A lot of people lost their jobs in 2012, myself included, and it really messed with my head.
This was the first time I’d ever been unemployed. Los Angeles is an expensive city, but my goal was to stay here. So, the week after I got laid off, I emailed and called nearly everyone I knew, sent out my resume and portfolio, and joined five creative talent agencies. I hit the ground running, which yielded nothing until March—when I got a fairly steady gig at DIRECTV. But in July, their creative team got the same speech that my creative team received in January: “I’m sorry, but we have to let all of you go.”
The next few months were quiet. No work. I began to doubt myself. Was I good enough? Why doesn’t anyone want me? I’ve been writing professionally since I was 19, and working at advertising/promotions agencies since I was 23. I knew people appreciated my talent. I was still pounding the pavement. So, why wasn’t my phone exploding with job offers?
I decided to use all of this extra time to write what I really wanted to write. I started this WordPress site, and I scoured Craigslist and entertainmentcareers.net for comedy or music writing projects. One of the jobs I landed was for a humor website—hahajk.com. A satirical article that I wrote for Hahajk got the attention of another site called damemagazine.com. The managing editor of DAME knew an editor at Guyism, which got my foot in the door for guyism.com. I was ecstatic and honored to be writing for these three online editorial sites. And it encouraged me to try to write for other publications, as well as delve into writing songs and poems.
I also spent a lot of my time doing things I that I never did when I had a full-time job: I hiked during the day, went to the Getty Museum, lined up DJ gigs, and sometimes spent lazy afternoons in bed. But most importantly during this time, I got the chance to develop a close relationship with the person I love and spend a lot of time with him. I’d imagine this is more difficult to do when you both work a significant number of hours per week. You have a limited time to get to know each other—usually, only on some weeknights or weekends. And honestly, I don’t think we’d be as close as we are now if it wasn’t for me losing my job. I started to see one of the few perks to being unemployed.
But the downside of this free time was that I had too much time to think. I thought about whether or not I should pursue a new avenue in writing…or a similar area of communications. I dwelled on the fact that I was turning 40 this year. I had more hours in the day to overanalyze everything. I beat myself up for not being more motivated or original in my ideas. I was used to being surrounded by funny, talented, creative people. But when you’re a freelance writer, it’s just you, on your couch, with a laptop. I am highly sociable. I feed off other people and love collaborating with them. My coworkers were my friends and my family. We genuinely enjoyed being around each other. But being home every day made me feel lonely. I became that girl at Trader Joe’s who hung out by the free coffee in hopes of striking up a conversation with the retired old guy who’s also getting a cup of free coffee.
There was also the stress of not having a steady income. Sure, I had all of this free time. But I couldn’t really go to restaurants or bars, or see bands play as much as I used to, because that costs money. I tried to cut back on my expenses so I wouldn’t blow through my savings so quickly. (Rent in LA takes out the biggest chunk.) I cancelled my landline (really…why does anyone need a landline anymore?), as well as cable. Thankfully, local broadcast TV is rife with guilty pleasure programming like Cheaters and Baggage. I also talked my gym down on their prices, as well as my Internet service provider. I was getting good at being unemployed.
Of course, the EDD helped–somewhat. I’ve decided that they screw you just enough so that you are reliant upon them for money. If I tried to get a full-time regular job (bartender, server, etc.) I would have actually made less than my EDD earnings. I’ve also learned that if there are ever any accidental discrepancies on my form, they are quick to stop my EDD payment. And anyone who’s unemployed knows that there is no way to get through to a live representative on the English EDD hotline. Thankfully, my friend, Anne, clued me in to call on the Vietnamese line (they speak English, as well). You have to memorize which numbers to hit during the recorded intro (1, 6 and 7), though. Unless you speak Vietnamese.
But after months of being unemployed, with no freelance work, I started to expect my phone to be silent. I woke up later and later. Nobody needed me to be anywhere at any certain time—so what was the point? I was slipping into something dark, and I was having trouble finding my way out. This wasn’t me. I felt out of control. I could no longer be completely happy. I had to feel valued and needed. I struggled with whether or not my job was my identity. I realized that my actual job didn’t give me self-worth; it was my value to the other people I worked with that made me feel good. Previously, my days were filled with bouncing from one project to the next, but now, I had nothing. I had to pull myself out of this funk, so I forced myself to do things to stay busy. I volunteered at a WriteGirl event. I went to a happy hour for a writer’s group that I joined after I got laid off. I started writing more posts on my blog. I read other writers’ blogs for inspiration, like Kaboomis Copy—who offered tips on finding work, such as contacting the people who view your LinkedIn profile.
I kept my head up and pursued all possibilities. I believed something would happen. Of course, the talent agencies that I joined earlier in the year had assured me that summers are usually slow for freelance writers. Finally, in December, I worked an insane number of hours for two agencies. And they kept calling me to work more for them. They respected my work and valued me. It’s weird, but that was what I needed. And with these jobs, I got to work with other creative people. I missed having coworkers. I guess I’ve always been lucky at my previous jobs to work with amazing people.
And now, it is January 1, 2013. While no year of my life has been predictable, 2012 was, especially, an odd departure from the others. I feel like I took this past year to discover things about myself and venture through unfamiliar territory. Although I still don’t have a full-time job, I feel better and more optimistic—about employment and life, in general.
I survived this year. I didn’t let it break me.