The Truce: My Venture With Unemployment

I was let go from my past job.

Before you get all excited looking to eat up the latest gossip, you won’t find it here. I’m not writing to dump on my previous employer. I’m not posting this to get sympathy or rectify anything. This blog isn’t about forgiveness, throwing punches, or anything of the sort.

Even so, I have spent a good amount of time debating whether to keep my story private, sharing only with family and friends, or announce my vulnerabilities and victories to anyone who stumbles upon this blog.

Well, you know my approach on things, so here I go.

I relate my past job to an unhealthy relationship. I poured a lot of energy into it, but it just wasn’t the right fit. Just like a relationship, you try, you fight for it, but ultimately, there are too many ups and downs. Too much struggle. Too many bruises.

The day I was asked to leave the company, I packed up my things and checked my burdens at the door. Driving out of the parking lot, I realized this situation would send most people into cardiac arrest. I knew I should feel the same, but simply didn’t.

That day, my priorities shifted from the daily rat race to paying my mortgage and feeding my four-legged companion. Doing some (very limited) number crunching in my mind on my drive home, I was going to be fine. I had a growing photography business to keep a bit of cash rolling in and had enough saved up to get by comfortably for at least six months. At the very worst, my wealthy sister lives two miles away. Making a mental note to remain in good standing with her, I was thankful for the freedom to spend a few days, weeks, even months away from the working world to explore where I fit in.

I pulled into my driveway and began unloading the casual collection my desk had accumulated over the past three years. My plant, décor, lamp, computer bag, favorite pens and pencils, notes from some astounding coworkers. I brought it all into the house and piled it on my kitchen counter. My dog knew something was up. I usually didn’t bring that much baggage home from work.

As with any tweak in my life, I called and gave my sister a report, who sounded genuinely happy for me. We hung up and I looked around. Now what? The emotions were revving up. Sheer joy. Incredible relief. Deep sorrow. Complete amusement. It was a mixture so scattered and so strong my heart felt like it might explode. At the same time, a sense of complete indifference washed over me. I stared at my junk collection and reasoned with myself. I was no longer an employee of anyone but myself. It was time to de-brand. I put away, hid, donated or tossed anything that I associated with my old company. Out of sight, out of mind, which was easier to do than I thought. But I didn’t want to give myself too much credit. It was Friday, and I was sure to have a good weekend. But come Monday, who would I be? In a world where jobs define people, would I be okay watching the weekday morning hustle bustle from my window as I sat sipping coffee in my pajamas with my dog?

The answer is yes. Definitely.

There begun my venture with self/un-employment. And I’ve lost track of how many times people asked, burning with curiosity, what I spent my time on. Well, the first weekend was spent rehashing the scenario and making fun of myself at every opportunity. Seriously. Me, without a job because I got “let go”… Pretty comical. The next week, I hopped into a car with my dad and drove to Pittsburgh to visit my 95-year-old grandma. Her health is fading and she isn’t super responsive, but the 1,100-mile drive was all worth it to see her react to the words “hi grandma.” I was also able to exchange those three little words with her, ones I may never hear her speak again. Totally worth it.

After that trip, I experienced – for the first time since pre-school – living life with no structure. Nobody and nothing to report to. Just me and my desires to get caught up on personal stuff. To stay in my pajamas until 4 p.m. To go entire days without putting on a bra. To stay up way too late and sleep in because there was no plan other than being me the next day. I reconnected with a high school friend (who reminded me not to “should” on myself), amped up my dating life (still unsuccessful), and began networking (something I formerly hated).

I organized all the closets in my home, a project I’ve wanted to do since I closed on my house five years ago, and donated about 10 bags of stuff I no longer wanted or needed. Hopefully someone finds something they love from it.

I spent a few afternoons hanging out with Harold’s Photo Experts, learning more about photography (and spending a lot of money). I mastered the lighting in my studio, upgraded my lens and learned the ins and outs of my camera. I also started a “People of Fargo” blog series to exercise my passions for photography and journalism. I ran a caption contest that I had horrible fears nobody would respond to (but they did!!), and found a perfect senior citizen to talk to and take photos of – something I had wanted to do for months. I also tried to implement a new business idea, which failed. Thankfully, it cost me nothing and was worth some hard laughs. Now I know why nobody else has done it. I sweat my way through a trial week at a yoga studio and frequented the 10:00 a.m. Pilates class I had been dying to go to for the past three years but lacked the freedom. I spent several mornings in Beans Coffee Bar and enjoyed smelling like a doughnut for the remainder of the day. I wrote the script for the ADDY’s, which consumed more time than I ever expected, but had a hugely satisfying end result.

I got every pain-in-the-butt, renew-your-license, rotate-your-tires, file-your-taxes errand done that I could possibly think of. I visited a friend on maternity leave, began attending a Bible study and bought an executive desk for my home office, mainly because I deserve it. I also compiled my lists in Excel. So now I have a list of lists. Watch. Out.

I learned a lot about myself, too. I learned that I was exhausted – physically and emotionally. I normally never nap, but I curled up for a snooze with my dog often on my practically unused couch. I slept in – a joy I used to deprive myself of. My body obviously needed rest. And, for the first time in a long, long time, I listened to it.

I also realized I was equipped for a yearlong grocery store strike. So, I temporarily banned buying groceries. This meant drinking the rice milk I had bought a while back (gross) and eating canned fruit and veggies rather than the fresh stuff. There was also a freezer burnt pizza or two in there – the ones with about a half inch of ice on the top of it. So good! I forced myself to cook from my cupboard and freezer, rather than jet off to the grocery store to stock up on more stuff I didn’t have room for. I reduced my trips to the grocery store from 2-3 times per week to about once per month for the essentials (milk, bread, men and Sharks fruit snacks). My grocery store ban led to crossing item #17 off my bucket list – make my own jars of jam – when I ran out and made my own from a Jello packet and a few cups of frozen rhubarb.

Basically, I embraced my desires for life and went after a few things. I spent some time recuperating. I took a break from the coffee-guzzling-induced excessive work weeks and stopped stuffing my own desires down a hole.

So what’s my point? Maybe I don’t know a lot. I’m just a baby in the working world. But I learned not to hide behind a paycheck. Shoulders back, chin up. It if doesn’t feel right, it’s not. If you have to pretend, it’s not you and it’s not for you. Be real. Get real and find the courage to do what you love. Then own it. You deserve it.

Shootin’ the Wit is a sporadic blog about everyday life that should never, ever be taken too seriously.

4 Responses

  1. Matt

    sounds like your well on your way to finding the up side of down times. My 20 year HS reunion fell in the middle of my “gap on employment history”. That was fun. I Also find it odd that you shop for men along with milk, bread and fruit snacks…

  2. Dave

    Awesome post, as usual, Laura! Loved that you drove to Pitt to see your grandmother. Proud of you, girl!

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