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When even hard work isn't enough
By Lacey Graham
Well, I got laid off.
The omnipresent question from others and from myself is, "What, oh what, are you going to do now?"
First off, I did the most logical, though unhelpful, thing I could possibly do: drink and cloak myself in self-pity. In the hungover morning after, I made a survival plan.
Immediate action includes scraping the state plate for crumbs from the welfare pie. Unemployment checks, food stamps, subsidized childcare, medical and dental insurance—all topped with a sweet dollop of loser stigma.
Savings and tax returns will take care of the now. State aid will smooth the interim, and then . . . Ideally, another desk or tag with my name carefully printed on it, and all systems back to go. Back to complaining about the long hours and not having quality time with my kids. Back to early mornings of bleary-eyed traffic and weak office coffee. Back to false smiles and forced co-worker chit-chat. Back to all those horrible things I have been mourning the last 24 hours.
And why are they suddenly my red badge of courage? I was brought up with a blue-collar work ethic. Working 9 to 5, even if you hate the work, was a display of one's mettle. I am no coal miner's daughter, but it was the same theory: I was raised to work hard, earn my keep and not to bitch and moan. But even that blue-collar ethic has not kept me from getting laid off twice in the last 15 months.
Facing unemployment again, I wonder, am I at a loss or am I free?
My initial mental responses circled greatly around blame and lack of self-worth. Instead of considering that long-standing financial institutions were closing their doors, I thought maybe if I had used my paycheck for $70 haircuts and didn't wear vintage clothes to the office, I would've been kept on. If only I'd listened to my mother and learned how to type faster when I was 12, I'd still be employed. Panic led to $1.99 wine, which led to visions of my daughters singing plucky songs while scrubbing hotel floors in rag dresses. Thoughts like that got me no further than the bathroom floor.
Why is my self-worth tied to the hours put into corporate labor? Why is that the only answer? My generation is made of a myriad of free-wheeling hard workers. People paying bills and making lives without a suit. If I follow only one prechosen course, I am purposefully closing the doors to a multitude of other opportunities that exist for my fulfillment.
Day two, sober and back to planning a route of action, I dully follow the alternative paths back to the same goal: financial stability. I am at a crossroads. I can probably Craigslist my way back into an office with enough résumés and persistence. I can hold out for a bit with the buffer of state benefits, start a garden and enjoy my children. I can join a vocational rehab program and finish my education, preparing for higher levels of future employment.
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Last week, I could only envision rolling months of the same weekly work patterns, and I was happy about it. After licking my wounds, the optimism of possibilities is slowly taking over the despair of being a statistic.
Freelance writer Lacey Graham is a Santa Rosa resident who knows Word, Excel, InDesign and is an experienced customer-service rep.
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