Aug 252012

Thirty years ago, I graduated from college with a BS degree in journalism and American History, during the “malaise” era.

While President Carter never used the word “malaise” , those of a certain age will remember how awful things were. Few jobs and high oil prices and a general feeling of hopelessness prevailed. (It was the Disco Era, for gawd’s sake.)

Rather than go into the “real world” I chose to stay in school.

A year later, I was offered a job, and was able to move out of the $100 per month apartment. Having been independent for a year in a roach-infested studio with its purple lamé sofa, I didn’t want to move home with my parents. (Though they were willing, we all know they didn’t really want a 23-year-old living in her pink childhood room.)  I did eventually finish the master’s thesis and earned the degree.

That was three decades ago. With the exception of a few weeks after childbirth pre-FMLA, medical leaves for gallbladder and hysterectomy,  and one stint after being “Reduced in Force” in the early 1990s, that’s been about it. I’ve always worked full time.

Last month more than six hundred thousand people lost jobs. I was one of them when my Fortune 100 company cut thousands of people.

I cannot say I didn’t see it coming; my company had five lay-offs in the nine years I was there.  Like the pink candy in a Donald Duck Pez Dispenser, I knew I would eventually make it to the top of the list.

I was not alone on that day. A friend and a relative, both females aged 59 and 55, lost jobs that same day, cut by other companies. You cannot turn a circle in public without hitting someone affected by job loss in this economy.

I’ve passed through euphoria then disbelief then despair and now just plain fear.

The euphoria is  relief that I won’t have to go through this “wondering” period again as many of my ex-colleagues will. My ex-company has already hinted at major layoffs again next year.

The disbelief and despair is self-explanatory and the fear is something we all share.

The media says to have a “Plan B.”

This job was my “Plan B”, taken after 20 years in the non-profit world. I wanted to shore up my retirement, which I did until this year when it all tanked.

I am thankful for the benefits I’m getting and for my husband’s job. I realize things could be much worse.

So what am I doing?

  • Watching TV with my cats, one of whom rolled over on the remote the other day and selected a porno movie (the 900 channels are located right below the NBC channel I was watching)
  • Preparing to teach a class on “Personal Management” for my son’s old Boy Scout troop.
  • Volunteering a few hours a week for a local charity. That’s the best thing on this list. They need me and I need them.
  • Taking assessment tests for outplacement and answering questions like, “Which would you rather be?  A dairy farmer? Mathematician? Accountant? Or Actress? (My husband reminded me that in high school I was in the chorus of a musical called No No A Million Times No or Only a Farmer’s Daughter. I was a milkmaid in a yellow gingham dress, thus, a dairy farmer AND an actress. (By the way, the assessment revealed that I’m a control freak who likes words. Surprise!)
  • Getting my hair cut and not colored for first time in 9 years, and wondering what the real color is. Stay tuned. I’m quite certain I’m not a natural blonde.
  • Learning to apply for jobs online, finding one and applying for it only to discover moments later that I submitted the resume of my friend who lost her job, (In my defense, I have 4 files on my hard drive that are marked “resume.” That may have been a good thing, for my friend started a new job on Monday!)
  • Dumping all the files out of my filing cabinet, buying new hanging folders, buying batteries for the label maker, and then just letting the files sit there.
  • Making of a list of all the things I want to do while unemployed and then becoming overwhelmed by it.

Meanwhile I am figuring out Plan C, which will most likely not involve being a dairy farmer/actress. My friend Jon says he can get me a job milking cows with relatives in Posey County, but that would involve my actually touching a cow.

Of course I dream of being the next “Erma Bombeck” and my pithy words spread across the world like ants at a picnic on Bombeck’s Dayton patio. (That was awful but it will have to do.)

Unemployment tip for the day: Why not have the high-end coffee experience in your own house? Just buy some flavored beans and cut it half and half with a grocery store house brand. If you want the experience of the snooty underpaid kid waiting on you, just call your own teenager or a relative who is a teenager. They will be happy to make you feel stupid.

Today I started my first outplacement class. And I can honestly say that I did it because I knew it would be a big expense for my former company. I started with malicious intent.

Instead I found an online support group with people from across the country wanting to chime in with helpful suggestions.

The leader was at her home computer in New Mexico. Fired top level executives are not in this class – they probably have individual career coaches. And clerical people who lost jobs did not receive this as a benefit. Thus my group is professional and middle management people, representing all the big companies in the news in January when thousands were let go.

Here are a few caveats I learned today while sitting in my green overstuffed living room chair, holding the laptop, and wearing a headset. The attire for “outplacement classes” (since we are unseen) is a black T-shirt with a toaster on it marked “Toast” (appropriate) and basketball warm-up pants that rustle when you walk. (I bought them so I could literally say to my husband when I make dinner, “I’m here to rustle you up some grub.”

What I learned today:

  • The work world is changing. Loyalty is going out the window. Understand that and use it to your advantage.
  • One has to learn to be flexible.
  • Don’t understand technology? Learn it. (Today was my first experience with the Webinar, after downloading updates for Microsoft and Java, I actually was able to log-on. Hooray for the Baby Boomer with the reading glasses on a string around her neck!)
  • GenXers will stay at a job on the average one year, while Baby Boomers average is 2.5 years.
  • Baby Boomers are needed in the work force – employers like their solid work ethic.
  • Baby Boomers have something to learn from GenXers who are flexible and go where the work is, and have also learned that the Job is not everything.

This class continues for eight weeks. While the ultimate goal is to come out with a new job, the process forces you to think about where the road goes next.

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