The first day of my unemployment, I met with the career counselor my former employer had provided. Our purpose now, she told our group, was to make getting a full-time job our full-time job. What I couldn’t explain to her in front of the others was that I had long seen my true job as doing the will of my Higher Power. There’s a still, small voice inside me that, when I listen, instructs me in all things, including employment. Listening to this inner teacher and following its guidance had been working for me for years. I’d been given many wonderful work opportunities and was just as willing to listen as ever. Surely, I told myself, another great job would soon fall into my lap. Unfortunately, this time things didn’t work that way.
I did get some short-term freelance projects. But by last November, even those had dried up. Night after night I startled awake, in terror about the lack of a steady paycheck. My husband and I pored over our finances, and he reassured me that we could keep going for at least another year on our savings and his income. But with our middle son in his first semester of college, and the youngest one starting in four years (the eldest had just graduated from college and was back home, also looking for work), the pressure was on. Even without college tuitions to consider, my work had been filling half the family coffers for nearly a decade.
In addition to the financial fears, the big, bad, blue mood that hit me brought with it an alarming revelation—I didn’t know who I was without a regular job. I felt like a nobody. For the next few months, I made myself face my deepest demons and meanest self-saboteurs—all the things my former job had disguised with its predictable routines and steady paycheck.
The loneliest part of this time was how far away from God I felt. In my long, arduous faith journey, I had just begun to feel that I truly mattered to God. But when the regular paycheck disappeared, I got a stark look at the flaws in my faith, which, it turned out, was fraught with distrust. For the past 15 years I had immersed myself in an eclectic spirituality. I belonged to a peer-support group whose core belief is that sanity and health come from turning our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we each understand God—totally and regularly. This practice, I believed, would ensure that all my needs would be taken care of. My life had gotten infinitely calmer as I lived by this notion. But it was far easier to follow when I had a good job. Jobless, I had not only fear of poverty, but fear of never having a clear role in the world.
I was so confused. I believe every single person on this earth is here for a purpose. But in the depths of my mid-life identity crisis, I couldn’t begin to understand what mine was. This is a little bit embarrassing to admit, because it sounds so grandiose, but the truth is, I have always felt God had a special purpose for me, something that would leave a legacy. It was my job, I thought, to sort out what this was supposed to be. I knew that God would tell me in a still, small voice, and that to hear the message, I had to get very quiet on regular basis. But the chatterbox in my brain—the one screaming, “Danger! Danger! Do something, anything!” made this very difficult.
As often as I could, I made myself stand still and let my angry and hurt feelings wash over me. As an antidote to the fear, I listed and counted my blessings—even when I felt unblessed. And I rallied my support system. Over the years, I have made many friends to whom I can turn for wisdom and counsel. I made at least a phone call a day to one of them—rotating my calls so I wouldn’t burn any one of them out with what often turned out to be ranting or whining. I went to at least one meeting a week of my support group. My path has, in the last four years, involved a more formal religious fellowship; in that time I’ve missed only a handful of Sundays. I’ve learned that I must pay attention to my body, so I swim, do Tai Chi and yoga, and walk—ideally once day. My shelves are filled with books I also considered good friends, among them Pema Chodron’s The Places That Scare You, Shakti Gawain’s Living in the Light and Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance.