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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Saying It Out Loud

I realized today that when I was working as a large law firm lawyer, I never enjoyed it. Sure, there were great moments with colleagues and personal achievements that I was proud of but there was never a sense of fulfillment. At the end of the day, I was most passionate about my pay check...and even that wasn't enjoyable because most of the time, it went to pay bills and the massive amount of loan debt I amassed in law school. Don't get me wrong. I still love the law but corporate law firm life was NOT why I said "I want to be a lawyer when I grow up" when I was 8 years old. Now that I am in my current pickle, I have found myself looking for another job with a certain sized paycheck. I haven't been looking for something I can be passionate about. And, as you know, I haven't met with any success. So today, I am saying it out loud. I don't just want a job. I want to earn money for something I love doing. During my down time, the thing I've been doing is writing. It's my outlet. Its something I've always loved so, despite my aversion to risk and my need for a steady paycheck, I want to write. I have already been forced to scale back financially. I may need a job to help everything move along (and to get health benefits) but writing for a living is the goal. I am scared but I know I can do anything I put my mind to. Fear ends where faith begins, right (thanks, RR)?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Shining Brightly

The sun never seems to shine as brightly as it does in Manhattan on the first 80+ degree day of the Spring/Summer season. Maybe its all of the reflective services for the suns rays to bounce off of. Maybe its the sheer energy of the city. All of the people sharing food and drinks outdoors, the beauty of the parks and all of the flowers blooming around fountains and on medians...and me being part of it. That's right! I got off of the couch and out of the house this weekend. I met up with a good friend and we shared good wine, great appetizers and hours of chatting. At the end of it all, I felt so much lighter...despite all of the guacamole we inhaled. It was fun not to focus on the downside of my jobless life and just laugh and eat. It energized and renewed me and now, despite my situation, I have hope and I am shining brightly...bouncing off of life's reflective surfaces and hoping my positive energy bounces back my way.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hibernation

Today, I reached over to scratch an itch and to my horror, I discovered that a hair had sprouted on my once smooth right shoulder. I panicked for a moment wondering if there were others and then I gave in to the nap that was begging for my attention pre-itchy hair discovery. As I closed my eyes, my cell phone broke me out of my haze. I reached for it with a heavy sigh. It was my husband telling me about a birthday party he had obligated us to and forgotten. As I tried to fight being annoyed at having to go out and tried to decide what to wear, I realized that I hadn't been out in a social setting since my last day of work. I haven't put on a stitch of make-up, let my hair down or worn anything other than pajamas, work out clothes or jeans for those fancy moments when I got to the grocery store. The only exception has been the one time I left the house for an interview and temp agency registration. I have sent out more resumes than I can keep track of and the phone's not ringing. My friends are all busy with work. I stay in one spot on my couch. I sleep all the time. People!!!! I am hibernating and as of today, I have the furry undercoat to prove it!! I have GOT to get out of the house.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beauty in the Breakdown

I have been on a sort of self-imposed time out. My computer crashed and I lost what felt like the last 6 years of my life. It was having issues last week but I ran malware anti-virus and it came right back to life. Now everything is gone. Its useless. Luckily, I had backed up some things but the day that it happened, I had been so productive. I was 5 hours into a project when it gave me the "blue screen of death." Maybe you're familiar: Error! We are beginning a memory dump. Involuntary shut down never to fully restart. Well, I had a breakdown. And I don't mean I shed some tears. I mean a full on loud, soul shaking, shoulders heaving, gasping for air, sobbing breakdown. I was sad about the computer but it was just the icing on the bitter cake I've been eating for the last few months. I cried for how much time I spent in a job I hated and for how hateful people were to me in a job I sacrificed so much of myself for. I cried for all the doors that have closed in my face since I've been job hunting. I cried for the time I've missed with friends and for the hopeless way I feel in the worst economy I've ever known. I cried for the unknown and what will happen if my husband and I have to uproot the life we worked so hard to build. I cried for my health, which now seems to be veering away from remission. I cried for having to put children and house purchasing on hold. I know that's a lot, but I have only gotten misty eyed over this situation until this point. I am not a crier. I am a look forward to tomorrow because crying won't fix anything type of girl. But there I was, sobbing and wailing on my husband's shoulder and for once not caring if I looked weak. Finally, I stopped, blew my nose and went to bed. I logged on to my computer the next morning hoping that I'd dreamed the whole thing but I didn't. I pulled the covers over my head for a few hours and then went for a drive. There wasn't a moment when I wasn't on the verge of tears. Today, I stayed in bed until 5:00. Then I got up, took a shower and did some self-help reading. I did some cleaning and tried to clear my head. Now, after a couple of days under ground, listening to torrential rain storms outside, I am ready to turn my face to the sun once more. Like I said, I am not a breakdown type of girl but sometimes, even for those of us who try to remain "strong," there is beauty and necessity in the breakdown. It reminds us that we have feelings and sometimes- whether we are focused on bringing good things into our lives or not-we need to let it out. If nothing else, it brings closure and gets the bad feelings out...and makes room for new, happy times.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yellow dandelions


When I was young, spring and summer trips to the park were times I relished with my mom. I would always pick yellow dandelions for her and present them as if they were the prettiest flowers that nature could provide. She would always stick on behind my ear. As I grew up, I realized that those pretty bursts of color sprinkled across untouched hillsides and springing out of cracks in sidewalks and driveways were viewed by most as a target for Roundup or some other weed killer. On my way to the gym yesterday, I noticed that there were dandelions all over the untended hill beside the road. I swear they weren't there a couple of days before. It was the first warm, sunny day (no jacket required) that I have experienced in a while, and I guess the dandelions seized the moment. They were there waiting under the surface of the ground for just the right moment and they will last for the rest of the spring. Its like they knew their time to spring up was coming, though they were cold and buried for what seemed like the longest winter ever. Its like the sun. Its always there. On some days, dark clouds may block its rays but its still there, just beyond the clouds waiting to shine. I think that's like me. Its cloudy right this moment. My talent is under the dirt/behind the clouds waiting for the right opportunity to spring forth and shine. The key to keeping my faith is knowing that the right season or the right conditions are coming and I will be given the chance to shine once more. SO, today, on a rainy, cold Monday in New York, I am still underground but I have a yellow dandelion tucked behind my ear.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

$17.99 and $27.10

Friday afternoon, I stopped at Target to re-up on Advil--excuse me, Target brand gelcap--on Friday. While walking towards the pharmacy, I passed a simple kelly green maxi dress similar to one I fell in love with during a trip to Old Navy last summer. It was sold out and never restocked. I gave up on it until I saw its fraternal twin hanging on a rack...a SALE RACK!!! Only $17.99. I checked for my size, I held it up to me in the mirror and I remembered that there might be a day very soon when $17.99 would be the difference between dinner with water and water for dinner. I placed it back on the rack and walked away. Sadness overwhelmed me. There has never been a time since I was 16 that I wasn't working. Sure, I might not be able to get every shoe, bag, meal or kelly green maxi dress that I wanted but I always knew that I could just wait for the next paycheck and go pick up what my heart desired.

When I left college behind, I also left the days of having under $100 in the bank on any given day. Well, things come full circle, history repeats itself, etc., etc. ad nauseum. I paid this month's bills after I had to abandon my ideal summer dress (not that I am not thanking God for being able to pay the bills this month) and when the smoke cleared, there was $27.10 left in the bank. I looked at the number for a moment, swallowed hard and walked away from the computer. I needed a drink of water to swallow the dose of reality stuck in my throat. I gathered my thoughts and made the call I had been dreading. "Hello, Fidelity. I need to roll over my 401(K). Yes, I am unemployed. Yes, I have been diligently seeking employment. No, I don't have any other options at the moment." I have been putting this off for a while because I kept holding out hope that I would find a job before I started dipping into my retirement account. I'm only 30...and I have been building that account since 23. I didn't always max out because, like most people, other things got in the way...namely, my fancy New York City wedding and my South African honeymoon. So I am sitting at $27.10, glad for experiences that I had before joining Generation L, hoping that I don't have to burn through ALL of my savings and mourning my former shopping ability. Silver lining? At least the bank balance isn't $7.60, which is what it would be if I gave in to my urge to buy the dress (I can subtract...that number accounts for tax). In my dreams though, I am sitting on a beach in Turks and Caicos in my green maxi dress drinking something with an umbrella in while my husband runs our jet ski rental company from a stand a few feet away. At least that's where my 401(k) was supposed to go.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

America's Got...Something!

Today is not what I would call a good day. I know, I know. I am supposed to be immersed in the practice of positivity. I should say this day was a lesson in patience and not a BAD day....when my thoughts got pitiful and my eyes got weepy, I should have rolled out my rarely used yoga mat, gotten into lotus pose so I could breathe happiness in and exhale toxic thoughts out....yeah (pregnant pause) Rome wasn't built in a day.

BUT, this post isn't going to be about my virus infected computer (ERROR! Your computer will shut down in 60 seconds. Save your files...did we mention 60 seconds??) or my umpteenth rejection letter from a potential employer (your resume is exceptional but we've decided to go with someone more exceptional or someone with the same resume who got to us earlier, or no one because of an unexpected job freeze, or...you get it...we're rejecting you). Nope. This post is going somewhere different.

So, I got ready to go to the gym with the same scowl/pout on my face that I had when I was 3 and couldn't have gum from the display in the checkout line at the grocery store. My mom and my husband know that look better than anyone. Sensing my funk, my husband tried to cheer me up by holding my hand like we were school kids. I thanked him for the gesture. I even cracked a smile but I was still sad inside and my pout soon returned. We got to the gym, I grabbed a balance ball and started my ab work. Hubby got a ball and plopped down beside me. He poked me in the arm a couple of times and just when I was about to shoot him an annoyed look (when I'm deep in a funk, I tend to wallow there for at least an hour), we were interrupted by The Walking/Jumping/Dancing Crazy. This guy came bolting into the room with a loud "WOO-HOO!!" Then he started running around and clapping. Then came the real performance. I kid you not, he broke out in a full on disco/techno dance performance while singing at the top of his lungs. He stopped, did a couple of bicep curls while screaming bloody murder and then he gave someone on one of the circuit machines a lesson on his form. A woman stretching on the floor shot him a look when he broke out into part 2 of his song and he screamed "Am I too loud?" She knodded and he said "Yeah. Headphones!" and danced out of the room. I caught my husband's eyes in the mirror and we both burst out laughing. He noted that maybe they should ask "Are you crazy?" on the gym membership application. We decided to leave that room and I went to the women's training room (because apparently we need a separate space) to find some peace. When I finished with my weight training (I sound like such a health nut don't I...makes me laugh as I sit here planning what dessert I'm going to have after dinner), I went out into the main gym to do some cardio. I chose a bike and about 1 minute into my 6 mile trek, the woman next to me decides to sing. Mind you, I was wearing headphones and was listening to Oprah on full volume (to drown out the dance music blaring over the gym soundsystem) so when I say sing, I really mean shriek loud enough to blow out my eardrums. I turned to look at her and I see a woman that looks to be about 60, with her eyes closed, hands waving in the air belting out a song like she is auditioning for America's Got Talent (or America's Got Off Key and Crazy Sewed Up and Locked Down). Again, I laughed (this time to myself so as not to blend into the brand of crazy that took over the gym today) and leaned into my 6 mile ride. She was still singing 2 miles in and the dancer from earlier came dashing by and paused for a clap, dance, WOO-HOO combo near the row of bikes. He moved on and a man came to join my row of bikers. As soon as he sat down, the singer silenced herself and remained that way for the rest of my bike ride. I smiled and remembered that God has a great sense of humor and I instantly rose above my self pity. So, America's Got...Something and I got my lesson: self pity takes you nowhere but down and, as cliche as it is, laughter often is the best medicine.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Lesson of the Worry Bead

During a job hunting break today, I watched a documentary focusing on children's reactions to September 11th. Kids always strike me as profound in the midst of tragedy because their approach isn't marred by the need to mince words and be politically correct. Usually (hopefully) they haven't been corrupted by hateful/irational reactions imposed upon them by the adults in their lives. They see things in a simple way. In any event, I was just watching this documentary to pass the time when the camera focused in on a little girl seemingly doing arts and crafts. It turns out that she was in a grief counseling center where her teacher taught them to make beads out of clay. Two lumps of clay are rolled together to form a ball (or a bead) and a hole is poked in the top. You whisper your worry into the hole and then it is locked there forever. She showed her finished bead to the camera and said "see, the worry is locked in here. sometimes, they come back but not really." This reminded me of a sermon I heard in church back when I was stressed out of my mind and studying for the bar exam. The minister said that so many people bring their worries to the alter, pray about them and walk out of church with the same worries as if worrying somehow changes reality. He encouraged laying the worries down and having faith that all things will work out. That is also a central theme of the book I've been reading. Focus on the positive and it will come to you. If you focus on the negative, you will get stuck in it and good cannot come to you. Its the lesson of the worry bead. It got me through the bar exam, my first job hunting process, a major health crisis (don't know if I mentioned that I have lupus) and it can surely get me through this. As much as I like to control things and know what to expect, things work best for me when I am faithful that all things will work out rather than starting each day noting that I am still waiting for a breakthrough. In the meantime, I have to focus on what I can control: my attitude and my actions. Maybe I'll busy myself with bead making. I've got a lot of whispering to do. Hopefully my husband doesn't think I've completely lost my mind.

Circle of Friends

We all know the saying "Misery loves company." I don't like to think of myself as miserable and I surely don't want company lately. I feel like I don't have anything to say to anyone but "Hi. My name is Nicole and I am unemployed." Last night, in catching up with an old friend, I divulged my big unemployment secret and she confessed that she was in the same position. Once that was on the table, I was able to freely confess that for the first week of joblessness, I didn't really see the point of showering or getting out of my pajamas. She laughed and divulged that she went a week without strapping on a bra...and subsequently discovered that when you are ample in that department that bras exist for more than adapting to corporate and social norms. Over giggles, we shared gripes about friends who "envy all of our free time," stress-induced insomnia, coupon clipping, tragically low caps on unemployment benefits, and how much what you do for a living comes up in conversation. We commiserated over what you say when you search for a job for a living. I confess that I have put off chatting with friends and family because its hard to talk about loss without crying or feeling sorry for myself. It doesn't really fit with the positive attitude that my self-help books are encouraging. That said, I felt better after detailing and laughing at all of the hopelessness I was drowning in. So, yes, maybe I am miserable and I need company in this low place but I am pushing off the negative connotation that comes with that old phrase and saying that misery gets better when someone on your level can be your lifeline. A lot of people in my circle of friends are jobless and by talking about our fate, somehow, we laugh and keep each other afloat for another day.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cheers!

Another long day alone. My husband is out, my cat is standoffish and I am multitasking...if you consider sitting in front of a marathon of Real Housewives of New York while typing on the computer multitasking. I looked into volunteering at a few places close to home and filled out some online forms so I feel like I accomplished something. Maybe volunteering will lead me to something greater than I could have imagined. If not, it will lead me off of my couch and out into the world. I already know that helping others will make me feel better. So, today's entry is simple: I propose a toast to a new outlook that focuses on people and things outside of myself. Here's to accepting today and having enough hope to look forward to tomorrow. Yes, I am raising a glass of Reisling and tilting it slightly towards the screen. I have had to give up after work cocktails with friends so tonight, I am celebrating my new beginning on my own. Cheers!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mom's are the best

I've been seeing shows about how overwhelmed mothers are all week and I just have to say, either my mom hid it very well or she is magical. I prefer to think the latter. It can be the only real explanation for why she can instantly make me feel better even when I am down (way, way down) in the dumps. Talking to her today made me feel instantly less alone, less bored and less afraid. I got a pep talk, a concrete plan for volunteering and even a new approach to finding a job that I hadn't really thought about. I am refreshed and ready to face the world (on Monday). Now I know why we start to scream "I WANT MY MOMMY" when we are afraid as children. I am not ashamed to say that despite being an adult, I still have days when I scream for my mom (both inside my head and out loud). A positive attitude is great in times like these but being lucky enough to have a mom who will take an hour to give her 30 year old "baby" some heartfelt encouragement on a Friday night...well, as cliche as it sounds, there's nothing like it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I heart my best friend

Early this morning, I had a long (I'm talking several hours) conversation with my best friend. A lot of what we talked about was fluff to give us some relief from the Generation L (let go and let down)depression that both of us are facing. We have both been out of work for quite a while and are coming to terms with the fact that all we did up to this point is not enough to get us into an initial interview in some places.

In any event, while I was talking, I stumbled upon an epiphany: Without a job, I don't know who I am. When I was employed, I prided myself upon being more than just a lawyer. I had substance. I was social and could talk to anyone about almost any topic. When I said things like, "I enjoy writing" or "South Africa was beautiful" I realize now that I was a lawyer who liked these things. Before that, I was a law student who liked these things. The goal was always to be a lawyer so the answer to "who are you?" always included the law somehow. Now that I am jobless, I don't know how to answer that question. This morning, in the midst of a fit of giggles (one of those exasperated laugh or cry moments), I dubbed myself a professional couch potato. I don't think there's pay for that unless I win the lottery so...the struggle continues.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Where's my black veil?

I was watching Oprah today and in counseling a woman who reminded me a little too much of myself, the therapist that was a guest on the show spoke about mourning the loss of a job. I couldn't help but nod my head. What I feel as I sit here and cruise job boards everyday feels like grief. Its like a part of me has died. Like most people, I have always had an idea of the type of person I wanted to be. It was only in the high stress moments that I would say, "who needs this job. I would kill to sit home and do whatever I wanted." Now that I have no other option, I have cemented what I've always known...I am not cut out to be a house wife. With every pointless shower I take and every dish I wash, I grow more and more annoyed. I mean, I'm all for cleanliness but it is frustrating to get up, shower and get dressed just to sit on the couch and surf the internet. Don't get me wrong, there are perks. I like my comfy, around the house attire (though I'm sure my husband longs to see me in something other than last summer's Old Navy sundresses) and I like that I have developed a little more talent in the kitchen (me cooking was a reason to plan for backup takeout or a healthy dose of pepto just a month ago) but its not what I feel I am meant to do. I am young, childless and stuck in the suburbs. I don't have a car because I, like most New Yorkers, used public transportation to commute to work. I signed up with a volunteer agency but then I realized that $15 a day to get into the city is quickly going to turn into something prohibitively expensive. My husband uses the car to get to work so during the day, its me, Food Network, Ellen, Oprah and my cat. Note that even my cat is starting to look at me like, "what are you doing here, besides interrupting my cat nap?!?!?" So, I'm trying to find me in all the silence and cooking but in the meantime, I am mourning. Since I haven't figured out the lesson in all of this or had an epiphany about what to do next, I am pulling down the metaphorical black veil, shutting down the computer and turining on the TV. Paula Deen is making grits toast with mushrooms...maybe its time for a southern menu. I have beat the mexican recipies to death. My husband (who like most people not from the south) hates grits. He should love this next taste tour...hell, at this point, its what I have in the pantry and its something new. I need a challenge.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The point of all this

It has been exactly one month since I walked out of my office for the last time. As of the start of this year, I had hit the milestones. I was college educated. I got my law degree, passed the bar exam and got a job working in a large corporate law firm in New York City making a lot of money. I was a long way from home and a long way from happy…but I was stable. I was newly married, well traveled, had recently moved into a great starter home in an area that I loved AND, joy of joys, I was healthy for the first time in a long time.

Then, on the 7th of January, there was a knock on my office door and my life changed in a matter of a minute. As I sat across from a man that I had long ago mentally cast as my nemesis and listened to him telling me that the firm had decided to part ways with me as if I were the firm’s high school girlfriend on the last balmy night of summer before new adults venture off to college, I cried. I wasn’t crying for the loss of the job. Indeed, something in me knew this day had been coming for quite some time. It was the typical story. The work got slow, the judgment got more harsh and those senior to me started looking the other way when we passed in the hall. When I asked for more experience, I was told to visit the library and check out a book. When I asked for examples of my mishaps, I was given examples from the previous year…a year where all of my reviews were excellent except one. Coincidentally, the bad review came from the attorney that insisted on working with me all year in 2008. There were not-so-whispered conversations in hallways about me but I kept my head down. I told myself that if something was really wrong, I would be told. After all I had sacrificed, I would be given a fair shot to turn things around…if they indeed needed to be turned around. I, like so many others, vented to my work friends about the unfairness of it all and they commiserated with me. Some gave me warnings that someone was trying to work against me but I ignored it. Maybe I ignored it because the universe seemed to be screaming at me, “LEAVE. This job is not for you” even before the focused, and at times, mean spirited campaign against me began. Even with all of that, I can’t say the tears were ones of relief. Their salty flavor was more one of fear, of well-laid, broken plans, of facing reality…of unbelievably bad timing.

As he asked me if I had any questions, I knew I had many (and a few curse words), but I couldn’t get them out past the lump in my throat. Chief among the questions though was not one he could answer. How did I get here? I had always planned to be a lawyer. I had always wanted to live in New York City. I had planned my path and everything worked out. Now that I was married, living in the suburbs and planning when the time would be right to work children into the equation, the bottom decided to fall out? Just when I felt like asking what cruel twist of fate this was, I decided against the theatrical meltdown, dried my tears, called my mom and my husband, cried again and then reminded myself that I was a bankruptcy lawyer. I had the benefit of 60 days notice. My confidence had been trampled but I was just in the wrong environment. I would dust myself off, get it together and find a new firm. I got headhunter calls everyday. I would be fine…but that night, I would make happy hour for the first time in a long time.

The next day, I started hunting for a job like it was my full time job. I met with career counselors, joined job search websites and talked to numerous friends and headhunters. One friend who had been searching for a job for months before I started told me that he didn’t want to discourage me but that it was going to be a miracle if I found a job before my 60 days ran out. I heard what he was saying but I didn’t internalize it. I didn’t have time for negative thoughts. I was going to find a job…a good one making the same salary. I knew lots of people and seemingly everyone was hiring. I got my interview attire together and planned my answers to the standard interview questions. I had been an interview coach at one point and run workshops both in law school and as a lawyer. I was ready for this.
After my first round of interviews, I was faced with, “We’re going to need to see your transcript. You went to Pace Law School. We don’t recruit from Pace.” It was startling that after five solid years of practice, I was going to have to rationalize my first year law school grades. I mean come on. I passed the bar. I practiced law. School has very little to do with the actual practice of law. But, that didn’t matter. Its what I had to do. So I ordered and distributed my transcript. My B- average got me a boatload of rejection letters. One even came after my references were checked and the attorney I interviewed with essentially told me (and my reference) that I was exactly what he was looking for.

Now, as I start to think that my law school education means little because of where I went and how I did on closed book multiple choice exams, I find myself jobless in the worst economy in the last half century. I have bills to pay…including all of those law school loans. After a month of wallowing in rejection letters and chardonnay, I am starting to look back at my hobbies to figure out if I can finally find a way to work my passion into income. I figured a lot of people are in the same position as me. For years, I rationalized my misery by telling myself something that I heard a colleague say years before. “Your job isn’t supposed to make you happy. Get some hobbies.” That makes me laugh now. Working in a large law firm doesn’t afford anyone time to cultivate hobbies. Most of the time, if you can work in a shower, have a meal away from your desk and manage to get four to six hours of sleep, you are ahead of the game. Hobbies become what you used to do before you started to work. Its time to find/build a new life. How poetic (or tragic, depending on the day) that it starts at 30. 30 is the new 20 right? Sigh. Anyway, I thought I would write for therapy and share with those who are interested/taking a similar journey along with me. Post your comments/suggestions/stories. Maybe Generation L (laid off and let go) can find a new identity—a happier one. No matter what, I have to take a step before I sink any deeper into the butt print I have spent the last month creating on my overpriced sectional.