I’m working

Getting used to anything new is hard work. Doesn’t matter how old you are, nor how many times you’ve done it. I empathize with my kids when they start at a new school, take up a new sport, try a new instrument, or go from zero to four weeks of sleep-away camp between summers, as my littlest is doing right now. Being over 20 years into my career, I’ve started my fair share of new jobs, and those first few days, months even, are uncomfortable. Where and with whom do I go to lunch? Is email preferred or antiquated? Who is the one person not to cross? Who is the one person who has all the answers? Who does expenses and what is required? The list goes on. Figuring out the inter-workings of a new situation or environment is far more difficult work than the actual work itself. And so, while I am not employed right now, I’m working harder than I ever have at the office.

“Looking for a job is a full-time job,” as the adage goes. This is true, but not in the way one might think. Spending eight hours a day scouring job postings and researching companies is near impossible, not to mention that doing so will drive you completely insane in very short order. Be strategic about looking for a job and you might reach a handful of hours a day, but even that is a stretch. The “full-time” part of it is figuring out how else to spend your day in a way that’s additive. For professionals used to having a very clear scope of work Monday to Friday and to relaxing on the weekends, this is a real challenge.

“Additive” will mean something different to everyone; I’ve chosen to be liberal in my definition of it.

From a job search standpoint, I created an excel spreadsheet of roughly 100 former colleagues and old friends with whom I’ve not connected in a while. These are people whose company I’ve enjoyed in the past, and so having coffee, lunch, a drink with them doesn’t feel laborious. And yet, with each person I see, I’m casting the job opportunity net wider. Tell enough people what I’m up to and what I’m looking for, and doors tend to open.

Every day, I try to keep my brain open to different topics I can blog about. If you’re reading this, you might notice a dearth of comments. That’s because I don’t share my writing with anyone else; I do it only to keep my brain active and interested. Perhaps at some point I’ll decide to post on LinkedIn, but deftly responding to abrasive commentary doesn’t fit within my definition of additive at this time.

I push myself to do things I otherwise have no time to do. Last Wednesday, I biked almost 40 miles. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for ten years. Its vastness isn’t done justice on a map, nor is its diversity. I discovered neighborhoods I’d like to live in, and ones I never care to see again. I passed through a wildlife refuge and then over the bridge and into Queens to the far end of Far Rockaway. There, I discovered a little neighborhood beach that, if you squint, feels like the Islands. I took the ferry back and saw Coney Island from a totally new perspective.

I stopped and actually let the guy on the street with the pamphlets tell me his story. Because I wasn’t “in a rush” and it would have been a lie to say “I don’t have time.” His name was Nick, and if I’m ever in need of hiring a great sales guy down the road, I’d park myself on 7th Avenue in Park Slope and wait until I saw him again, and then make him the offer. I now give monthly to Oxfam which, you may not know, stands for Oxford Famine Relief.

I’ve taken a few tennis lessons. I played golf by myself. I went to the movies by myself. I sat in the middle of Central Park and just people-watched.

Not only will I spend my normal week in Canada with my family, my mom, my sisters and their families, I’ll also spend a week in the Catskills with my sisters, kids, nieces and nephews. And we will play. We will go to swimming holes, water parks, hiking trails and hit as many ice cream shops as we can find. Because we can. Because I can. Because I’m not “working.” I will tell those companies and former colleagues with whom I’m meeting that I can see them on August 5, but that I can’t commit to anything else until then.

This may all seem pretty cush to some people, but for me, it’s really hard. It’s hard to reach out to former colleagues for help, to have to tell them I’m out of work, to feel so vulnerable. It’s hard to sit down and write when no one is telling me to do so, and when I’m not being paid for it. It’s hard to turn off my phone and bike for hours by myself because I’m not needed anywhere else. It’s hard to acknowledge I have the time to stop and listen to the Oxfam guy’s pitch, as being busy has always been a badge I’ve worn proudly (even admitting this is hard, because it sounds so shallow.) And it’s hard to let myself simply enjoy spending time with my family, rather than fretting about what the future may or may not look like.

These days, work for me means learning how to control not being in control, and allowing the unpredictable to play out as it will. And most importantly, forcing my sense of self-worth be fed by something other than a paycheck. How lucky I am to be working.

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