Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Turning "Unemployed" into "Unencumbered"

In my search for evidence to prove to the eviction court that I'm not a deadbeat tenant, I stumbled upon Richard John Neuhaus' essay "Born Toward Dying." I initially read it with an eye toward helping my neighbor mourn her husband's unexpected death. And I was struck by this quote about grief:

"The worst thing is not the sorrow or the loss or the heartbreak. Worse is to be encountered by death and not to be changed by the encounter."

With a few word substitutions, the notion easily applies to the jobless:

"The worst thing is not the anger or the degradation or the sorrow. Worse is to be encountered by loss and not to be changed by the encounter."

For many of us, unemployment catapults our brains into high gear. Swirls of negative and sickening thoughts dominate prime real estate in our gray matter—like that wild teacup ride in amusement parks, with a new thought at every twist. Except that this teacup ride never makes us smile.

It's up to us to control the ride, though. And that demands some introspection. To make this stretch of jobless time valuable, we must examine ourselves and our perceptions:

What view are we afforded of the world from this level?
How does it differ from our employed view?
How fulfilling was our worklife? Do we want to replicate that?
How many different futures can we imagine for ourselves?

Some of us were so focused on our previous jobs and responsibilities that we lost sight of who we are outside of the workday. Being relieved of those responsibilities gives us an opportunity to connect with what's left. Or what's been shoved aside for years.

Job loss also gives us an opportunity to heighten our awareness and compassion for those less fortunate. To count our blessings while counting our pennies. To see our circumstances from yet another point of view.

Allow unemployment to change more than the number of shoes in your closet, or the balance of your checking account, or the busyness of your social calendar.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not pressing anyone to plaster on a faux smile and grab any old silver lining.

Unemployment sucks; why pretend otherwise?

Nonetheless, we must stretch ourselves to make this loss meaningful. By plumbing the depths of our circumstances, we can expand our humility, compassion, and wisdom. We can build character as well as resumes.

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