Two weeks ago I was sitting in my home office listening to the rain and wind rage and trees crack outside of my home. For a short while, I was without power, with only a candle and the fear and terror of the unknown. Luckily, I don’t live near a coast line or next to a major river. I was one of the lucky ones. Many of my friends and family, who had property or a business in New Jersey, were not so lucky. In a 24-hour period Sandy changed their lives completely. What they never dreamed would happen just did. It was so unfair.
So, you may ask, what does this have to do with losing your job? I say everything. Many of us have experienced something similar to Hurricane Sandy in our employment situation. I still remember when I was not one of the lucky ones. Everything was running along, I was going to work early, staying late, meeting deadlines, joining work groups and committees, giving my best ideas to my manager and service to my customers; of course there were rumors of the layoffs and we were warned to “evacuate,” but there had been rumors before and I chose to stay and “weather the storm.” Then it happened. I was called into the HR office and told that I was no longer needed (with some other kind words about my so called contribution and years of service being appreciated). As I was loading my boxes and life into my car, I was numb. I felt a combination of relief, anger, sadness, joy and complete panic all at once. I didn’t know what I was going to tell my family or how I was going to survive. I cursed at myself for not following the good advice to save two months worth of income in the event of something like this happening. How could this happen to me? I was just too valuable to the company and the team. I was a long term employee who had received awards and had been promoted. I had $98 in the bank, a pile of bills, a few weeks of severance, and a small unemployment check. What was I going to do? How was I going to cope? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In a 24-hour period what I never dreamed would happen just did. It was so unfair.
When a person experiences the loss of a job, they may expect to go through the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. This is normal and should not be resisted or ignored. When I lost my job, at first I pretended that it never happened. I spent the first few weeks relaxed and happy, getting up early, working out, going on-line to look for jobs and went through all of my papers and files to remind myself of all the great work I had done and projects I had completed. I answered an ad for a work at home sales opportunity which was so awful I only lasted in this about two weeks. After that experience, the anger set in. I was so mad. I snapped at everyone, got nauseous when I paid my bills and felt betrayed, hurt and furious that the company that I had given so much to had put me in this terrible spot. Along with the anger came the bargaining, “if only I had gone into a different field,” “if only I had planned to stay at home with my children when they were born,” “if only I had saved more money,” the “only ifs” practically consumed me. I even blamed the women’s rights movement for “forcing” women of my generation to work, and how unfair it was that I was in this mess, because of “them.” The anger that turned to bargaining settled into depression. All of this became my fault and I felt I was a terrible person that didn’t deserve an amazing life and I was doomed to suffer. I barely got out of bed in the morning, rarely showered and had no energy to do even basic tasks. After several months, when I finally ran out of money, I had to take a job at a diner as a waitress to keep the lights on. That job was the spark that put the fire back into me, and coming home that first night, exhausted and smelling of grease, I had that moment when I realized that I was not destined for a life of misery.
I had reached the acceptance stage. It was time to get busy. I stood in front of the mirror and asked myself what I loved about myself and my life. I thought about all of the life experience I had and what my dream job would be. I realized that my job search had to be like starting a new business with the product as myself. I checked out a book from the library to teach myself how I would do this. I started by making a list of all the things I had done in my life (both personal and professional) that would be related to my dream job. I knew that I needed money to survive while I worked on this “new business” and I created a proposal for my family to ask them for a gift or loan so I could invest the time with finding my destination. That was the hardest part as I had always been so proud to be self sufficient. They surprised me with a generous offer of assistance as they also believed in me, but they had no idea that things were that hard for me financially until I asked for help. In the course of my work, I realized that I had the skills and experience to actually start a new business, helping others find employment. I finished my business plan, started sending out marketing material to my entire contact list and applied for grants. One of these letters made it to my former boss, who had also lost her job and had found a new position in a new company. She called me with an offer to come work for her. It was for half the salary I had made and potentially temporary, but it was the type of work I had longed to do for most of my career. My dream job had found me. I abandoned my plan of working for myself as I wanted to put all of my energy into this new opportunity; but the experience taught me that not all is lost, when you lose everything.
Looking back, I think of this time as a gift to myself. My new adventures may never have happened if I had remained in my former job or company. The new job provided me with a new skill set that gave me an advantage in future positions. I may not be in the position I am in today without this experience. I think about the friends I have made since that time and the new opportunities I have enjoyed. I became a wonderful example to my family and friends as I rose from the ashes. One very positive aspect of surviving the hurricane of a job loss is that it taught me that at any time I am capable of rebuilding my life, one brick at a time. It taught me humility, resilience, compassion and appreciation for what I have. It taught me that I am not alone and that there are others out there who want to help me. It taught me survival, joy, inspiration and hope and I can now share this gift with others and help them with similar devastations. I try to remember, that when my life was hit by a “hurricane” and I happened to be in its path, it was not my fault and nothing I could have done would have prevented it. It was the new beginning of my new life.
Diana D’Ambrosio is Director of Staffing for a large non-profit human services company and has spent 25 years helping individuals find employment and companies hire talent in a variety of industries. She lives and works outside of Philadelphia, PA and is committed to enhancing the recognition of human talent in business sustainability and social responsibility.