For many of us, losing a job means more than just losing a paycheck; sometimes we feel as if we lose a part of ourselves. In the story below, Jan Harris, a former office manager at an architectural firm, shares how she is coping with a year of being unemployed while looking for a meaningful career in the nonprofit sector and staying positive about the future.
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by Jan Harris
I was the office manager for an architectural firm for almost 8 years. I opened the office every morning at 8 a.m. and I closed the office almost every night. And as the president and vice president saw that I could multitask, be efficient, conscientious, and trustworthy they increased my responsibilities. This meant working longer hours while being more involved in every aspect of the business.
Life was good until the recession hit which caused the construction industry to slow down. Some projects that we were working on had to be put on hold and some projects did not get started, threatening the financial stability of the company. We had to decrease the spending on benefits, office supplies, bonuses, and finally employees. March 16, 2012 was my final day at that firm.
Dealing with the shock of losing my job
I was sad to leave yet at the same time I felt a release off my shoulders of all the responsibilities. I was not sure what I would do next; while I wanted to take a break and think about what I wanted to do with my career, given the economy, I knew I did not have time to be idle for too long. I did know that I wanted the next phase of my career to be more meaningful. With that in mind, I started researching nonprofits because I was drawn to organizations whose mission it is to help people, animals or the planet. I thought this would be more fulfilling to me and I want to use my office and people skills to assist a nonprofit in making a difference.
Restarting the job search
The first step to my new career was to update my resume and research nonprofits that I would like to work for. I signed up online with staffing agencies and recruiters thinking that the more people I have looking for jobs for me the sooner I will have a new job.
I set up my home office and a routine to keep me on track for finding a new career. Each day I would send out resumes, apply online to jobs, network, and exercise. At first I enjoyed being at home, having time to research companies, different websites and an occasional lunch with a friend or relative.
I was filled with hope that I would find a new position that would make me feel fulfilled. The first few weeks I received calls from employment agencies and companies asking me to come in for an interview, which made me feel confident.
However, while I interviewed, I had no offers. Sometimes I would not hear back from the organization so I would call them and check on the progress of the hiring. Most of the responses I received were that I was over qualified or they hired someone else with no explanation as to why I did not receive the position. I also noticed that employers were now offering lower salaries and hardly any benefits.
It was upsetting to me to find out that I would not get paid the salary I was used to. At first I was firm at what salary I would accept, however the longer I am unemployed, the more I realize I need to lower my compensation expectations. I also changed my job strategy: instead of focusing on nonprofits I am looking at jobs in any type of industry.
The highs and the lows
The days that I am home with no activities such as networking, resume critiquing, seminars or phone calls, make me feel lonely and lower my self-confidence. I begin to question my skills and kick myself for not choosing a profession that is usually in demand such as a nurse, doctor, or lawyer.
To keep myself busy and to keep my spirits up I took classes that added to my skills and helped me meet new people. In May, I took the notary class and exam and a few months later I received my notary commission. I also enrolled in a grant certification program in Recycling and Zero Waste Management at the community college where I made new friends. Finally, I signed up for volunteer work and did two internships to develop new skills and learn more about nonprofits.
While I try to keep myself busy, I do have to worry about my finances. I am receiving unemployment and have some savings, but not having a job has created a financial hardship for me. I really have to budget and cut back on extras: I do not go out to the movies or restaurants; I only purchase the groceries that I need; and I only purchase clothes and shoes for my son when he absolutely needs them.
It’s not easy being unemployed, however I have used this time to add to my abilities. Hopefully, I can list more skills on my resume and the activity accounts for the time that I have not been working. I also believe that if I take action to move forward, something positive is bound to happen!
If you’re unemployed, one thing I have learned is that it is important to stay active and keep your spirits up. A few ways to do this is by doing volunteer work in your community; take classes at an adult school or community college; or visit the Career One Stop Center in your area where they have workshops, computer classes, and job openings that are posted on their bulletin boards. Through these activities, you will meet new people, obtain new skills, and stay busy for a few hours a day. This has been helpful for me and hopefully it will help you, too.
Do you have advice on staying positive and finding work? Share it below and share it with us.
Jan Harris has her certification in Recycling/Zero Waste from Irvine Valley College and completed Business Administration classes at the University of Phoenix. Her background includes office management, is a Notary Public and recently interned at the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council and The Ecology Center. Jan also writes two blogs: Harris and You and Seeking Meaningfulness. She currently lives in Southern California with her son Kyle and cat Sassy.