. It had been three months—long enough for the dust to settle. Long enough for the shock to wear off. The commiserating with friends and colleagues (those who’d been affected by layoffs and those who’d been spared), the shaking of fists at the “soulless corporation”, the well-wishing and encouraging and greener pastures speeches had all dulled to a whisper. That’s when it got lonely.
Yes, I had friends outside of the workplace, but I was coming to realize how much socializing actually happened at work. Before, meeting a friend for a spontaneous lunch or grabbing an afternoon coffee took no more effort than an inclination and an interoffice phone call. Now, I had to plan it. (I was not a big planner.) When I did get together with friends from the old job, and I asked, “How’s work?” The answers were staccato. Because now I was an outsider. They had to weigh what they shared with me, the one who wasn’t in the staff meeting or at the presentation.
I, too, began to hesitate about what to share with them. We would discuss my job searching and soul searching but not my applying for unemployment. I filled them in on the freelance work but skipped the story about sitting in the social services office waiting to apply for food stamps. I assumed they couldn’t relate and, to be honest, I probably had some pride issues about it. I was conscious of how the dynamic might change, and I didn’t want anyone to be uncomfortable, including me.
Enter my sister-searcher, a fellow job-hunter and joy-seeker. She had lost her gig within a month of me losing mine, and though I hated that it had happened to her, I was so glad to have her in this with me. When sister-searcher and I first met, it was under far more abundant circumstances. We were both riding the ‘high’ of white-collar work in a new city. We’d crossed paths, became acquaintances, and that was that.
Somehow, we connected again, but this time in a very different context. Joblessness seemed to be new territory for both of us. We did our best to encourage each other, share useful information, carpool from one government office to another. We held each other accountable while extending to one another the grace that we sometimes had trouble giving to ourselves. This experience definitely brought us closer together than any happy hour or young professionals’ mixer ever could.
It’s an unlikely bond, joblessness—like being roommates during a hospital stay or becoming friends with someone because you both got stuck in an airport. You didn’t expect it, you don’t particularly care for it…but there you are.
Sister-searcher and I are both on the other side of our respective slumps. I suspect it’s a combination of being blessed and prepared and capable and connected. We’re not as close as we were during the hard times, but I’m still so grateful we had each other in those unemployment trenches. And when we both made it out—you’d better believe, I told her the first happy hour was on me.
Have you ever bonded with someone over a shared hard time?