Small Wonders: Thoughts from the unemployed

It's easy to feel alone when the world sets you back. A few weeks ago, I wrote about reaching the one-year mark of being unemployed and asked to hear your stories. I wouldn't exactly call my situation misery, but I do love company. And it was heartening to hear about this life change from other people's perspectives.

The most common affliction of the unemployed was the toll on their self-worth. It's tough believing in yourself when it seems no one else does.

"The hardest thing to deal with is what my children think about me not working and not providing," Nick told me. "My oldest boy still remembers the days when I was away from home at work for days at a time. Even though those were tough times in the sense of not seeing each other, I knew he was very proud of me ... Maybe I'm old school, but I still value the way I remember my father at a young age. He was a hard worker, and I knew then what it meant to be a provider. What do my children think I am now?"

Besides lack of money, the worst part for one reader was "the constant black cloud of dread and helplessness. After a while the constant grind of facing the very real possibility that you may never work steadily again begins to drain your optimism and hope. You become unmotivated and lazy and get the feeling that you're the only one in the world shuffling around the house in your sweatpants while the rest of the world works."

John adds: "The fear that I am not going to be okay is overwhelming. I feel like no one is on my side, that I am completely forgotten about … I feel like I have nothing to offer …"

Like others, Scott H. is frustrated with job searching: "With the online world overflowing with job 'classified' opportunities, the hardest thing is to continue to send out countless resumes and be all right with never getting a single response. It appears that few companies use anything other than personal references … which can be great if you know those people."

Teri offered this: "The sport that the economic downsizing amongst industries has started can make even the longest of marathons seem easy. You find yourself competing for just how low is the lowest you will go salary-wise …"

Until becoming the pastor at Grandview Presbyterian Church last May, Scott McGinnis had a good spell in the ranks of the unemployed.

"The hardest thing about job hunting was keeping a routine for job searching every morning even when the news and economic conversation suggested that searching was pointless until after the recession," he said.

Interestingly, before becoming a pastor, McGinnis was an executive search consultant.

"It was important for me to remember the things I enjoy outside of work and to not get discouraged while job hunting, but continue enjoying life each day … spending time with my wife, family and friends, mountain biking and volunteering at church. I didn't want to get to the end of my unemployment and say I had been too worried about not having work to enjoy the rest of life …"

On getting through each day, Nick said, "I have been coping with the stress by taking the privilege of relieving my wife of some of her normal day-to-day duties."

It says a lot about the character of this man that he refers to his new duties as a privilege.

"Keeping myself busy with these new tasks has consumed most of my time, leaving me little time to dwell on the fact of being unemployed," he said.

I like Scott H.'s therapy: "[I] laugh and surround myself with fun people. I try to avoid conversations about how 'tough the job market is' and rather focus on the possibilities of what my future may hold."

Idleness is the enemy, all agreed. Exercise is fundamental in staying sane. And finding your self-worth outside of your career: writing, painting, cooking, volunteering. It's amazing how creative we can be at finding healthy outlets when money is removed from the equation.

It's easy to dream with a fictitious bank account. But we're at our best when forced to be resourceful with our dreams — and more able to accomplish them.

Teri offered this, though: "Some days I just needed to take a break from looking for work and do something for myself, for my kids, and forget the struggles of what was actually laying on my shoulders. You have to check out for a day or two …Then you feel refreshed, and you get back to it that much harder the next day."

I called this a life change. But it's actually a life stall. The waiting, the not-knowing-when-it-will-end is haunting.

We all have a sense of purpose that drives us, and we need a direction to aim it. Maybe that's crunching numbers, building widgets or pet grooming. It doesn't matter. But waking each day and hoping against hope does.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the upcoming book "Crooked Little Birdhouse." Check it out at He can be reached at

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