I love underdog stories. But that’s usually reserved for movies like Rudy. Or watching sports. Or reading a great novel. We find ourselves rooting for the little guy. The Little Engine That Could. The fabled tortoise and his hare nemesis. When it comes to our own lives, however, it’s not so enjoyable. We’d much rather skip the blood, sweat, and tears, and go right to the happy ending.
Living on my own again rendered me completely independent. Freedom.
Living on my own without a job left me completely dependent — on state funds. Debilitating.
Friend or foe of good timing, it’s simple to see on which side of the line I fell. Getting the chance to flex my free will, but kept in check by a quickly deflating checking account. After loading up on Chinese fortune cookies with the hope of reversing my fate, I buckled in, prepared to take the brunt of whatever the cold, heartless world could throw at me.
Despite misfortune, I remained hopeful. If you recall, I’m a masterful interviewee. And the nature of the industry has placed an impetus on quality writers. Yes, my résumé was littered with short stints in recent years, but my experience and high recommendations boded well for my chances at securing new employment sooner, not later.
Turns out, I was right — about the interviewing part. I secured numerous interviews right off the bat, most via phone and some in person. I could get on my soapbox about how interviews have gotten less personal. I could say that keyword stuffing (for scanning) is just as important today as your qualifications. I could discuss how interviews are now completely dependent on making a good phone impression — and with a general recruiter no less, not a specialist in your field. That’s unlikely territory for someone like me who gets terribly nervous on the phone but is as steady as a surgeon in face-to-face interactions. But I’ll spare you my diatribe.
Or I could discuss how interviewees must display proper etiquette, yet companies themselves often don’t play by the same rules. If I don’t follow through, shame on me. But too often I was told that I’d hear a response in weeks, even days, yet no one ever followed through (shame on me). Generally, I hate mailed and emailed rejection templates, but I have far greater respect for those that take the effort to send them versus those that don’t. Because at least then I know; it’s called closure, and I can move on.
There was one company that was so excited over my résumé that I was brought in immediately, followed just as quickly by a second interview. I bought into the hype. As I left the latter interview, the interviewer, who was also company owner and CEO, said, “We’re going to stay and make a decision. We’ll call you tomorrow; you may even hear on your way home tonight.” I liked their swiftness. I could appreciate the candor. I respected the honesty.
Days passed. Nothing. I finally emailed head of human resources. Another day passed. Finally, an email response, not a personal call, indicated that they were still determining next steps and would need the weekend. I could read between the lines, but I still needed closure. No news the next week — until I contacted them, that is. In the email that ensued, I was notified that I was no longer being considered.
One can only take so much rejection before “what’s wrong with me?” begins overtaking hope and optimism. I was clearly an underdog in my own life. Many nights, I began second guessing my decisions and wondering what could’ve been had I stayed in my relationship or moved to NYC. Because I had no friends in the area, my days were uneventful and lonely. The clock’s ticking became my nemesis, yet a strange comfort.
On top of boredom and solitude, I grew scared shitless over my financial situation and lack of medical insurance. Affording basic necessities like groceries left me feeling guilty each time I cooked a meal. I found respite in my nightly runs into the dark winter. I sought solace in my family, bridging our two-hour distance by more-frequent phone calls. My mother and sister, my two best friends, made it their collective mission to keep me on track, upbeat, and focused.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so, yes, I made sacrifices. Eating out was voided. I drank less; OK, that’s a lie, but I needed company and therapy — both of which Jack Daniel’s provides. I did what I could, even contemplated plasma donations and part-time work at a bar or restaurant (I craved the social interaction that both of those gigs provide). Before long, I started applying for jobs for which I was clearly unqualified. Desperate. Reaching. Chancing.
While unemployment benefits stopped the bleeding, I knew that it was only a matter of time before my checking account couldn’t stay afloat by a measly $200 a week. I knew this because I logged in to my account on a daily basis to survey the damages and which minimum credit-card payments had posted. I had just purchased all new furnishings to fill the condo I rented from my friendly Grecian landlady, Pennie, and it wasn’t long before I regretted every purchase made in confidence that I’d find a way.
I just needed a chance, an opportunity to prove myself, a way to get my foot in the door. I knew I had it. I knew I possessed a desirable work ethic. But it appeared that all the doors in Milwaukee were closing. Little did I know that doors were opening near my hometown — a place I swore I’d never move to again.