On Not Losing Hope

A lot has changed in the world since I moved to Seattle and got my first job at a video store in 1990. My first resumé was typed on a typewriter that I rented for a quarter at the public library. The old downtown library looked more like a library and less like a spaceship than the new one.

The economy was terrible in 1990. I was lucky to get a minimum wage job at Tower Video with no previous experience. I had been applying for jobs for a month with no luck, and I was about to run out of money. I wasn’t going to be one of those people who moved to Seattle from Idaho only to move back a few months later.

It’s scary to be unemployed and staring at the bottom of your bank account. I’ve been there a half dozen times or more now. My most recent job ended on Tuesday, and here I am again.

In the 1990s I quit jobs. Each job I left in favor of something slightly better. I wasn’t very ambitious back then. I left Tower for Kinko’s, which I left for a desk job in the basement of an independent comic book publisher. I quit a job for the last time in 1999. I didn’t have a plan at the time, but I knew I wanted to be part of that whole internet thing.

In 2000, we used the term “new media” a lot. We dreamed of a world where you could watch videos on the internet. We all learned html and got jobs at startups. I worked at a small interactive agency for just over a year before I was laid off for the first time. As you may recall, the economy imploded around that time. In the end, the company I had worked for was shut down.

I have now been downsized five times, through three shutdowns and two economy implosions. It hasn’t gotten easier, emotionally. Every time it feels like losing a family and going through a breakup all while fretting over money. It has gotten easier financially, thankfully, as my salary level of responsibility have increased. But no matter how much I have in the bank, it’s finite. I could calculate exactly how long I could continue to pay for rent, food, my phone, and the internet… but I’m not going to. Yet.

What I have learned is that I will be fine. Every time I go through this it’s painful and terrifying, but every time it has led me to something better. I’ve survived as a freelancer for over two years all told, between employers. My resumé is jam-packed with goodness. Despite the madness over at Microsoft, the job market in Seattle is pretty healthy right now. The recruiters are coming to me.

Over the last 14 years of employment rollercoastering I have learned how not to lose hope. In the grim fall of 2009 when all of the banks were failing the job market was more or less non-existent, I survived. It seemed like the economy might never recover, but it did, and I found a new role that was perfect for me. That led to my most recent position, which I loved.

What makes job-hunting both extra challenging and kind of thrilling for me, is that I’m not a specialist. This makes things difficult because despite over 20 years of work experience, I don’t have the one thing I can hang my hat on. I have plenty of talent, competence, and intelligence, and this means I thrive in most roles I choose to take on. But employers are more often looking for a specific skill set. On the other hand, whenever the need is for someone who is a little bit this, but also a little bit that, I might be the perfect candidate.

I don’t know exactly what’s next. I haven’t even started looking in earnest and I’m already getting interest from recruiters for positions that are very close to right up my alley. What I don’t want to do is jump into something I don’t love. I’ll be doing some freelance writing and testing the waters. Am I ready for a Google? I’d have a hard time stepping away from tech innovation at this point, and there is something appealing about going to a bigger company that is less likely to fall apart in a couple of years. I’m also a bit nostalgic for agency work where there are more opportunities for creativity.

I’m not going to say that I trust the universe to take care of me. The universe can be shifty. But I trust myself to figure something out, like I do.