By HANIFA L. BARNES
Unemployment. For some, this is an ugly word that has drastically altered emotional and financial realities. Since the recession, the stock market crash, and the bailouts, households have suffered tremendously as a result of joblessness. For the unemployed mom who is accustomed to working outside of the home, being out of work can become a dismal existence. Still, there is a realization, sometimes slow, that the intended path may only be a prelude to something greater for unemployed parents.
Unemployment got me in 2010. Before that time, I had worked since the age of 16. I am almost 40. My last stint as an educator lasted 10 years and burnout was well in my midst. In spite of the steady paychecks, summers off and decent work hours, I felt a desire to try something new. I enrolled in law school in the hopes of discovering a new destiny. So when my job came to an end, I wasn’t too concerned because I was looking forward to the degree’s possibilities. I landed a coveted position as a judicial law clerk and was sure that the connections would be a great benefit, but nothing materialized. With no job after the clerkship, all that I had left was a bruised ego, an extra-large diploma, and professional uncertainty.
In my frustration, I found that my most important role as mother suffered. There were often days where the emotional challenges of joblessness seemed insurmountable. While the kids were at school, I would spend my days preparing resumes, going on rounds of interviews, preparing follow up letters and fielding rejections. By the time they returned home, all of my energy and enthusiasm had dissipated. I had nothing left to give. My parenting became clouded by angst, disappointment and anger.
Instead of viewing my time off as an opportunity to reconnect with my children, I felt that I was experiencing an identity crisis. Uncertainty about my professional future equated to uncertainty about myself as a woman and a professional. Was I still good enough? Was I valuable without a job and paycheck? I was raised to understand that work and professional level determined value. For so long my identity and purpose were tied to professional attainment. How was I ever going to change my thinking?
There is no magic wand to relieve the overlay of emotions of unemployment. Overcoming the distress is a multi-step process that requires time, patience, and prayer. Even on the good days, the residual emotions of fear and insecurity caused me to be short-tempered and moody. On the bad days, I felt as though I was in a catatonic state completely oblivious and emotionally unavailable for my family.
When my body began to experience physical ailments, I decided to make a drastic change. Fighting headaches and muscle tension was not my idea of the life I envisioned. Somewhere deep down, I knew my path to self-discovery and healing would be revealed. First, I had to figure out how to help myself. I turned off the television, started reading the Alchemist, incorporated a moderate exercise regimen, and developed a writing routine.
Writing saved my life and reconnected me with my family. What started out as light journaling turned into rejuvenation of a lifelong passion that had been buried by the monotony of the day-to-day. I worked on articles and fictional stories that were stalled from years earlier. I found my creative voice. My kids were even excited to share in my joy and started writing stories of their own. Slowly and consistently a shift in my thinking began to take place and the epiphanies came to life. As my spirit was reinvigorated through writing, my pursuit of purpose was enlivened by my newfound determination. Soon I was meeting the small goals I’d set and conquering daily and weekly goals.
The road to purpose seems bleak after experiencing unemployment. It is not uncommon to feel worthless when academic and professional accolades are not living up to your expectations. Create a vision that encourages you to get up everyday and pursue your purpose. If a vision seems too arbitrary or intimidating, write down a few daily or weekly goals to work toward. I set small goals to write something everyday. I didn’t define what that something would be. That way, I had room for flexibility and avoided the pressure of failing myself. Whether two sentences, two paragraphs or two pages, my writing flourished instantly. I felt productive and encouraged to move beyond the discouragement and step boldly into my purpose.
Hanifa L. Barnes is a writer, editor, and blogger dedicated to giving voice to the issues that illuminate the triumphs and challenges of motherhood. She is a lawyer and former educator who believes that there is no work-life balance. Mothers should embrace the chaos. She blogs at Mommy2go.com and rants on Twitter @mommytwogo.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.