The Ditch

One morning a couple of winters ago, I hit some black ice at the end of the on ramp for the expressway, spun out, and ended up inside the median between the two sides of U.S. 127. The ride into the ditch was scary, but it was even scarier trying to figure out the best way to get out. The sides of the median were sloped, I knew this because my car had gone a tad airborne on the way in. They were covered with snow, and I wasn’t sure how much traction I’d have. I also wasn’t sure how safe it would be to just launch my car out into the flow of traffic. It didn’t seem possible to break free and get up to 70 MPH fast enough to stay ahead of oncoming traffic.

It was because of this that I considered whether I should try to get onto northbound 127, or if I should call someone, like the police or a tow truck. I called my friend, who suggested that I try to drive out.

Fortune was on my side that morning, because I did manage to power up the hill and, when traffic was clear enough, I blasted myself free of that ditch, then accelerated down the expressway. Once I was free, I didn’t look back, and it felt almost as if I hadn’t been stuck at all.

Even though I got out of my predicament without too much trouble, it did change me. When I drove to work the next time, I took greater care when I passed that same area next to the entrance ramp, even though there had really been nothing I could have done to avoid it.

I have been thinking a lot about how unemployment compares to what it was like to be stuck in that ditch. In a way, that was a problem that was was easier to solve because it was based on tangible rules like gravity, how fast my car could move, depth of the snow, and maybe wind speed. There are a lot of rules we follow when we hunt for a new job, but none of it guarantee you a new position. Someone could be objectively the perfect candidate for a job, but still get passed over for someone else for a reason that’s rather subjective.

Much like that patch of black ice, the loss of my job came as a surprise. I had been laid off twice before, so I always thought that I would be able to spot the signs the next time it was about to happen, and maybe stay ahead of the curve. But, after ten years with the organization, my position had become cozy. I had also been preoccupied with my son’s diagnosis of cancer and physical rehabilitation. No matter how crazy my life seemed, I always tried to put in as much time as I could for work. It was like working two jobs. My actual job until mid afternoon, and then taking care of my son until the evening. But, that’s how much I wanted to hold on to my job.

The good news is that I stayed employed throughout all of that, and as we entered the Fall things seemed to be mostly going back to normal. My managers had been very understanding of my situation, and super flexible. I don’t know what I would have done had they been anything less, because my job helped me to stay focus on something in between dealing with my son’s health issues. It kept me grounded.

As we entered the fall, things seemed to be getting back to normal. My son Josh was back home, and my schedule was becoming more consistent. But, decisions were already being made by then and towards the end of September I learned that I was being laid off. Being laid off is a lot better than being fired, but when its happening to you it doesn’t feel that way.

It is amazing how quickly unemployment can happen. You wake up thinking about the things you’ll accomplish as you start your workday, but then go to bed twelve hours later thinking about all of the things you’ll miss about your job, and the problems or concerns that come about with unemployment.

I was fortunate in that I was given a month’s notice before my job officially ended. During this time, I felt like I was a convict on Death Row. The only advantage was that my workload felt somehow lighter, because all of the sudden I didn’t have to worry about anything that needed to happen any sooner than four weeks into the future. And, I had actually spent ten years with the organization always thinking about the next bug that needed to be fixed, the tickets that needed to be resolved, or the next project that needed to be completed.

October rolled around, and I bid farewell to my co-workers and the office which I had occupied the entire time I worked there. I wasn’t going to miss the fluorescent lights that constantly flickered, but I was tempted to take the rug which had been there for as long as I could remember.

I applied for unemployment benefits and hunkered down in preparation for an intense job hunt. But, I tried to stay upbeat and confident that I would find a new job in practically no time. It was just a matter of finding the right positions, saying the right thing in a cover letter, and impressing everyone during my interview. Easy peasy, right?

Fall changed to winter, and company hiring slowed down during the holidays. I felt like things would pick up again after the new year. I did start to hear back from people about my application around February, and I’ve had a handful of interviews since then. But, what I couldn’t have counted on is that the state would shut down in March, or that the world would be rocked by the COVID19 epidemic.

My unemployment has dropped me into a pit, and despite all of my attempts I can’t seem to get out. I wish it was as easy as gunning the engine, and guiding my car back up and out of a ditch. I wish that my unemployment, and eventual job change, could have felt like merely a bump in the road. I would even have settled for a pothole.

All I do know is that if I stop trying to get a job, I’ll never get one, in the same way that the only way to get out of that ditch was to try something. I’m not sure what I would have done if my car had been damaged or if I hadn’t’ gotten enough traction to drive up and over the edge. When I got myself unstuck, I worried about getting to work on time. With my job search, it seems that the stakes are much, much higher. If I fail, it impacts everybody in my family.

Maybe good fortune will find me again.

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