Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hitting pay dirt at rock bottom

Today is March 31, which means (barring any left-field, last-minute development) that this is the first full month I have not worked since July 2006.

As many of you know, my last day with my previous employer was Feb. 10. I left on my own volition to move back to Louisiana, where I’ve made it a priority to reconnect with friends and family while seeking employment. Near the end of February, I nabbed some freelance work through a good friend. That, combined with a generous tax refund, has helped me get through the month (and most likely April as well) in good financial shape.

Good thing too, because that whole stereotype about unemployed people being lazy drains on society is not as true as I sometimes wish it was. If anything, I feel busier than ever. When I pulled night shifts in Springfield, I often spent my days cleaning/thinking about cleaning my apartment, taking leisurely walks, biking, writing or doing less than nothing. While I had many friends, I didn’t have much time for socializing.

These days, I tend to wake up shortly after dawn, do some writing and lots of e-mailing, search for jobs and frequently drive out of town to network and/or visit with friends. I often help with cleaning my parents’ house, because having four dogs is four dogs more than I’m used to. I run errands for myself and the family and I’m constantly bombarded with invitations to hang out. Except for the dog hair, it’s pretty much the balance I always wanted when I had my own place.

Also, my money’s stretching a lot farther than it did in Missouri. I hardly ever had this much money at one time when I was working. Lesson learned on that!

Of course, there are the expected drawbacks. I don’t currently have income or health insurance. As someone famous for liking his own space, I find sleeping in the living room of a house where four other people live to be an adjustment. Also, there are days like yesterday where I find myself with literally nothing to do (which is why you saw two blogs yesterday).

But overall, I feel better about my situation than I did the last time it happened. Before moving back, I had vowed to not be reclusive and to pursue things I had not been able to do within the confines of my last job. And I’ve done that. I’ve stayed busy writing, both here and elsewhere. I’ve stayed in shape through biking and vigorous Wii Fit sessions. I’ve actively pursued social opportunities. And in the process, opportunities have found me as well. I’m currently weighing several.

They say time flies when you’re having fun and a watched pot never boils. Between those two proverbs, it makes sense that it hasn’t felt like a month and a half. In a way, it’s felt like a couple of weeks. In other ways, it’s felt like a year. But what it hasn’t felt like is a miserable slog.

And can I ever tell you about a miserable slog! I couldn’t buy a job between October 2005 and July 2006. It certainly wasn’t from lack of trying. As many of the same people who had encouraged me drastically changed their tone, and friends began to drift away, I wondered why the whole world seemed to be deserting me. I often spent nights in my room uncontrollably pacing and bawling my eyes out. That’s an all-consuming feeling I hope never to channel for the rest of my life. (To say nothing of many of the blogs I wrote in that time period. Wow!)

Fortunately, it’s nothing like that this time. In fact, I feel quite happy and productive. There are plenty of pockets of suckitude, but it doesn’t feel hopeless.

I’m not sure what changed between then and now. Maybe it’s experience. Or confidence. Or that I’m spending my days doing things that make me feel productive. Whatever it is, I feel more fulfilled than I did at times when I was working.

It’s interesting how we as a society define productivity. Mainly, we define it by if and how someone makes money. If you take my current situation and add a paycheck, no one would argue that I have an active, fulfilling life. Without a steady job, though, some could attach a stigma to it. On the other hand, what if I stopped all of my hobbies and socializing and took a job doing repetitive and redundant grunt work? Even my work meant nothing and I went home to nothing, that would qualify as a success in some peoples’ eyes.

Americans like to talk about self-sufficiency, which I support 100 percent. But I think there are two types of people in America: those who enjoy making money and those who do it to get by. Plenty of both types abound, but I suspect there are much more of the second than the first. Almost everybody has or knows someone who has hung up their pursuits because they don’t pay the bills, and taken on full-time work that speaks to nothing of their interests and character. What does that do to a person over time?

I understand that other considerations come into play, mostly with regards to families and other obligations. (In that respect, I’m lucky. All I have is a car note that’s almost noted out.) And that for many people, raising kids and paying the bills is fulfilling enough. But I still find it interesting that, say, an artist who chucks the canvas for a drone job in data entry is more likely to earn respect with the bootstrap crowd. After all, now the dreamer is doing something with his life, right?

Conversely, aspiring entrepreneurs have it great in this country. Even if they fail, we appreciate them for taking the risk. They do success right, we’re told. A classic rebuttal to claims of a poor job market is, “Well, why don’t you start your own business?” My answer to that often is, “The same reason you shouldn’t be writing.” We all have different interests, abilities and resources. It just so happens that some interests are more lucrative than others, irrespective of the sacrifice and labor they require. I wish it weren’t that way. I don’t know what the answer is, or even if there is one.

Well, that’s one thing that never changes, job or not: I’m always having incomplete philosophical thoughts.

In any event, I’m looking forward, not backward. This attitude is probably the most important difference between the misery of 2006 and the hope of 2011. Oops, I had to look back to say that. OK, looking forward now. Bring it, life!

1 comment:

venessalewis said...

This blog brought a huge smile to my face!!! As I mentioned to you yesterday, I had actually noticed this major change in your attitude.....just over the last month. It is so refreshing. I hated to see you so down on yourself around the end of last year. I know I am "pushy" sometimes, but it's only because I want what I think you so richly deserve. In any case, I am proud of your initiative. Whatever you achieve will be through your own talent and merits....I just hope that what I can do for you is make you understand your worth and how to project that confidently to others. Love you lots.