Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Things I've Learned Since Losing My Job

The first week after I lost my job, being the good little Puritan that I am, I was busy updating my resume, asking people for recommendations, thinking about who to contact to tell them I was looking, mapping out different ideas for starting my own business, and reading want ads. One of my authors, upon finding out what had happened to me, emailed me to say, "I've been around long enough to know that people like you don't sit idle for long." It was as if I had to prove her right or something.

Bob (before he came down with a kidney stone and staph infection) noticed what I was doing and basically said, "Stop." He told me not to apply for anything, to take time off. His idea was to take at least two months if not longer to "get to know myself" without any distractions, to figure out what I really wanted to do. After all, I'm 45. Whatever move I make now is probably going to be the last one I make career-wise. I, not being a good, obedient wife, didn't immediately follow his advice. I needed to do something to keep myself from wallowing in depression and self-pity. But then he got horribly, horribly sick, and I was forced to abandon everything while I took care of/worried about him. Talk about putting life into perspective. I decided heeding his advice might be a wise move after all, and I quit doing anything to try to get another job (you know me well enough that this does not mean I quit thinking about it, but I didn't actively do a damn thing).

It's now been three months since I lost my job, and I thought I'd share with all of you what I've learned during this time:

1. I used to think (and regret that I hadn't done so) that everyone should take a year off either before or during college to do something completely different (work, volunteer, travel, etc.). Everyone I've known in life who did that (including my own husband) grew by leaps and bounds compared to those of us who didn't. I now believe that everyone (especially those of us who have either had a part-time job and full-time school or full-time jobs since the age of sixteen and have never taken more than two weeks off at a time) ought to take at least two months off at some point during his or her career to figure out what really matters in life.

2. As much as I might want to deny it, I am more interested in publishing than any other industry. I still eagerly read Publisher's Weekly. I am like a moth to light when it comes to articles in the NYT that have to do with publishing. I am extremely excited about the fact that I think the publishing industry is standing on the brink of a very significant time in history, one that rivals the invention of the printing press, and am happy when I read about companies that seem to have a vision for the future instead of clinging to the past. I love to read about "the good old days of publishing" and imagine what the big names of those times would be doing now.

3. That being said, I have come to the conclusion that I have 3 big passions in life: writing, cooking, and keeping progressive Christianity (of the "Jesus was the world's best psychologist, and this is an extraordinarily radical religion formed by extraordinarily radical people who would be no more accepted in American society today than they were in Roman society" sort) alive and well.

4. None of my passions is the sort from which one can easily make a living. Being intimately familiar with the publishing industry, I know how absurd it is to think a decent living can be made as a writer. Even if one decides, "Oh, I'll just sell out and become another Danielle Steele." It isn't as though no one else has ever had that thought. I am also (through family members) intimately familiar with the restaurant business and know that, despite the fact I am an insomniac who is constantly described by others as "energetic" and who'd probably do well with a 95-hour work week, it is not the life for me. And, well, when it comes to progressive churches, they're dying all around us, while those who would be the first to crucify Christ all over again were he to show up in Dallas, TX tomorrow are thriving.

5. No matter how stunningly beautiful that board of round holes at Company with Next Great Job Opportunity is, and no matter how drawn I am to the challenge of getting a square peg to fit into one of those holes, unless I see evidence of tremendous progress being made on the new board of equally stunning beauty that is full of square holes, and that will be finished shortly after I arrive, I am better off walking away from that company. I do not have what it takes to keep fighting for something that nobody else cares about.

6. A job does not have to be all about one's passion. A job can be a way to earn money in order to be able to pursue one's passions. (I know, that seems obvious, but for the longest time I've been confused, because I thought publishing was a passion. Now, I realize, it's an interest, not a passion.)

7. I need these things in order to be as sane as possible:
a. Time to write every single day
b. Sleep
c. Exercise
d. A healthy diet

8. Even though I have much more time for it now, I still despise housekeeping, but I want a tidy and clean house. I just want someone else to get it that way for me (to my standards).

It's been quite a learning experience thus far.


Stefanie said...

You've had a very productive three months! Some people never learn half of the things you have. It is so hard to think about things when you are busy working full time and doing all kinds of other things. I agree with you that everyone should have a chance to slow down sometime for a month or two in order to get their bearings.

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic! If you ever start an online church I'll be the first to join. I think I'm too far away to attend regular Sunday service.

Charlotte said...

I think this is a fabulous post. It's great to see how the last three months have served you, though I am really, really sorry to hear that Bob has been so unwell.

I hope that daily writing is going well.

Anonymous said...

All good things to have learned, and it's marvellous that you had the time to figure it out. Could you please get cracking on figuring out what ex-publishing types do next, because then I will join you! Although, of course, I'll take two months off first.

Dorothy W. said...

I'm very glad you've had the chance to take this time off and learn some new things and have a chance to reflect on it all. It sounds like you're learning an awful lot of good stuff, which is great. I certainly agree about how a job doesn't have to be one's passion -- I like teaching and am glad I can do it, but it's not a passion of mine. It's what I do that allows me to do everything else. And that's fine.

ZoesMom said...

I give you an a+ for using your time wisely. You've learned a lot in 3 months. And I think a lot of people in your situation would have spent the 3 months wallowing which you clearly did not do.

In a way it is not a bad thing to have a job that is not a passion because it leaves you time to do so many other things.

Courtney said...

This is fantastic. I completely agree that a job doesn't have to necessarily be one's passion - but I do think it needs to have elements of things you care about. And I need the exact same things in order to stay sane - I don't know how people do otherwise. I am not good when I push myself.

Bob said...

Good to recognize that you like publishing, but love writing. Getting those priorities straight will enable you to earn, but not at the expense of what you were destined to do methinks. Now, to heck with the housekeeping and stay healthy!

litlove said...

I can only echo everyone else and congratulate you on have been so much more productive in your three months than if you had leapt into another job and been swamped by details of office politics and how to work the photocopier on its bad days. I'm glad also that you had time to be with Bob when he was ill, and now to process all the emotions that illness must have awoken in you. These things have a lasting impact.

Whatever you do next, you can do it knowing a lot more about the reality of your desires and interests. You've dared to be wise, as they say.

Emily Barton said...

Stef, it hasn't felt so productive while going through it, but looking back on it, I can see it has been (and I've also managed to get the attic organized to boot!).

Sara, well, you could get a pilot's license and just fly down every Sunday morning...

Charlotte, Bob's fine now. Just a couple of scary weeks back before Easter.

MFS, don't worry. If I figure it out, you'll be one of the first I call.

Dorr, yes, you are a good role model for someone who enjoys what she's doing to earn a living but who doesn't make it the single focus of her life.

ZM, oooo, thanks for the A+. Yes, as I get older, I realize time to do what I enjoy is really important.

Court, yes, elements of things you care about are really important. I couldn't take a job on Wall Street, for instance (not that anyone would dream of hiring me for such a job...)

Bob, yes, to heck with the housekeeping and on to living life by the right priorities.

Litlove, thank you. "Daring to be wise" is a great way to live. Hope I can keep doing that, too. You, also are an inspiration, having written quite a bit about your new job situation and how your life has changed since you decided to "slow down." (I don't think someone like you ever really does "slow down," at least not to the sloth-like pace I've seen others adopt.)