Whenever people speak about their unemployment, they tend to focus on the six month mark. I understand why. The six month increments seem to be large psychological milestones in the mind.
Life set me off on a confusing trip. The destination was completely unknown. I was not ready to travel but I somehow found myself on the road trying to figure out where to go.
Initially, I packed too much stuff. It crowded the car. Quickly, it caused tensions with my family who was stuck in the car with me and all of my “stuff”. Their silent questions about “how we got into this mess” eventually formed into verbal words. Words snowballed into arguments. Not the pleasant convo that ordinarily accompanies a road trip.
It didn’t take long before I lost my wallet. At first, I believed that I had more cash and credit available than I really did. Eventually, I realized that every dollar that goes out must matter. Food and gas then all else. I feared any type of major expense along the way. The hotels became motels. The Days Inn turned into a crappy Knights Inn. Eventually the rundown local no-tell motels were acceptable enough with their cigarette scents and stained sheets. The only thing left is sleeping in the car.
The days of driving seem to be groundhog’s day – the same thing over-and-over. Begin with hope – try to luck it out and find a new freeway that can bring us more direction and clarity. Get lost further and become disgruntled and angry. Begin seeking guidance from anyone and anything. Feel new hope as the promise of some advice flows through. Realize 50 miles later that the advice didn’t work as well as expected and that you’re even further lost. Pass by fancy resorts filled with luxury cars and successful families. Wonder how it came to this for them vs. me. Keep moving on, hitting the walls of the maze. Eventually call it quits in the hope of a new day. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Along this journey of self-discovery, I am about to hit the six month road sign. It’s only a few weeks away now. I’m not looking forward to that. During the first few weeks of driving, I always thought that by the six month mark, I would have a lot more figured out. I’d be done with this situation or, more realistically, have found some traction towards getting on some type of freeway – perhaps one not as nice as what I traveled before, but something.
Unfortunately, as I come upon the six month billboard, I’m just as nervous and confused as ever. But, I need to keep driving on — learning what’s not working. Focusing on what seems to work just a bit better (whatever that is). Experimenting with new things. Keeping hope alive and fighting to keep free of the reigns of depression. Keeping tensions at a minimum with others.
Life has set me out on this trip for a reason. The pain is increasingly intense, but with it I get stronger. Since last August, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve began to hone in better on my shortcomings and work to improve on them. I’ve realized a couple talents and interests that keep pulling up my spirits. I’m learning who are true friends worth investing time in vs. all others. Everything has been put to the test. I’ll arrive at my destination a better person.
What I’ve learned “on the road”:
- Humble out. You were only a hero in your own mind. What you’ve accomplished in your past has unfortunately lost much relevance for awhile. Ironically, when fired, I found I lost the confidence that I had in my past accomplishments at a time when I need to sell them the most. One day, I’m sure I’ll highly value these things again. However, for the time being, I need to just keep quietly working — keep focused on rebuilding from the ground up. Nothing is too good for me now. The cheap motel has somehow become a luxury when you compare it with sleeping in the car.
- Others don’t hold the keys to the solution. The mind has a strange way of trying to overcompensate during the bad times. As the self-esteem, confidence and pride fade away … the mind keeps trying to grab hold of anything to keep it from drowning. For the first three or four months of unemployment, I found a desire to grab hold of anyone who listened to me, trying my best to pull an authentic complement from them. None came. I eventually have realized that no one is going to hand you a map showing that secret road through the woods that leads to the super highway of eternal happiness. I believe the trick of finding a destination lies in listening to river of one’s own soul. Pay attention to the pain and figure out its source. Break everything down to its core now.
- Be true to your long-term self. This is very difficult. As the weeks and months have slipped by, I’ve been more tempted to use a scorched earth policy and just go after every solution. Daily, I am catching myself thinking short-term — just apply to this job you know you are not good at to make enough money to bridge to a better solution. Part of the self-examination is to identify what (1) I am good at and (2) what I am interested in. – then pursue these things. I am constantly trying to justify to myself why I should just do something that deep down I know is not a solution. Others’ “bad directions” don’t help in this regard. I find very few people on earth really understand who you genuinely are. They just say “oh, go get a job doing [whatever they think you fit]”… keep following these bad directions and you’ll never reach the destination. The trickiest part, however, is surrendering to the fact that the next thing is anything close to what I’ve done in the past. It may require a pretty big step down to a different level.
- De-clutter / re-evaluate everything. Just like Marie Kondo preaches in her clean up advice — this is the time to empty all the drawers and closets onto the bed in a giant heap and stare at the giant messy heap. Once you see how much stuff is cluttering your life, then go through it item by item and decide if it is needed and whether it will continue to bring you happiness. If it won’t, get rid of it then and there. Now is that time in life, you need to pour not just your possessions but your whole life into a giant pile and re-evaluate everything. Does this person, thing, expense, item, etc. bring me happiness? Do I learn from it? Does it create long-term value. If not, get rid of it.
- Watch every dollar that goes out. When things are going well, its easy to to let too many expenses build up. Without a careful eye, a lot of waste builds. Upon close evaluation, I’ve noticed that through the past decade or so, I’ve been subsidizing a lot of different strangers without realizing it. Overpaying or not cancelling subscriptions. Incurring late fees and fines. Spending money on foolish dinners, drinks and events. A lot of money could have been compounding today for me that isn’t. Right now, I really miss those savings.
- Find the sources of value in your life. The nice part of this period of life is that its easy to identify the meaningful sources of value in life. I’m finding that only a few things bring joy to both my family and I. By focusing on these things and expanding their offering, I believe we’ll become a stronger family and I’ll become a better person.
That’s about it for now. I’m not feeling my creative self right now so I don’t have any good movie references. However, I can’t help thinking about one of my favorite adolescent books while writing this entry.
Ok … back to work … five more weeks of this assignment in Chicago.