Experiencing unemployment – half empty or half full


A recent newsletter from the Kane County Department of Employment and Education contained a great article about the experience of being unemployed. It asks whether people are encountering the lack of work (and the lack of speedy rehiring) as a negative or a positive. Is the glass half empty or half full? It went on to suggest some insightful ways to tip the balance toward positives.

Before I go any further, I want to note that I usually fiercely protect the boundary between my professional life and my private life. In part, that’s for my own mental health! In part, it is also to set a good example for a few applicants who sometimes divulge too much personal information, distracting us from what I need to know about their careers. That said, occasionally the professional and the private do overlap. This is one such time. So I hope that you will find this personal disclosure professionally helpful to you.

Now, the topic: being unemployed. Does the experience leave you feeling that your glass is half empty or half full?

I think about that question from an intimately personal standpoint in 2009. My husband lost his full-time job unexpectedly at the end of May. We have been a two-income family with two-income expenses. So this situation has been quite a financial shock for us.

There are definitely ways that this has been a glass-is-half-empty circumstance for us. It is a loss that brings additional losses. There is stress. There is grief. And they’re quite real.

For example, we chose to give up cable TV entirely because it is a luxury expenditure. We have had to explore ways to change my commute since we are a one-car household whose vehicle has driven more than 110,000 miles. After the first of the year, we will cancel our cell phone. And, like so many other households in this situation, there are still many unknowns ahead. Whether we’ll have to deplete our retirement savings. Whether we’ll be able to keep our house. And so forth. In some ways, the glass is half empty.

There are also definitely ways that this has been a glass-is-half-full experience for us.

We gave up cable TV entirely. That’s especially been a shock for me, the avid sports fan in the household. Instead of watching so much TV, I’ve rediscovered the local library. I’ve read more books in the past six months than in the past six years! And as a couple we have rediscovered how much we enjoy playing card and board games together.

Our budget for car repairs is really limited now, so I don’t drive to work every day. Instead, I’ve found that a PACE bus is able to take me to within two blocks of the office. In the summer, I’m able to take my bike in the morning and ride it home in the evening. In the winter, I’m able to walk at least part of the distance home at night. As a person with a life-long commitment to ecology and health, I’m delighted to be able to use public transportation and get some extra exercise.

Since new jobs in his specialized field are scarce, my husband has taken this opportunity to focus on re-energizing himself professionally. He has developed his own website, complete with a chat room. He has a business page on facebook, as well as a presence on twitter. And he’s even doing a fair amount of networking and cold calling related to a hobby that has been a small side income for years.

This experience has indirectly enriched me professionally. It has helped me to have a renewed sensitivity to the stress of the job seeker, especially in this economy. But it has also given me new knowledge, such as what is involved with applying for unemployment benefits.

So, for us, in many ways the glass is half full.

What’s most remarkable to me about this experience is something that I didn’t anticipate. I expected that it would be a shock to have so many of our material luxuries stripped away. What I didn’t expect is that the process of that happening would bring into such stark relief the value of what remains.

Without specific intentionality on my part, I have found myself astonished on a daily basis by blessings that endure. I laugh at the cacaphony of voices as a flock of geese flies over our house. I laugh … and I’m grateful. I smile at the sight of the sunrise beyond the woods, which I can see more clearly as a bus passenger than as a driver. I smile … and I’m grateful. I am embraced by my husband before I leave for work and when I return at the end of each day. Not just my husband … my much-happier husband who will remain my husband whatever else occurs. And I’m grateful.

Whatever else happens with his employment circumstance and our life circumstance, I hope that I’m able to cultivate this renewed sense of appreciation and gratitude for these fundamental gifts. That would be the best gift of all from the experience of him being unemployed.

Is the glass half empty? Yes, to an extent.

Is the glass half full? Yes, to an extent.

But for me it’s been an even more profound transformation. It’s been the realization that there is a conviction that precedes and grounds both of those questions. First and foremost, I’m grateful for the glass.


Note: The original link cited from KCDEE is no longer available; it has been removed.
Republished with permission. Originally published by Elyse on her recruiting blog in 2009, with a title “The experience of being unemployed – half empty or half full.”

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