Where was I? Oh, yes. That’s right. Unemployed, pushing 50, and aged out of the career in which I’d been working for decades (radio). I had what I thought were marketable skills – written and verbal communication skills, for instance – but despite revising my resume again and again and again to showcase my fabulosity, I impressed exactly zero companies with my credentials.
This would have been an awful time to look for a job even if I had skills that were useful outside of the broadcasting industry and was young enough to appeal to companies looking for youthful energy and strong computer abilities. You remember the recession. It was a time of mass anxiety, of job losses across all income levels. I read articles about college professors working as supermarket stockboys, about families in wealthy suburbs existing on food stamps. If people like that couldn’t find new jobs, how could I expect to?
And…I was single. I rarely regret being single. I enjoy the hell out of my life. I have the time and opportunity to do the things I love doing, and I’ve got plenty of friends with whom to do them. But when I was laid off, that was one of the few times I would have liked the security – however slim or illusory – of having someone else’s income to help stave off the wolves at the door.
I was on my own. And I was terrified. Would I lose my house? Where would I live? What about my dogs? How would I pay the bills? I had to discontinue COBRA (health insurance for unemployed people) because it was so expensive. I was pretty healthy, but I was no longer a kid. I liked having regular check-ups and important screenings like mammograms. I used to lie awake at night imagining the worst: a car accident or a diagnosis that would wipe out my quickly dwindling savings and then some, leaving me in insurmountable debt into the future.
I drove straight into her car, striking it hard
Ironically, the day after COBRA ran out, I got into an accident while riding my bicycle. I was riding along a sidewalk and couldn’t see a car that was exiting a gas station because the exit was blocked by the corner of a building. For that same reason, the driver of the car couldn’t see me. She pulled out right in front of me and I drove straight into her car, striking it hard. I flew off the bike and sort of rolled in mid-air, over the hood of her car, landing on the other side of her car on my feet, miraculously unhurt.
The driver was actually more upset than I was. She made sure I was OK. I was, but my bike was bent and unrideable, and I was several miles from home. With great determination, she managed to shove my bike into the back seat of her car. I will never know how she did it. She insisted on driving me home. She gave me all of her contact information and took mine. She called me to make sure I was (still) all right.
The incident could have been physically and financially disastrous. Instead, it was a minor affair. Repairs to my bike didn’t even cost that much.
I stopped worrying about the negative “what ifs” and started focusing on the positive “what ifs.” What if I took advantage of Michigan’s “No Worker Left Behind” program and used the money to get a brand new set of skills? What if I used those skills to embark upon an interesting new career?
The NWLB program, an initiative by former Governor Jennifer Blanchard, providing tuition to unemployed people who wanted to change career directions. The process of applying for that money was long and arduous, requiring regular attendance at classes and lots of research and paperwork. You had to identify your job goal, prove that such jobs existed in the area and show what degree or types of classes or training it would take to get that job. The classes included lots of self-assessment, which was interesting. You had to answer questionnaires about your strengths, weaknesses and interests. You had to correlate the results with the jobs you were targeting.
Many of the people who began the course did not complete it. I wondered if they’d found new jobs or had just given up on the idea of trying something new.
What exactly is web design?
After doing lots of research, I settled on web design. I was a bit apprehensive about that choice. My knowledge of the internet was sketchy at best. I knew how to use emails and do Google searches, but that was about as far as it went. However, I knew web design skills would be in demand, and would stay in demand for some time. The NLWB program administrators approved my application. I was about to get $10,000 worth of training in a whole new field.
Little did I know where all of this would lead.
Next: Reinventing yourself isn’t easy, but it is possible.