Seeking meaningfulness after losing my job

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.

Staying positive

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.

Dec 2011 017
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.


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  1. Jan,
    So many of us are in a similar situation. I am working part-time as a substitute teacher. I went back to college to get my teaching credential and then was not able to find a permanent position. I want my work to be meaningful too but would like at least permanent part-time. I think we go through stages of grief when we are in this situation. First shock, how did this happen? This is not what I planned or intended. Then maybe, anger, frustration, sadness. Then trying to find our way through this transition. A new relationship with work like part-time or temping or finding a new role. I am in the middle of this myself. I think finding others going through this transition is good advice.

    • Sam
    • April 9, 2013

    As I hit the one year mark today, I can’t help but think – you have unemployment income and savings, why are you complaining? My last paying gig (Data Analyst/ Consultant) did not involve things like benefits or unemployment insurance, or afford me the luxury of savings. Not going out to restaurants? I just threw up a little in my mouth – how about enough money for food or the electricity bill.

    1. Thanks for finally talking about > Seeking meaningfulness
      after losing my job | Idealist Careers < Loved it!

  2. Hi Jan!

    We indeed have all been there, and I pray those who don’t know the feeling of suffering a layoff never do. It’s a challenging time and I applaud you for sharpening your skills during this time off. When it happened to me, I decided to open up my world a little. Although it will be harder for you to do with a child to think about, I searched for jobs all over the country. This was back in 2007/8 when the economy was REALLY in trouble. I too lived in Southern California and trying to find an admin job in that economy was not going to happen.

    I drove around the US, got a job on cruise ships, traveled the world and eventually made it back to land. I worked as a nanny in Austin for a year and am now an admin for the largest staffing firm in the world, working in the NYC office.

    While I cannot tell you to move, it should be something you consider when work is tough to find. Use EVERY network you have…post to facebook, chat with friends, go to meetups, tell your church family, create a website, put your resume on monster/careerbuilder/etc. You just never know where the link will happen…I got my job through a friend I met through a friend I met through a friend I met on cruise ships. Literally 3 levels deep of friends and this person got me the job I’ve now been in for 2 1/2 years. So tell everyone you’re looking.

    If you’re not getting interviews, have an HR person look at your resume…something is wrong. If you’re getting interviews but not the job, have an HR person you know “mock interview” you and tell you what you’re doing wrong. Then just be positive. Always smile, feel optimistic and go into every interview with the belief that they need you, not the other way around.

    Good luck!!!

    • Lisa
    • April 9, 2013

    Jan –

    Thanks for the fantastic article, yes there a lot of us right there with you. In 2009 i got laid off from a wonderful job as a project manager and outsource buyer for a large-format advertising display company. i was grateful to find a terrible paycheck job at a $30K annual cut. That company, after grinding my soul into hamburger, went thru a restructure too and i have now been unemployed the better part of a year and a half. Let me also mention that my marriage imploded as well. There are few things more awful than being unemployed and filing for divorce.

    It’s a big job to stay positive – i thought i was doing all the right things: i ratched up my community volunteer work – which has brought me more involvement in the world at large than i ever thought possible. i went back to school when the layoff happened in 2009 and got a fundraising certificate from UCLA Extension, following my desire to want to write grants.
    i have a rock solid background as a project manager and sharp proposal writing skills, i can transition into a development position, i thought. My resume has gotten me some interviews, but i keep getting turned down for not having any experience in the nonprofit business sector, wondering if that’s really the reason i’m getting turned down – even when i’m going for the most basic position.

    i’m continuing to volunteer, am temping as a receptionist, working part time for minimum wage at a shop in the mall, and doing my best to keep the stiff upper lip as the divorce slithers thru my life like a serpent. i’m trying to keep faith that there’s a place for me in the philanthropic world, providing altruistic service, somehow, somewhere down the road.

    Looking forward to checking out the blog Seeking Meaningfulness. Thanks again and good luck!

  3. I reached the 3 year mark without a steady part or full-time job in February. I have tried to get freelance design and photography work with some success, but it doesn’t pay for the groceries or rent. I have been volunteering for a non-profit for 2 years. There is nothing wrong with my resume or interview skills… The trend I see is that a large percentage of employers continue to hire those already employed and not the unemployed (who were laid off due to the recession). It has become a slippery slope because if you weren’t successful within the first 6 months of being laid off, getting noticed, a call, or interview is daunting to say the least. What employers fail to realize is that by overlooking these folks, it keeps prospective donors and consumers on the sidelines. Best wishes to all for achieving what feels like an elusive goal…somehow I still have hope 🙂

    • Lorraine
    • April 9, 2013


    Great article! If it’s any encouragement, my journey mirrors yours almost exactly…and I landed on my feet. I worked seven years in an administrative role at a professional services firm, got laid off I nearly 2009. Also decided to transition to nonprofit arena. Was unemployed for 1-1/2 years, during which I volunteered at nonprofits, took classes, did an internship. Eventually a job opened up at a local nonprofit…and I was able to get a recommendation from one of my volunteer gigs, and got hired. It is rewarding…but heads up, salaries are less than the for-profit arena…but benefits are better. Good luck. You’re doing all the right things!

    • Jan
    • April 9, 2013

    Thank you for all the great comments. I wish everyone good luck in their quest for a meaningful job. Thank you Idealist for being a great website to search for jobs, great articles and help for all those looking for work and seeking something more.

    • Theresa
    • May 9, 2013

    Thank you all so much for sharing your situations…somehow it helps a bit knowing that I am not singled out in my situation. There is some sort of comfort knowing that I am not alone. I will follow the examples here to make myself busy productively. I am an RN , but in administrative support and had been in Medicare B review to review claims that were aberrant or abusive
    ( medicare as well as medicaid have very high fraud issues. I even briefly worked as a nurse consultant in the fraud dept, worked in VA to implement the Interqual criteria to improve the need of the inpt stay…………well , anyway , as you can see I have the education as an RN and the experience in my specialty/area……..but very few takers… there were some in between hiring and my employment did not last —-employers for some reason (nowadays) do not seem to believe in tenure w/ their new employees, so they train short and fragmented and others let you go because “not a fit” or not in their “culture”. Most if not all , my previous job positions, I was” trained in house” and time was not an issue because mentors in these places made the job learniing more efficient and successfull. I noted that some employers in these days do not want to train longer nor are they invested in the tenure of their new employees. Must be the economy or more people than jobs, and yes, the benefits are going away . I truly thank all of you to bare your frustrations to others ’cause it gives us some extended hopes. In all of this ongoing, try not to forget to have compassion for yourself.
    My heart goes to all that is still searching meaningful jobs , but most specially to the ones that is carrying the burden of unemployment and an ongoing life crisis such as a divorce. I have been there too. My advice is to keep on chugging , do what you can that is in your control, and keep your heads up. These too , will pass……….

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