A Reflection on Fear and the Unknown

I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half now, and I know not everyone who is reading this now was reading my ramblings back during my Blogger days. Those of you who were around (and thank you very much for staying!) might remember something happening to me this day last year.

I was laid off.

I’d like to think I handled it with as much grace and dignity as a person can muster given the circumstances, but it never felt like that. Internally I was the biggest bundle of fried nerves you could imagine. I was deep in debt with a mortgage, a choking payment on an unreliable car, and now no job.

No job.

I grew up in a family of workaholics, and suddenly I didn’t have a job. People who knew me were shocked. I was humiliated.

The gravity of the situation didn’t fully sink in on the first day. I wouldn’t let it. I told myself I had to keep calm and carry on, and that everything would work out. I put out the word that I was looking for a job, and a handful of people responded saying their companies were looking for people. I had never had difficulties finding a job before, and companies were hiring, so why would this be any different?

I lined up an informal interview with a company fairly quickly afterwards, and met two of the managers for coffee. They said they’d call me back in a couple days. I never heard from them again.

I had a phone interview with an HR representative from another company who said they’d get back to me the next week. I didn’t hear anything out of them for months.

I had an interview with a large company downtown, and received a rejection letter the next week. At least they had the decency to send me one.

I sent out dozens of applications to companies that I never heard back from. I spent days searching for jobs through employment search engines, LinkedIn, word of mouth, newspapers, you name it. I interviewed for a job that had nothing to do with my education or employment background.

I had hit my rock bottom financially 7 months before. This was a different kind of rock bottom. I felt smaller than I ever had before. I wanted to disappear and hide under a rock. I felt like my value as a person had diminished. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose. I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore. I didn’t want to be an Engineer. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was being judged by the people around me.

To say my confidence was gone is a gross understatement.

That in and of itself, was a good portion of my problem in searching for a job. I’ve always been confident, or at the very least, good at faking confidence. I’ve always had drive. I’ve always been working towards something. For that period of time in my life however, I didn’t.

I didn’t know what I wanted out of my career anymore. I didn’t want where it had just come from, that was for sure, but I didn’t know if I was cut out for this type of career. I needed a job, yes, but my confidence was so badly broken that I didn’t think I could be competent in any job.

It’s very difficult to convincingly sell yourself to prospective employers when you don’t have enough confidence to sell the same thing to yourself. Why would an employer think I could do a job if I didn’t think I could do it?

Fortunately, things worked out for me in the end. I applied for a job I was interested in, and then separately I received a message from a recruiter on LinkedIn asking me if I’d be interested in the same position. I was interviewed in a room overlooking the shop, and watching the activity got me excited about the idea of working there. I wanted to work there. It was actually interesting work, and it was directly related to my education. My half hour interview took almost an hour, and the recruiter set up the second interview for two days later. After the third interview they offered me the job. I was ecstatic. But I was still scared.

In all honesty, I still am scared. I’ve seen how easy it is to have the rug pulled out from under you. I wasn’t happy in my last job. As much as I wanted to be, I wasn’t. As much of a cliche as it is, the line “getting laid off was the best thing to ever happen to me” is very much true in my case. It got me off my unhappy hamster wheel. It beat me up a bit doing it, but it got me there.

I love my current job. Sure it has its ups and downs, but overall I work with a great group of people doing work I enjoy. My stress level has dropped drastically.

I still worry though. Hiccups in the work flow put me on edge, and whispered rumours of potential lay offs get my heart rate going. The likelihood of it happening in my current position is pretty slim, but I’m acutely aware of how quickly that can change. The thought of being put in that position again scares me.

It’s entirely possible that the fear of being put in the same situation is what has prompted me to pay off over $20,000 in debt in the last year. I say year, though really it’s in the last 10.5 months since I started working again. I never want to find myself in that position ever again. It’s terrifying. I’m still scared.

I honestly don’t know if that fear will ever go away. I’d like it to, but I have a feeling it’s become a part of me. Small part mind you, but still a part. My desire to be independently wealthy isn’t because I want to have lots of money, it’s because I never want to be in the position where not having money becomes a problem.

There’s a big difference.

Recommended Reading: Can money buy happiness? (Part 2)

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24 responses to “A Reflection on Fear and the Unknown

  1. I definitely remember this happening. Job loss is devastating – I can only imagine how you felt, because I’ve never lost a job (granted, I’ve never had a real one aside from retail). Some people go for 20 years in the same job – you won’t get laid off at this one! It sounds like you are happy at your new job and that they really like you, but I can understand where the anxiety comes from.

  2. Oh my! this article is exactly what I needed to read right about now. I have just been laid off 2 months ago and I am finding the same thing. I have sent out resumes and applied for jobs and I am hearing nothing back. I am looking at retraining to change fields completely now. I also wasn’t happy at my previous job but I know I wouldn’t have had the strength to leave on my own, so in some ways, I do look at this as something that needed to happen. I was very aware that this was a possibility for about 2 years and I had a good year where I definitely knew it was going to happen. I took steps to prepare our family for the loss of that income by decreasing take home pay and increasing savings and emergency fund accounts. I understand completely your feelings about it happening again and needing to be in a better position the next time. This has changed forever my attitudes towards my paycheck and how I want it dealt with. Im happy that is has opened my eyes to how quickly lifestyles can change however, i do worry that it may have left too much of a negative impact, if that makes sense. I don’t want to become someone who is cheap and won’t spend a dime, but i can’t have other people determining whether I have a house to live in either. Great story.

    • I’m glad to hear you had time to prepare for it, though I’m sure it was quite stressful during the years leading up to it. I had about 3 months from the time I heard something was up to the time I was let go. I wish you all the best in finding a new job!

  3. It sounds like I’m in a similar situation as you were 11 months ago. I’m currently unemployed and it is starting to wear on me. At first I thought I would be fine since I had my website business to fall back upon. Then I experienced a setback there. Again I thought “no problem, I’ll get it all resolved and get back on my feet in no time”. Months later and the problem isn’t resolved and I’m trying to get a job again. Unfortunately now my confidence is really lacking. It’s so much tougher to get a job when in that mindset.

    Thank you sharing this story Cassie. I’m going to try to use this as motivation to overcome my situation and at least fake confidence long enough to get a job.

    • I wish you all the best Modest Money. If your site is any indication of the effort you put into your work, I’m sure you’ll find something soon. If your confidence is still sagging by all means borrow some of mine, because I’m confident you’ll find something soon.

  4. Sorry to hear you had such rough time a year ago with the job loss. Happy to hear that things are much better now.

    Your second to last paragraph sums it up the best: you are getting close to being debt free. Not having any debt and building up assets is one of the greatest hedges against a job loss you can have. I became debt free in Oct. of last year and I can tell you that it has done wonders for my feeling of security. Not only am I not afraid of losing my job, I can now think of one day taking an extended leave of absence if/when I leave my current position or suffer from a layoff so that I can relax for a bit and then accept a job that I want without feeling pressured. When you have a lot of debt with payments demanding to be paid monthly and with no income to pay them, things can look pretty scary.

    Bottom line, it sounds like you are much better prepared to handle any future gaps in employment with much more peace of mind. Now, stay away from those shoes, coats, and purses and you should be fine ;-)

  5. The unknown of the future scares the hibby ba jibbies out of me. I’m glad things worked out in the end for you.

  6. I was moved with that post. I read it twice and even though I’m not a crybaby, I had tears in my eyes. You named all these emotions I have been trying to handle with for many months. Even now, when I was given a job offer and I’m looking for my first day at new job, I’m scared. I’m freaking out. I’m not afraid if I’ll be able to fulfill all tasks and responsibilities. I know I will. I’m just afraid I can be at the same point again. Thank you for sharing this story. After reading, I could take this kind of deep breath when you know you’re not alone with such feelings and emotions. This is something I haven’t experienced for a really long time.

    • I started getting a little teary myself reading your comment, because I remember what it was like. I know you’re scared, and I know it’s hard, but I promise you things will get better. You’re not alone.

  7. I haven’t said this yet on my blog ( only on Twitter) but I’m looking for a new job. I received a write up for some things I’m responsible for and then some things I have no control over which caused me to be very upset. It’s scary when you’re not sure if you’re going to have a job or not. You are my inspiration for getting through my tough time. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

    • Oh dear, I’ve been there before and that sucks. I know I’m almost never on Twitter (It’s blocked at work, I can’t use it on my breaks), but if you ever want to chat fire me an e-mail. There is absolutely light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m confident that you’ll get there.

  8. You say “where not having money becomes a problem”. I call it freedom. Freedom to know that I don’t have to worry about getting fired. Freedom to know I could choose to walk off a job myself. I want that freedom and I want it bad. That’s why I want a pinball machine or 20.

    I think you will do great. Don’t worry yourself to much. Believe in yourself. You’ve done awesome already by paying off debt, there is nothing holding you back from repeating that awesomeness, but this time with savings.

  9. As sad as I am that this happened to you, I find this really inspiring. I’m so glad you were able to find a job that you now love and it got you away from what sounded like a pretty crappy position. It sounds like it was so hard to go through but you sound so much stronger now that you’ve been through it. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Thank you YP. It was tough, but my hope in posting this was that other people would be able to get something out of it. So far in the comments it looks like that’s happened. I’m happy for that.

  10. This is a beautiful, honest post… no matter how much fear was in it. Sounds like a case of post-traumatic stress and I think it sticks around after any situation that scares you. I can’t imagine being laid off but I’ve worried about getting broken into again, since that freak tried to get in my apartment in January. And, heck, I am seriously scared to walk down hills now, because of how many times I slipped and hurt myself this year! The best thing to come out of losing your job is that it helped you realize all the things you didn’t want in your life (like debt) and started you down a new path, so if it ever did happen again you’d probably treat every dollar like it was your last.

  11. This hasn’t happened to me yet but I have seen several people laid off at my job, so I know it could happen to me anytime. I’m glad you were able to find a job you enjoy.

  12. Pingback: Please prepare for lay-off. « myJAMpackedlife

  13. Pingback: It’s Been A Long Haul – Looking Back | Tales from the Trenches

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