Unemployed, Discouraged, But Not Hopeless

by Maggie Hamilton

Laid off. Let go. Terminated. Fired.

However you want to spin it, I am jobless. I’ve only been without a job once, and it was completely voluntary when I first moved to New York. I am 31, and I have worked since I was 16 (14 if you count my lucrative babysitting career). I didn’t like my job selling luxury goods because it made me miserable, but it was better than not having a job at all.

I had been feeling stuck in my career and knew I wanted to move on to something more fulfilling for a while. For the last several months, work was unbearable, due to do both my unhappiness and the way I was being managed. Our weekly team meetings felt more like a rundown of who screwed what up. Rarely a day passed when one colleague didn’t make another cry, intentionally or not. And a management shakeup early last year added a new layer of unneeded stress, as well as unreasonable expectations. My coworkers were good people, but the environment was completely dysfunctional for a variety of reasons I won’t go into right now. I didn’t have the best sun-shiny attitude, but I delivered.

I quietly confided in a colleague that I was looking for a new job, and the cat was soon let out of the bag, because during my review, I was told that the company didn’t want anyone on the team who didn’t want to be there. Duly noted. A month after my review, I was taken into our bathroom and was told that I was going to be let go.

The wind was knocked out of me. I was told that I couldn’t tell anyone, and that I had to go about my business for a couple of days. My tears and clean desk were a dead giveaway, and people figured it out anyway. They were surprised, but not totally in shock given the dysfunctional atmosphere. It was a perplexing to come to work and not be able to talk to anyone about what was happening with me. I finished my work and tied up loose ends, grateful that I didn’t have to leave my colleagues with any unanswered questions. The whole thing seemed mishandled, as if they felt like getting rid of me would lift a dark cloud off the company.

It’s a strange, emotional time. I’m relieved that my time there is over, and that I can concentrate on moving on to something I (hopefully) love. I’ve emailed and spoken with a few recruiters, one of whom said I sounded like I was “floundering” because I couldn’t answer the “where do you see yourself in five years” question, which is just what an unemployed gal wants to hear. It made me feel like I’m destined to be jobless forever, although I know that’s not the case — that not everyone has their life figured out. I know what I’m good at: I have years of experience in communications, customer service, social media, graphic design and was consistently the top sales person at my company. But stories about high unemployment rates and people being out of work for months, if not years, freaks me out.

I took the first couple days to decompress, and now on the hunt again. I’ve made a point to not sleep in until noon, and am making sure I still exercise. My network in New York is small, but I’m contacting whoever I think might be able to help me. One fear I have is that I’ll be compelled to take the first job that’s offered to me, and I’ll end up hating my job again. I don’t think my next job is going to be perfect and life-changing (unless I end up opening that cat cafe), but I want it to be somewhere with an outstanding company culture and where I’m doing something I actually believe in.

In the meantime, I’m fine with babysitting and temp jobs and spending part of my time volunteering at an animal shelter. I’m also looking into volunteering in the social services field. I’ve thought about going into social work, but a master’s is required for that, and I’m not going to make that financial commitment without getting my feet wet first.

I filed for unemployment, but I won’t have any sense of relief until I get that first check. I’m paranoid that it’ll be disputed, even though I verified that I would be able to collect. I’m lucky that I have a tiny bit of savings, but I’d rather not see it drained. My supportive boyfriend and I were planning on moving in together this year, and it’s nice to know I have the option of subletting my room and moving in temporarily with him. All is not lost.

So, positive and helpful Billfold readers — any advice on how to handle this with grace? Do I try to get a job at Magnolia and live off of banana pudding? Panhandle on the subway? Anyone hiring? Any New York City temp agencies anyone can recommend, or have any other suggestions? I’m happy to send you my resume at any time.

Maggie Hamilton lives in New York City and is an avid pie-baker, cat-stalker, and park-runner. Write her at maggie.hamilton.nyc@gmail.com or stalk her on her new blog: maggiejobsearches.tumblr.com