When unemployment happens, it sucks and the worst feeling in the world. It still is the worst feeling in the world, but you make the best of it by wits, survival, and determination.

Five years ago last week, I went from the working world to being unemployed. I wouldn’t wish unemployment on anyone…it’s been a rough journey, and at times, I feel like hiding from the world.  I don’t know how I have survived this long not having full-time employment, but I have and continue to do so. 

I have gone through experiences that has shaped and reinforced my perspectives and surroundings.

Here are a few lessons I have learned during the past five years of being unemployed.

“As the World Turns”: The world does not stop or end when you experience a life event. Losing your job, divorce, death, or an election (you see what I did there), it doesn’t matter, the world keeps moving. So do you. You can’t stay frozen in time, ruminating about what happened.

“Friends in Low Places”: Very good friends (better yet, friends you never expected) are the ones who know how talented you are and will find a way to help you find work. One pal had me work for him at his company for three months, and another friend got me work doing social media, writing online content, and stats for prep football.

Not all of your friends and networks are going to help you. Most of them don’t have the time to help. Be wary of the person who say  “I’m sorry for you” and facetiously act like they’re sad for you. They are the ones most likely never to offer support, encouragement, or assistance. 

“Jack of all trades”: After I became unemployed, I wanted to do something that was not insurance-related. When you’re in an industry or career for a period of time, you are stereotyped as doing that one thing forever. I went out on a limb and applied to be an unpaid intern for a local art agency. After that, three different stints as a temp for a human service agency, and two of the largest employers in my city. 

Since my first job out of college, whatever job I was supposed to do, evolved. I wore different hats and took on roles that I didn’t expect to do. Being adaptable in the workplace should be considered as a benefit, but most employers, sadly, prefer to hire a candidate who is proficient in one skill over one who is multi-skilled.  

Richard Lewis knows what it's like to get stood up.
Richard Lewis knows what it’s like to get stood up.

Move on after getting “stood up”: After a panel discussion in my mentoring class in 2013, a well-known retired local executive approached me. We spoke about my reasons for being in the class and my hope that the class could help me be fully employed again. He asked for my business card, told me there was someone who might be interested in me, said thank you and left.

I have not heard from him for two years now, despite attempting to reach out to this person.

This has happened several times with other local business leaders I have encountered. If I hold up my end of the bargain, how bad does it look if a leader/mentor doesn’t do the same?  

There will be people or groups that are not worth dealing with. If they have no interest in you, don’t bother attaching yourself to them. They are not worth the effort…and that’s their loss.

“Breakdown Dead Ahead”: All of us are going to have a breakdown. Not just mentally, but physically and emotionally. I have written about my health issues in the past. No, I don’t blame elected officials. That’s on me. I didn’t ask for help.

Just because we have a nation-wide health care plan, that doesn’t mean that you should let your health go south. Your doctors are not with you everyday to ensure that you are following orders. That’s your job.

What have I accomplished over the past five years?

  • created a personal blog (this one)
  • worked short stints in the human resource and marketing fields
  • created social media channels for a non-profit organization I serve on the board for
  • writing online content for a sports website
  • received two awards for community service
  • listened more to people (I already do that, but do it more intently)
  • learning about startups and entrepreneurship and its local impact (Bloomsnap, Dwolla, and Bawte for example)
  • not afraid to write something that could be unpopular or not considered as conventional wisdom

What do I hope to accomplish down the road?

  • be employed (of course)
  • start dating (I’m 38. How I haven’t done that is beyond astounding.  Hello Andy Stitzer.)
  • find another non-profit organization to volunteer for
  • do a better job of leveraging my networks
  • write a guest column for dsm Magazine (I doubt it’ll happen, but a guy can dream, right?)

The pieces we need in our lives are around us…we need to put them in the places that fit in our jumbled puzzle we call life. Hopefully, I will return to the working world. I need it, not just for the paycheck, but for the opportunity to have a passion and drive again to make something better and do good in society.

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