After seeing the ongoing unemployment numbers since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I wanted to share my story to hopefully help set expectations and to show that people are not alone in this struggle.
If I have any important takeaways to pass on from my unemployment, it would be the following:
- You are not alone.
- It’s not your fault this happened.
- Don’t sit still. Look for new income, and then look for new opportunities.
The Beginning of the Great Recession
In 2007, I was in a job that I thought would be my dream job, but it turned out that it was not a good fit for me.
The Great Recession was just starting, and Charlotte, NC was one of the first areas to be hit hard. I work for a nonprofit at the time, and the organization started losing some of its funding.
My full-time job got cut to a part-time job, so this was the time for me to leave. I was trying to find the courage to move on anyway, and now the safety net of staying was gone.
I had no idea how hard it would be to find my next job.
I had moved on from another job a few years prior, and I was able to land temp work relatively quickly. I thought this time would be the same.
The difference this time was that many other people in the city were also out of work. Temp jobs were all filled, and I’m sure there were actually less jobs available.
Because I worked for a nonprofit with tax-exempt status, I was not eligible for unemployment benefits.
I tried applying to several different types of jobs. I thought, at first, that this was my opportunity to jump over into a new career field directly. I would do something like writing for a video game or going into the news industry. No such luck.
As a new father, I was getting desperate to land something. I ended up working at a sandwich shop just to have some money coming in.
We were considering moving from Charlotte to potentially stay with family in the short-term to see if we could find a market that had jobs.
Southeastern Louisiana was still in recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which had hit two years prior. The area was rebuilding, and the need for workers there meant that the area never took on the full brunt of the recession.
Still, when we first moved, I could not easily get a job. By this point, I had been out of work for months. A stint of unemployment really does make a difference to hiring managers.
Finally, I landed a job at a company with an extremely high turnover rate. It was not a great job, but I was so grateful to finally have work again.
Moving Past the Stopgap Job
By the time that I finally got the job, I had come to the conclusion that my skill sets were not very marketable in a down economy. I had a college degree, but I did not have experience that made me a natural fit for some of the jobs that were out there.
I bought a book on how to code HTML, and I started practicing.
In the early morning, I would practice coding for three hours, and then I would go to work during the day. I had started my job in the fall, and it was nearly Christmas at this point. The company I worked for told us that we all had to take an unpaid day off during this time because they had less business demand. This was their standard way of controlling costs. (I’m still shocked that they thought this was a good idea, and it further reinforced why they had such high turnover.)
On my unpaid day off, I was able to line up an interview at a small nonprofit media company. I had found the job opportunity on Craigslist, and I interviewed for the position of “webmaster.”
I was not that qualified, but they could not afford somebody that was all that qualified. So I got my first opportunity. It paid very little, but it started me down the career path I’m currently on. That was 10 years ago.
I don’t tell you my story to show how to handle unemployment correctly. If I could make a change, I would have started learning code far earlier than I did.
I share this story to say that you’re not alone.
It’s not fun to get to that point when you realize you just have to have income. It’s really frightening, actually. And if you’re able to find that job that will at least give you some cash, you’re not at a point where you can just settle.
There’s a weird mix of patience and relentless ambition that has to come together in hard times like these. It is an emotional journey. To everyone who is on it, I pray for your strength. You can do this.
It’s not fair you have to do this, and I hope we get better systems in place to help our world cope. But don’t give up. You can do this.
The Featured Photo
A word about the photo selected for this post. Mishal Ibrahim did a fantastic job here of capturing the sentiment I felt for a good part of 2007. I imagine many others may be feeling the same way right now.
Take hope. Your present stress will not last forever.