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Losing the job that defines you

Kathryn Kernohan
Published: January 30, 2013 - 11:59PM

The day I lost my job started like any other day. There was the quick browse of trashy celebrity news before my brain woke up, the habitual coffee run from the coffee shop I kept telling myself I’d stop wasting money at, the mid-morning ponder about where to go for lunch.

But it all seemed irrelevant when three talented colleagues and myself were summonsed into a meeting with HR that nobody in their right mind wants to receive an Outlook Express e-invite to, and given the news.

In my role as a journalist, I’d interviewed plenty of people that had lost their jobs. And when you’re on the other side, you feel genuine empathy for them while not really understanding what they’re going through. Admittedly, I’d spoken to people that had received generous redundancy payouts after long term service, and a part of me was envious. You mean you get paid to avoid peak hour transport and spend your time however you want to?

But then it happened to me, and with that swift metaphorical kick to the stomach, I instantly knew how those workers at ANZ, Ford and countless other companies that have undergone mass redundancies felt.

Work defines us. As much as we all whine about early mornings and being constantly overworked and underpaid, what we do to earn a living says as much about us – if not more so – than the labels we wear and bands we listen to. For me personally, I’d spent almost eight years at the same company, starting there when I was a 20-year-old university graduate. I was working at the same place when I went overseas for the first time, moved out of home and got engaged. All the milestone moments of my life were intangibly linked with my job.

The first day of unemployment was strange. My body clock woke me up at the same time I would rise every day, but there was nowhere I needed to be. The mere thought of resumes and job applications was overwhelming and I overdosed on online resources (all of which offered different advice – one website recommended taking a couple of weeks off to unwind, while another urged me to be looking for work within 24 hours of being available to).

Once or twice during the first couple of weeks, I’d be sitting in a café and would be struck by an odd feeling that my holiday was almost over and I’d have to go back to work soon. Of course, there was no holiday and no work to return to. Talking to a couple of other friends who have been made redundant before, this is a fairly common experience. I assume that my brain is trying to make sense of the situation, but sometimes it has a bit of a lapse.

It’s now been about six weeks and I’ve confronted some of those scary things like updating my resume and tearing my hair out over key selection criteria I don’t know how to answer eloquently. There are days when I love basking in the Melbourne sunshine or getting a head start on Christmas shopping when other suckers are stuck in an office; and other days when I feel guilty for reading the newspaper in a café, as if I should be glued to my laptop constantly refreshing job sites.

I’ve since realized that being made redundant is like going through a break up. At first, there are sleepless nights and people give you sympathetic eyes, promising, “you’ll get through this.” But after a little while the light appears at the end of the tunnel and you realize that you are a good person and you deserve to be loved – or employed – dammit! Then comes the cautious excitement at the thought of your next partnership. Will my next group of colleagues be nice? Will the work be challenging? Where will I buy my morning coffee?

Redundancy is not fun, and I don’t wish it on anybody (well, maybe the cast of Jersey Shore). But I know I’ll be OK, and that one day in the future I’ll meet somebody going through what I’m going through now – and I’ll give them a bit of advice based on my own experience. And on that first morning when I have to get up early to start a new job, battle my way onto a crowded train and look at all those faces staring out the window and daydreaming, I’ll think to myself “everything’s back to normal.”

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