As anyone who regularly reads my columns knows, I’ve devoted a lot of time and attention to the issue of jobs. I have castigated politicians in Washington and Annapolis for doing too little to encourage job creation, and I’ve tried to educate my audience on which policies truly promote jobs and which ones are mere lip service or grandstand ploys appealing to emotion but lacking in practical impact. I’ve also mentioned in the past that the subject of job creation was more to me than a talking point or a rhetorical Louisville Slugger for me to use on the career politicians, although the latter is a perk.
You see, I know first-hand what it’s like to be out of work. Since 2007, I’ve been laid off twice, took a five-figure pay cut so I could work again, and was demoted to part-time status without benefits during a five-month stretch while I waited to be assigned to a contract.
For three weeks of that five-month period, I didn’t make any money. I didn’t know when they’d find a temporary assignment for me, so for all I knew, I was headed to the unemployment office for the first time in my life. It didn’t come to that but, at the time, I was nearly at my wit’s end because I had no answers.
Why am I sharing this with you? As I write this, I’m out of work for the fourth time in three years. I knew time was running out for me on our current contract, but I thought there would be some temporary assignment to tide me over while I searched for another position in the company, or a new job elsewhere.
I found out, however, there’s no temporary work, nor is there any prospect in the near-term for me to be assigned to a new project. My company wants to hang on to me because they value my talents, but they can’t pay me. Once again, I’m without answers.
The hardest part for me is to see the anxiety in the eyes of my wife and children. They don’t deserve to carry this burden with me, and if there were any way I could suffer this alone, I would gladly do it.
My family has been so good to me. They’ve all done their part to help in the past when I’ve been out of work.
My firstborn, Amanda, gave up her campus housing privileges at the University of Maryland to save us the cost of her room, and she’s commuted to and from school ever since.
My wife, Annik, carries our health benefits through her job as a teacher, ensuring we have health coverage regardless of my job status.
My son, Colin, went without birthday presents from us the last time I lost my job, and he was the one who suggested it to us.
My daughter, Briana, keeps applying for jobs so she can help out. Even high school seniors are finding the job market to be tough, but her heart is in the right place.
Even so, it hurts me deeply that I cannot consistently provide for them. I hate saying “no” to my children, even though they understand why I can’t buy them the latest game or the hottest DVD. I hate that my wife has to count pennies and pull out the money she has stashed away to buy food.
I’m accustomed to being the provider in my family and, until recently, my good fortune in the workplace has permitted me to give them a very good life. I know it’s a silly notion, but I feel like less of a man because I haven’t been able to bring home the bacon like I used to.
I don’t know what it’s like for women, but men intertwine themselves with their jobs to the point where they are indistinguishable. One of the first questions one man asks another after names and handshakes are exchanged is, “What do you do?” We all answer the same way: “I’m a doctor;” “I’m an attorney;” I’m a consultant.” “I am…” We don’t describe our jobs as what we do for a living; it’s who we are.
Our jobs are not only who we are, but they are how we leave our legacy. It’s certainly true that our children, and how they comport themselves as young men and women, will have a worldly impact beyond our finite lives, and pouring ourselves into them will have a profound effect on the world’s future.
Men, however, bear within them a conquering spirit, and work is not just an arena where they compete for position, pay and prestige, but it is a springboard to greatness, at least as man defines greatness.
I don’t want to diminish the unemployed women out there, and there are many. Society, however, still expects the man to be the primary breadwinner in the family, and men still outnumber women in that role, although not nearly as much as they have in the past.
I wouldn’t mind a bit if my wife made as much or more than I did, although my wife rightly questions whether I’d pick up primary responsibility for the household if our roles were reversed. Hey, I’m teachable; she taught me to clean the kitchen and make the bed with the top sheet’s print side facing down so the collar looks right - anything is possible!
Even so, most men bear the expectation that they will provide for the family, and they place on themselves the added pressures of conquering their professions, and changing the world for posterity.
It is humiliating to go from provider, protector and conqueror to dependency on others. If I am out of work for an extended period of time, I’ll have to apply for unemployment benefits to stay afloat. My mother says I paid into the system, so I shouldn’t feel guilty about using it, and she’s probably right, but that doesn’t soften the blow to my self-esteem.
Will I have to use our church’s food pantry? As part of our church’s men’s ministry, I helped renovate the buildings where our food pantry and counseling center reside. I always designated them as my charities of choice on my United Way form when I was a political appointee. My family donates food and money to the food pantry, and our church small group not only gives food, but helps distribute it every Thanksgiving so struggling families can have a good meal on the day of thanks.
I never thought I’d have to use the food pantry someday. I’m told that people who go there for the first time, and we’ve seen a record number of first-timers in this difficult economy, can’t look the care providers in the eye out of shame.
I wonder how I will respond if it comes to that; the care providers are my church family, people we’ve known and loved for years. Our pastor, who has dedicated himself and our church to ending hunger in our county, always tells us the people who are in need of the food pantry could be sitting right next to us. The truth of that statement is hitting me hard right now.
By the way, I have used the counseling center. The job losses, the uncertainty of not knowing when or if the next job is coming, and the cycle of regret about the past and trepidation about the future, can break one’s spirit. I needed to talk to a professional who is also a Christian and also sees the world through the eyes of Christ.
Our church and our small group have been wonderful to us during this difficult time, helping us through the emotions and providing for us in tangible and intangible ways. They have truly been Christ personified to me and my family, and we cannot imagine how people who don’t have a community like ours in their lives make it through the day.
So I’m tweaking different versions of my resume and applying for jobs again, while waiting to see if my company can come through with something for me one more time. I’m pretty practiced at it by now; the question is whether or not my approach is working.
All my job searches in the past have been focused on the same profession I’ve been in for 18 years, information technology strategy, planning, and program and project management.
That is not the field in which I received my college degrees; in fact, I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in international relations. It’s not the field in which I spent more than nine years while on active duty; I was an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force.
It is the field, however, that best paid the bills, and I’ve made a good living at it. My current circumstances are forcing me to ask a lot of hard questions, not the least of which is “Is God trying to steer me in another direction?”
The first time I was laid off could have been Him tapping me on the shoulder. The second could have been Him grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me. This time could be the punch in the face I need to overcome my fear.
And yes, there is fear in career change. Am I too old to start over? How can I change course when I have a family to care for and a lifestyle to maintain? I can let go, but they shouldn’t have to, should they? Do they have to walk down this rough and narrow road with me?
If it’s God, where does He want me to go? And – forgive the Church Lady flashback - “Who could it be, I just don’t know. Could it be…SATAN?”
I’ve been passionate about issues related to politics, society and faith all my life, and my recent forays into the public square, whether running for public office or writing and speaking on the issues of the day, have stirred those passions within me.
Stirring is a good word to use in this instance. Stirring is vigorous agitation, quickening the senses. Imagine stirring a sauce or cake mix to create the perfect blend, and you have a good mental picture of what the past few years have been like for me.
The question is who’s doing the stirring? And how should I respond? Being out of work really makes one think, examine and reflect – I have plenty of time to spend with myself.
That said, I feel an odd kind of peace right now, that “peace that passes all understanding” that God gives us because we know He’s in control and “all things work for good to those who love him.”
I know it will be harder to feel that peace the longer I go without work and no prospects, but I’m living one day at a time and letting the future take care of itself.
I’m using the free time to catch up on my reading and writing; maybe I can even motivate myself to start exercising again. I’m also seeking comfort in the words of Jesus:
So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.
So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Oh, yes - I will continue to hold our elected officials accountable for getting serious about job creation. They know what needs to be done. The only reason they’re not doing it is because they’re arrogant and egotistical enough to think they can control or change human nature.
Instead, they should let the entrepreneurs, producers and innovators in society keep more of what they’ve earned, and move the mountains of regulatory paperwork out of their way so they can focus primarily on production rather than compliance.
The editors of the Chicago Tribune, President Obama’s hometown paper, declared:
The political class ought to tread warily. Government, after all, can “create” jobs only with resources produced by the private sector. So its chief concern should be providing optimal conditions for private companies to operate. More often than not, that requires the government to do less, not more.
To quote Tony Stark from the movie Iron Man, “That’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it…and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
Amen. So get out of our pockets and out of our way. We need – I need - to get back to work again.