Two weeks ago, I was part of a mass layoff. The last time I found myself unemployed, it was almost 12 years ago, and that company had gone bankrupt.

Twelve years ago, I spent my year (!) of unemployment feeling sorry for myself, but I did do something productive with that time… namely, I learned to code some basic stuff and started a site/blog. What you’re reading now is the fourth iteration of that project. I wanted a fresh start.

Back then, I was pretty good about keeping it updated. Daily entries, often novella-length — like you do when you’re a recent college graduate who majored in English and poetry, find yourself unemployed after your first job after school, and fall into a depression. (There’s a great name for the resulting flood of words: logorrhea. Technically, it’s a “communication disorder, expressed by excessive wordiness.”)

Then I got a job. I got busier, but I was still writing pretty frequently. About 6 years ago, I started my last job. The commute was approximately 3-4 hours a day because NJ Transit (our regional rail provider) has issues.

I was also spending the majority of my workday writing. Emails. Landing pages. Brochures. Presentations. FAQ. Talking points. More email. Guides. Case studies. Interviews. As much as I enjoy writing, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home after a 12-hour day was to sit in front of a screen again and churn out more words.

But now I don’t have that job. I am looking for a new one, but I’m going into this with a few stipulations – outlined in the title of this post.

Look at this nice little Zen garden.

Look at this nice little Zen garden.

Living room

No more 4-hour commutes. I did it for 5 years and 8 months. Human beings can adapt to almost anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them. I gained 50 pounds over the time I was at this job. Before this job, I was rock-climbing regularly, going on hikes – not a gym bunny, but I was active. I required 6 weeks of mental health leave about 2 years ago; my doctor was concerned that I was stressing myself into ill health. However, when you wake up at 5:45, leave the house at 7 a.m. and don’t get home until 7 p.m., there really isn’t much time to live, much less eat, exercise, or decompress before you have to go to bed at 9:30 or 10.

Wherever I end up next, I will prioritize my need for a life. That might mean spending time in my literal living room, cuddling with my cat, watching “Murder, She Wrote” or a Miyazaki film. It might mean going to a museum I’ve always wanted to visit or signing up for a kickboxing class. I don’t know yet.

The reality of HAVING TIME hasn’t truly hit me yet, but I know it will – and I want to honor the fact that I’m flipping to working to live, from living to work.

Breathing room

I’m not looking to rule the world. Or “kill” anything. Or “crush” anything. I’m not a “rock star” or a “maven” or whatever buzz-laden — but ultimately meaningless — criteria I’ve seen  in job descriptions for the positions that might be a good fit (I found this short but interesting post on why that’s also not the greatest idea). I want to find a place that really embraces the idea of a work/life balance.

If you hire the right people, they’ll work smarter and won’t have to work harder or longer, and you’ll get better results when you respect them as human beings, not just cogs.

For the last 6 years, I have not been in the habit of checking my email outside of work hours. On the rare occasion there was craziness brewing, I’d check in – but that was the exception, not the rule. I’ve still been promoted, and my work never suffered. Additionally, I was always at “inbox zero” — and I got a LOT of email. The trick was learning how to perform triage since a good 60-75% of the stuff in my inbox was stuff I didn’t need to DO anything about.

It was suggested to me (ok, stated outright) that “as you get more important” you have to do that and be available 24/7. This is where I see a fallacy, spurred by the sense of self-importance that seems to take over when people are a bit too caught up in their careers.

Being available all the time is bad for your health and causes additional stress. Working long hours isn’t any good either; the argument for a shorter work week has many proponents. Some suggest paring down from 40 to 21 hours, for reasons including environmental and economic benefits, and working longer hours doesn’t mean we’re more productiveLuxembourg and Germany are more productive than the U.S. and Greece, respectively, but they work shorter hours. MAGIC!

If we don’t set the boundaries for ourselves, no one will set them for us. If we don’t set boundaries because we fear our careers will suffer, we’re all going to fall into these destructive habits and patterns because we’re scared to stop and see what happens. It’s something I learned from CBT; if I’m anxious or afraid of not doing something, the best way to challenge that is to not do it. If you decide not to do something and the world doesn’t fall apart, then you’ve learned a very valuable lesson; whatever that major source of anxiety is wasn’t really that important.

Don’t check your email between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. Unless you work in an industry where lives will literally be lost if you don’t respond to an email, it’s going to be OK. Trust me. There’s nothing you can do at 11 p.m. that can’t be dealt with at 9 the next day. But you have to prove it to yourself.

Waiting room

I’ve been extremely fortunate that within a week of being laid off, I was contacted by former colleagues, have already had several phone interviews and am beginning to schedule in-person conversations.

The time between is sort of stressful, like being in a waiting room at the doctor’s office. Everything will probably turn out FINE, but until you learn what your future holds, you’ll run through all possible disaster scenarios, and kill time watching shitty daytime TV or reading old issues of Entertainment Weekly. You’ll relax when you know what happens next.

That said, once I get and accept the right offer, I’m going to wait. Yes, I could start a new job right away, but I’m going to take 2 weeks before I start. Looking for a job is a full-time occupation… and I have a wedding to go to in November.

Having a little time to live and breathe and just wait would be splendid.

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