The other day, while watching the evening news (something I try to avoid these days), I saw a sobering statistic – that unemployment in California is now in double digits. I instantly burst into tears.
I have a job I hate. And thanks to the sucky economy, I can’t quit.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for my paycheck. Two of my good friends, who used to be my managers and mentors when I worked for an enterprise-software company, were both let go within weeks of each other. They have mortgages and kids and spouses and tuition to worry about. I only have myself.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t sleep at night or that my stomach is continually upset.
I really, really, really want to quit. And I can’t. Unless I’m willing to cash out my (quickly shrinking) 401(k) and hope I find a job before it runs out. Or unless I’m willing to put everything I own in storage and just live in my car until I find a new job. I’ve been sufficiently aggrieved to seriously consider both options.
My personal recession actually started 4 1/2 years ago, when the company I worked for was acquired, and I took the severance package. This big chunk of change represented a second chance to pursue the dream that originally brought me to Hollywood in the first place. You see, I’ve always dreamed of being an actor. And most actors live in a constant state of recession while they go on pointless audition after pointless audition, hoping for that one big break. Meanwhile, the endless, exhausting stream of going-nowhere activity makes it all but impossible to hold a steady, well-paying job. It’s literally Hollywood or bust.
After my severance pay and unemployment ran out, I started working as a contract freelance writer, making half of my corporate salary and paying twice as much in taxes. I compensated with credit cards. I charged my rent. I charged my food. I charged my acting classes. By the time I finally accepted that Spielberg wasn’t calling, I was $69,000 in debt. It was time to go back to work, and I took the first job smoking: a position as a marketing communications manager with one of the companies I freelanced for.
It was a nightmare from the start. Nearly the entire management team turned over, and the people who brought me in quickly left. The new regime pigeon-holed me into a role so limited, I felt like a bottom-of-the-org-chart peon.
No problem. I’d just keep looking. And in a few months, I’d be on to something more challenging and fulfilling.
I didn’t count on the global recession. It came early to Los Angeles, thanks to the Writers’ Strike. In October 2007, there were lots of jobs to apply to. In November, when TV production halted overnight, jobs were instantly hard to come by, even in fields unrelated to the entertainment industry. The housing bust, which brought down Southern California-based companies like Countrywide, simply made a bad situation worse.
Eighteen months after I started the sucky job from hell, I’ve only had three interviews and no job offers.
Am I discouraged? You bet I am.
Anita is a take-charge marketer with 10 years’ experience in the technology sector. She lives in Los Angeles and holds a B.A. from Yale University. Check out her resume and portfolio.