What with the after-effects of the most recent election and the downturn in the economy, a number of us higher level professionals who had thought ourselves immune to layoffs discovered that we aren't. One day we're safe and secure and the next we're advised to vacate our offices by the Friday afternoon before inauguration.
So we pack our office belongings in cartons -- careful where we put our re'sume's -- and, thus armed, we set out to make our way in the outside world.
Having been unsuccessful in securing alternative employment in the weeks since the election, I have added "Coping with being unemployed while searching for an upper-level white-collar position" to my list of skills. I do not claim to be an expert in this position after only a couple of months. (In fact, I could be just as happy not to acquire expertise based on longer experience.) However, I am a quick learner and, for what it's worth, I think I have gained some insights that might be worth sharing with others who may become similarly unsituated.
First, remember that your plight is not entirely your fault. There'll be a flood of memories of career decisions, a change in any of which would have avoided your present crisis. However, you might as easily now be facing unemployment in winter in Chicago if you had taken one job you spurned. Or you could be out of work in Lansing, Mich., had you opted to work for a governor whose party lost this most recent election.
Had you gone into that private-sector job, as your wife's then best friend counseled, the company that beckoned then might, by today, have dispensed with your services because its new Japanese parent is moving some executives here from a company in Ohio it bought two years ago and now is down-sizing. Playing "if-only" mind games is depressing unless played objectively; in which case it'll drive you crazy for no good purpose.
Second, fashion a response to the inevitable question posed by friends and casual associates: "Well, what will you do now?" Though it inflicts great pain, particularly the third time it is asked, it is actually a very flattering inquiry. It assumes that your self-evident assets enable you to select one from among a dozen dazzling offers. It would be churlish to reply that you've already called everyone in your Rolodex at least once without eliciting an offer or even hard information about a feasible opening.
However, your psyche craves a change in the topic of conversation. I, for one, tell these questioners that I am scheduled to become the first Jewish Emir of Kuwait, as soon as Iraq withdraws its troops. This response works for me. If you aren't Jewish, find some other whimsical rejoinder. Or, if you're of a mind to inflict pain, tell the questioner that you're being considered for a major position in the federal, state, county or city administration (whichever might have some shred of plausibility) but that you're not at liberty to discuss it because the incumbent doesn't know the ax is about to fall. This is calculated to cause unease in multiple locations at once and satisfies any shameful "misery loves company" impulses you may have.
Third, resign yourself to the fact that you are not going to use all this new "free time" productively. You're not going to read those books you took to the beach last summer and didn't read there. You're not going to do all those chores you've successfully deferred -- like cleaning out the downstairs dresser of clothes you'll never wear again. You're not going to go to those museums and art galleries you wanted to visit, but never had time to. You are unlikely to emerge from this experience a better-educated and better-rounded person than you were when it started.
What you may find yourself doing is reading more items in the daily newspapers than had been your habit. You'll read all the editorials and almost all the columnists. You'll read the critics and you'll read stories about events that have no bearing on your life -- like New York state deciding whether it will allow district attorneys to criticize judges out loud and in public. You'll even wonder what people did who got laid off when there was no real, present war to monitor.
Fourth, there's no conspiracy to strip you of your dignity. Your friends will confirm that they, too, have phones that don't ring during the day except when stockbrokers call to alert them to a new offering. (Fight the urge to tell off these solicitors; they're not calling just to rub it in.) Also, bear in mind that not everyone who doesn't return your call is callously evading you. Experience should long since have taught you not to reject out of hand the defense of sloth.
Finally, along this line, believe your friends who will tell you that they, too, don't get first-class mail. I'm working on a theory that each re'sume' mailed out elicits a dozen mail-order catalogues in response.
Fifth, reject all the logical inferences of terminal involuntary idleness that flow from news about the state of the economy. Ignore the implications of the reports that the average period of unemployment for people in your circumstances is four months.
Instead, even as you discount the morale-building reassurances from your family members that you have super-special abilities that are renowned throughout the free world, do choose to believe them that "something good will turn up -- even sooner than you expect." Their instincts may be colored by affection, but they just may be right.
And, their predictions sustain you on those days when some faceless woman responds to your phone call with the message that she's sorry you haven't received their letter yet. They're grateful that you replied to their newspaper ad. They ultimately decided to fill the position from within but they're "confident that someone with your outstanding qualifications will find something suitable -- very soon."
Edmond Rovner was a special assistant to former Montgomery County executive Sidney Kramer.