Losing the job that defines you

Date

Kathryn Kernohan

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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.”

12 comments

  • This article really sums up my feelings after loosing my job at a big 4 firm. It's a lot like a breakup, you go over and over in your head thinking was it me, or were they the ones at fault, a blow by blow analysis on what I did wrong, I actually blamed myself, which now in retrospect was silly. I thought what could I do differently next time? I'm a failure at work, what's the point trying again etc etc. very depressed type of stuff.

    After some time I actually realized that if the job wasn't working it was better I left, did some study in a different area and the best thing I ever did was realize that a job can't define you. Instead of linking my whole identity to my ability to shuffle bits of paper and emails in an office I stopped putting all my eggs in one basket. Instead I started spending more times with friends and family, new hobbies and sports, making new friends, trying new things, finding other ways to identify myself apart from work, generally enjoying life and doing all the things I put off because work came first. So next time, in the case a job goes sour, I'll have the rest of my life to fall back on, not just be relying on the job.

    Commenter
    Newlife
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    January 31, 2013, 10:00AM
    • Although further to my last post, having variety in life that means your job isn't your only egg in the basket as your source of identity - depends on employers actually allowing a work and life balance. not just the type where they advertise a great balance until you take the job and then load you up with enough work to last until midnight 5 days a week plus a bit of working from home on the weekends. Then if you complain they say you aren't managing your time properly! Ugh. So glad I left PWC! So much happier, more healthy and have a wider variety of identities in life. And also very lucky I found a 9-5 job, very rare these days to actually work the number of hours in your contract, instead of twice that.

      Commenter
      Newlife
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 31, 2013, 10:06AM
      • Not so easy for people that have mortgages and families and financial responsibilities!

        Commenter
        Newlife
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        January 31, 2013, 10:10AM
        • This is a symptom of people who let their job's define them. A job is no more a part of us than every other material thing we do. For most, it should be a means to an end. I spent 5 years studying before going into my chosen field, which I love. At the end of the day, though. Do I fit the stereotype of people in my industry? No. Do I want people making judgements on me because of my job? No. Do I love my job? Only compared to other jobs, but never compared to spending time doing what I love. I think too much these days we are socially conditioned to feeling 'needed' in a career sense.

          Commenter
          Sanchez
          Location
          Carlton
          Date and time
          January 31, 2013, 10:30AM
          • Tis better to have worked and lost than to have never been employed at all?

            I must admit, when I went from having a job that really was "just a job" to having a career, it was different feeling. When you have a job, you can't imagine yourself working for the rest of your life and anything else would be better. Once you're in a career, you can't imagine feeling fulfilled without having the challenges work presents to keep you engaged.

            The only way I know how to have a job and not a career is to be exploring your passions outside of work.

            Commenter
            Lucid Fugue
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            January 31, 2013, 11:55AM
            • My job didn't define me. I had only been there for nine months. It was my first and last teaching gig. It began with a one term contract and was then I secured the second contract through to the end of the school year.
              At the end of the year, I hit the government recruiting website, which is where all the state school vacancies are advertised and applications received. I have no idea how many positions I applied for during that year, but I only got one interview - and that was in the October! How did I feel? Like crap. I was just lucky that my other half has a really well paying job and we weren't depending on my salary for anything critical.
              At the beginning of last year my registration to teach came up for renewal. It was going to cost a bit of money to maintain it and I have let it lapse. What was the point? In my neck of the woods, the successful candidates are now far and away young blokes. Us older girls are just not wanted any more. Sad but true. Each time you apply for a position through the website, you are notified of who the successful candidate is. I would research them and they were all young blokes. While I don't deny their worthiness for the positions, it would seem that this is an active employment tactic of the schools to address a glaring gender imbalance in the staffroom.
              And as for 'civistreet'? They don't want to know about you either if you are over a certain age. I might get lucky and get a job on the production line at one of the factories. Dunno what they think about degrees though.

              Commenter
              been there, done that
              Date and time
              January 31, 2013, 12:39PM
              • I've been made redundant twice in 8 years. Yes - work does define you and gives you a sense of purpose. First redundancy was a consequence of downsizing of Senior Managers in a bank - took 6 months to find another job. Second time around the software consulting company didn't have enough work and I guess I didn't tick enough boxes to be retained. But this time around I had a much better network and had a job offer within a month. My advice is to maintain contact with as many people that you interact with at work as you can - most jobs are not advertised and your contacts - and also the people that they know - can lead to opportunities in the future.

                Commenter
                MST
                Date and time
                January 31, 2013, 1:07PM
                • This is why the only true security is to work for yourself. Even if you are corporate there is no reason not to have a little business on the side (non-competing of course).
                  I sold my business in 2009 and just managing it now, but I fully expect a pink-slip within 2013 as the industry has changed. So I am preparing now by working on a project during free-time (again, non-competing), so when they call me into the CEO's office, I'll have a backup plan.

                  Commenter
                  ImTalking
                  Date and time
                  January 31, 2013, 2:41PM
                  • The trouble with redundancy is that it's always for the best - 10 or so years later. One particular man lost a big career at Macquarie Bank. What he thought might kill him has made him happier. Hang in there, people. Pay the mortgage flipping burgers.

                    Commenter
                    Fantasy Plotter
                    Location
                    Mosman
                    Date and time
                    January 31, 2013, 2:58PM
                    • Not so easy if you're over 60 and a trained classical musician either. Two years of reading the classifieds result in a handful of possibilities in various fields. Applications with dates kept a bit vague lead to the occasional interview, but no matter how fit, energetic, and engaged you endeavour to be, the wrinkles and sun spots betray you when you front up in person. You would *love* the structure of working again, absolutely thrive on it. You would be incredibly loyal to an employer taking the chance and giving you the opportunity to show your stuff. It's beginning to look like its just not going happen, and life is just going to go on whether you are a part of it or not.

                      Commenter
                      Mmcv
                      Location
                      Hobart
                      Date and time
                      January 31, 2013, 8:42PM

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