Some of you may think that I’m not getting a lot of benefit out of working, given that my paycheck is less than the unemployment check I had been receiving. And since I’m not getting “Benefits” – health insurance, paid holidays, a 401 contribution – with my job there’s ostensibly even less reason to be touting the benefits of working. But if you think that, you are wrong!
The benefits of working are many and myriad. The most important of these is the incredible surge in self-esteem. You cannot believe how unemployment diminishes and degrades your sense of self-worth. No matter that you
were laid off due to economic reasons and no fault of your own, being without a job, particularly for a lengthy period, is demoralizing and depressing. I got out of bed every day while unemployed but on some days it was only because I had children. If I didn’t have them (and the dogs that need walking) I’m certain I could have passed days on end lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Working is a great reason to get out of bed – and makes sleeping in on the weekend a luxury rather than an illness.
Working gives you an identity. I’ve worked my entire life since landing my first job at the age of 14 and while I certainly identify myself as a mother that part of my life has only occupied a bit more than the past decade. Who I work for and what I do has always been important to me. When I was laid off I lost more than a paycheck; I lost my place in the world, my connections and sense of belonging to something larger. It’s hard to describe just how adrift I
became. It wasn’t just losing contact with colleagues; it was the loss of part of myself. And that loss made me pull away from connections that I still had – with friends, my kids’ schools, church and other organizations. Feeling devalued I didn’t see that I had any value to offer.
Since rejoining the workforce I’ve reestablished contact with old friends – even reaching out to old grad school classmates with whom I’d lost touch long before losing my job; my contacts on LinkedIn have doubled as I network and market my firm. The networking is an integral part of my job – I need to pull in new projects – but beyond that I’m just enjoying talking shop with other professionals in my field.
My desire to be involved extends beyond work. I am actively supporting our local children’s museum as a member of the advisory board; currently I’m busy planning an archaeology month program that will include speakers and demonstrations. I volunteer in the schools, attend PTA meetings and am writing a grant for fieldtrip money so that the 2nd and 3rd graders can go to the J.P. Getty Museum. I’m also working on a handbook for the elementary school teachers that will list all the available local resources – funding, out-reach programs and fieldtrips – which they can use to supplement their teaching. It will be indexed by subject matter and grade level and available in hard copy and as a pdf file. My daughter’s teacher remarked recently on the change in my demeanor – she has never seen me so energized and positive. I feel again that I have something to offer the world.
I’m more engaged beyond the local community as well. For the first time in two years I’ve written a letter to the little girl we sponsor in Vietnam. We had maintained our sponsorship (with difficulty at times) but I never felt like writing. Now we have a birthday card ready to mail, with some little stickers and a hair ribbon tucked inside.
The economic effects of millions of lost jobs are clear and obvious. The psychological effects might not be so apparent but they are real and tragic nevertheless. It is vitally important for the health of our nation that these out of work people who are currently impoverished, depressed, and demoralized be given the opportunity to rebuild their lives, and to become reinvested in our country, through their payroll taxes and increased spending power, and the
burgeoning sense of self esteem that will propel them, as it has me, to rejoin their communities in many other less tangible ways. We need jobs.
Happy Labor Day. I’m so glad to be working again!