Thursday, January 15, 2009

On My Mind: Laid Off And Hiding?

I finally got caught up on NY Mag's annual Where to Eat issue and came across "My Laid-off Life"--a series of first person profiles from recently laid-off New Yorkers. I feel for each of them, but reading their stories made me wonder: with the unemployment rate at 7.2%, how come I don't know anyone who's unemployed (involuntarily, that is)?

Point of comparison: Dot.bomb aftermath of 2001 in Los Angeles. After four or five rounds of layoffs, people were almost begging HR to end their misery. There's nothing like being left to repair the hull on a sinking ship. I remember going to Urth Cafe in West Hollywood in the middle of the day, and feeling the place pulsating with a kind of unemployment euphoria. I thought, "Hey, I didn't get the invite!" My point is everyone I knew seemed to be unemployed! It was emboldening. I quit my job in August 2001 to become a full-time freelance writer and was happy to be earning a small, though adequate salary. I reasoned I was better off relying on my own gumption than on the BD guys at the firm. I was young, and whatever I earned felt like a gift in an environment where many of my friends would be unemployed for a year or more. Many ended up making the life changes (career, relationship, geography) they never had the courage to make on their own. Everyone survived.

This time, I only know of a couple of former co-workers who were laid off--God willing, I won't know of more--but not any close friends. With all the news reports of rising unemployment, I have wondered if NY has been hit as hard as the rest of the country.

But after reading this NY Mag article, it dawned on me that the unemployed in NYC might be hiding at home. LA is a much more hospitable place to be unemployed in--you've got sunshine, beaches, mountains, yoga and new age spirituality. Here, well, look outside today. It's snowing. And the wind chill's in the negatives. And the city is still full of men and women in suits going to jobs they haven't yet lost, typing on their Blackberries, looking purposeful when you most lack purpose.

Working from home, I know a little about what the hidden unemployed must be going through. As hard as the loss of income in this gilded town is the loss of connection. We all derive so much of our identities from our job titles, the financial strength of our companies...when all of that is stripped away, who are you? Whether you choose to leave the rat race or are forced out on your own, that loss of identity can be disorienting, sometimes disheartening, but ultimately liberating.

At first, there's anger, loss, shame, maybe even despair, but when you've watched enough bad TV, had a good cry, eaten all the junk food you can stomach, there will be a moment, you'll figure it out...what comes next. There's no rational reason to believe it will be better than what came before, but never mind that. Believe anyway. It will get you out of bed in the morning.

If you've been laid off, and you're reading this, The Girl Next Door sends you a hug. If the past is any indication, she knows your future will be better than your past.

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