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A Tale of My Two Layoffs

This time, at age 54, I'm not a cupcake

By Dartinia Hull

The news alerts say unemployment filings have hit a low not seen since the start of the apocalypse in early 2020. But here you are, wild-eyed and trembling, typing away on the state's unemployment site, answering questions about job skills, some of which you haven't used in almost 30 years.

People lined up outside a brick building for unemployment. Next Avenue, laid off, lay-offs
People lined up to file for unemployment benefits in Fort Smith, Arkansas  |  Credit: PBS/REUTERS/Nick Oxford

You're 54, laid off and on a seesaw of emotion and resolve.

It's not your first layoff rodeo. But being laid off at 41 was different.

Back then, you were fresh out of a two-year grad school after a 10-year stint of little work advancement (your choice). You became School Volunteer Extraordinaire. You cooked, daily, with gusto; knocked the fuzz off tennis balls during matches. You watched the entire TV series "Burn Notice" three times because you liked the story line, and it made fabulous background sound as you uploaded resumé after resumé to online applications.

Being Laid Off at 41 and Then at 54

You were scared out of your mind, crying in the mall, in the supermarket. You're scared out of your mind now, also, much as you don't want to admit it. But it's different. The pandemic has numbed you. Life has damaged you.

At 41, you had rarely been at home, alone, all day. But at 54, and in a pandemic, you suck teeth at the ease of being sequestered.

At 41, you had rarely been at home, alone, all day. But at 54, and in a pandemic, you suck teeth at the ease of being sequestered. You have no idea when you last used antiperspirant. You've watched the French thriller series "Lupin" on Netflix about 10 times, because you love the story. It's background while you upload resumés

You fight the urge to throw up because of student loan payments, car payments and dental bills  —  all the things that come with being a part of the shrinking middle class in America.

You realize your bougie, middle-class, first-world problems are exactly that; bougie, middle-class, first-world. They are still very real, and you cash in the small amount of crypto that you haven't staked.

When you were let go at 41, you thought the jobs would come flowing in, but the applications kept referencing something called SEO, at which you're now fabulous, but knew nothing about then. (It's Search Engine Optimization, for the uninitiated — a skill of writing "content" that will easily show up in an online search.)

So, you learned: keep up, and not just with the latest version of Myst.

But it's easy to fall behind. So, you take a class in video editing. You look for an affordable DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) certification because you were becoming involved with this in your job. You know you aren't an expert, but you're more marketable. You've gotten used to the word "marketable." It sounds like you're a farm animal.

You let everybody know you're looking for work. Everybody.

Schedule lunches. Why not? You have to eat.

You get leads and introductions to employers and jobs you've never considered. The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab Site is looking for a writer? Hmmm…

You pore over LinkedIn. Make a website (which had been necessary for a while). Fill out job applications that are seven pages long and ask you everything except your shoe size and how many tooth fillings you have. Nine and three. 

Looking for Work, Protecting Finances

You know all the job applications will have education questions. You also know the 'bots will hop over your name because 19xx is in your high school graduation year.

You call the bank about your mortgage. Head there because you are doing a mortgage forbearance, which will keep you afloat for four months. After that, the forbearance is renewable for another four months. You relax a bit. But after that, the banker says, if you don't have a job, you might need to sell your home.

The words "sell your home" bore into your skin. 

You think about the eviction moratorium ticking clock, and how many families could lose their homes — 3.5 million — and you feel your gut twist. You think about the family of five you saw walking through uptown, night after night, and you want to find them and take them in, because that's how you were raised.

You call your credit card companies and ask their options for payment or interest-rate reductions. Or go for it and ask for both.

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Call all your doctors and make appointments before your insurance coverage ends. Let the receptionists know your situation; they will work with you. Get your prescriptions renewed. Fill the ones you can. Mask up and talk to the people in the drugstore line about being laid off. Plenty of the people in line have been laid off.

You are thankful you have kept up with your morning walks. Exercise is important. You remember walks with your great-grandmother, who carried an umbrella and talked to herself. You've been mumbling to yourself while walking, and it helps you work through feelings. Eventually you cry more than mumble while walking.

Fall apart. Go ahead, it's fine. Wallow. But for 20 minutes a day, and 20 minutes only. You're stressed. It's a pandemic. Have a meltdown, pitch a hissy. You have 20 minutes. Go. 

You've learned that bravery isn't the absence of fear. You are not your job.

A friend who's also between jobs asks you to take a day trip, and the two of you sit together on the shore, weeping at the sunrise, before you upload resumés. You know this is not normal. You shake your head. You laugh.

A Job Is Not an Identity

After a few days, you tell your children your news.

When you were laid off before, they stared at you as though you'd grown horns, but they were relieved then because they knew you were relieved. Now, they say they will drive to the beach this year and pay for gas and dinners. They know you are sad. You melt with pride, but something you cannot name tugs at your edges.

You kick yourself for not buying Bitcoin at $15, and for questioning God. For majoring in liberal arts. For giving up tennis.

You remind yourself of things you've done right: you've paid down debt. It's not gone, but it's lower. Your kids are kind. Your family knows they are loved. You've learned that bravery isn't the absence of fear. You are not your job.

You've done the things you need to do, and now you're remembering all the times you've been on the edge and in terror, but then that perfect gig came through at the right time. You remind yourself that so many are struggling.

You might think you're missing a part of your identity, but that's not true. That's just your ego talking, the part of your brain that gives rise to doubt.

Nothing has changed. It's only that you aren't taking this on the chin, because you're nobody's cupcake. You don't get to where you are by being a cupcake. Own it. You see a thing on LinkedIn: Don't be afraid to start over. This time, you're not starting from scratch. You're starting from experience.

You're getting used to the idea that your best career is still in front of you. This is a Pollyanna-ish gift that's called perspective.

You feel like a door to a lot of fabulous has opened. May you remember to wear deodorant when you step through it.

Contrib. Dartinia Hull
Dartinia Hull is an award-winning writer, editor and aspiring beach bum who is based in the South. Her writing has been published in MUTHA Magazine, CNN, The Bitter Southerner, Age of Awareness and The Charlotte Observer. Her poetry will be included in a forthcoming anthology. Read More
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