Change is terrifying. Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t have anything to lose by telling you to walk the road less traveled, or is delusional. The feeling of being laid off is a funny thing. When you are employed you find yourself with other employed people, trudging through the hustle and bustle of life. Your commute in the morning is with other employed citizens. You have lunch with others that share your same schedule. The conversation is filled with how one’s job is going and if their boss is nice or not. My days were filled with coming up with class curriculum, conferring with other teachers as to successful assignments they had given their students, and how I was going to have the time to grade all those papers. Then the credit crisis came. The economy was tanking and I was the last one hired, so I'm the first one fired. ‘LIFO’ was the term the media gave to us, “Last in, First out.”
When you find yourself laid off you are still in ‘work’ mode. The bank accounts are ok and you are thinking like a working person. You polish off the resume and begin looking for employment. As the weeks drag on you notice things walking into your life that were never there before. Your retired neighbor that you never noticed before is now a part of your life. You find yourself surrounded by other out-of-work people. When you get into a social situation with people whose jobs were saved, they seem condescending. You find yourself snooping to see if someone’s company is hiring, or you try to make your new lot in life sound like its great! The conversations are horrible with these people. They speak in theory. Phrases like, “You just have to look harder. There are jobs out there!” or “Most jobs aren’t posted these days, you have to network”, drive you nuts. The ambiguity is more insulting than the person. And then comes the mother of all laid off worker’s conversations: change.
People speak of change like they are the Dalai Lama, perched on a mountain high in Tibet, bald head and all. These gods of the employed world tell you that you have to change. I actually stood at a back yard party and was told by a 23 year old secretary that I should, “Embrace change. These are the times where WE have to learn what is really important. In our hearts, in our souls, and in our families.” I was a new dad at the time, which was a big worry for me, and she thought that was great! “Oh wow, that’s soooooo awesome. Maybe this is your spiritual wake up call. You get the gift of staying home. Ahhh” I pictured myself pummeling her into the pavement.
Change is not this ambiguous thing that exists in a theoretical world. It is a very real thing that most people do gradually. Our natural progress through life is to grow into change. You don’t enter the world as a walking, skipping, and healthy adolescent. You come in as an infant. You roll around the floor, then sit up, then crawl, then walk. You grow into your sports, into school, into relationships. Change is programmed into us to be a slow process. It shocks the senses when it is quick and violent. It’s why the sudden death of a loved one stuns us.
The truth is that change is terrifying. It’s terrifying going from a life of academia to temporary jobs to the oil field. I had a life where students ran the halls calling my name, listening to my class, and then nothing. I met a man out here in the oil field from Michigan. He’d spent 20 years in the US Navy and then 13 years with Dow Chemical. He was 51, laid off from Dow Chemical, and had $1400/month coming from a Navy pension. I met him in West Virginia. After being laid off he went to community college, learned to weld, and headed to the oil fields. He had taught himself how to be in good spirits about his new life. He said to me with a smile “The Dakota, Montana, Pennsylvania, and now West Virginia. I missed my youngest kids’ prom. But the money is great. I’ll go home soon.” His faced was weathered and showed the signs of a man who had been shell shocked late in life. Change, at its very essence, is terrifying.
I went into the oil field because I was managing a restaurant and we were going nowhere financially. Some oil men who used to eat at my restaurant offered me a job driving a truck. Once they told me the pay rate, I accepted the job. I knew nothing of the oil field or the people that worked in it. All I knew was that it was more money then I’d ever made in my life, and I wanted more for my children.
If you have to embrace change, do it quickly. Accept it as quick as you can. Dragging it out will only hurt you emotionally. Avoid saying things like, “Well, when I used to teach, I did it this way.” This makes you think of the past too much and tells the person you’re working with that you can do it better. Deal with change like taking off a band-aid. Pull it quickly and it won’t hurt as bad.