My Year of Transition

On the morning of October 1, I woke up in an unfamiliar bed at my friend’s house in Southern Phoenix. A few day’s worth of clothes were next to me in a suitcase. Some of my essentials were locked in my car in front of the house. My books and other goods were in a storage facility in Central Phoenix. The downstairs stirred as my friend got her kids ready for daycare. I looked around and took in my surroundings and my new life: limbo.

***

The morning of February 6, I had settled into work and the daily routine (breakfast, checking email) when I got an instant message from the director of organizational development. I locked my computer and went up to the corporate office to see her.

Upon seeing me, she stood up and went toward the conference room. A packet in her hand included paperwork, the visible page having  the word “termination.” It was my worst fear come true. We sat down and she ran down a list of reasons for the layoff, the transition and next steps. I nodded and listened intently, but my head was elsewhere: what would happen now? 

I knew that I would not be at that job forever; in fact, I was surprised that I lasted as long as I did. For all the kudos I got for my work and performance as a writer over the years, I always felt that I was under-qualified, an impostor that would be found out. Never mind my unfounded neurotic-ism; I never felt that I would last long at any job. I had that conference room layoff talk 8 years prior: the same dour tone; cold-blue, vacant room that felt a mile long; and feelings of helplessness that draped over the proceedings.

I told her that this could be my chance at a new opportunity, and she replied that it was probably a blessing in disguise. I’m not sure if my fear registered on my face, nor my numb brain. As we parted ways, I wondered if being adrift would be indeed for the best. My first thought was to tell my intern writer about the change, that I would be leaving her to finish out the semester. She was stunned and upset; this surprised me. I then broke the news to my co-workers, and they were at least able to act shocked. As I gathered the last of my things and attempted to pull my files off my work computer, but I was locked out. That was it.

With my cousin (and surrogate brother) and my brother in suburban Chicago

Now fending for myself, I had an new opportunity: a chance for a new beginning somewhere else. No longer bound to Phoenix, I threw myself into the job search like never before. I added career websites to my RSS feed, flooded recruiters with resumes and cover letters, and monitored my LinkedIn profile like a hawk, looking in the area for opportunities. I was also introduced to the world of government assistance, filing for unemployment, food stamps and job-seeking help. I familiarized myself with paying for my own health insurance, as the COBRA plan my former employer offered was expensive. (Seriously, COBRA is a damn racket.)

But then in a conversation with my mom, she noted that I was not tethered to the Valley of the Sun; after selling my house last year, I could go anywhere–a plus because I hated Phoenix’s heat and general hillbillyness. My potential destination was akin to throwing a dart at a map of the United States: San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; Chicago; New York City; Washington, D.C. I had phone interviews on a weekly basis. (There was one, perhaps two weeks in my 8-month hiatus that went by without some sort of job screen.) I felt that I would be on the move soon.

Weeks out of work soon turned into months. I found myself wondering whether employers knew of my insecurities and put my resume in the reject piles. (Answer: yes.) Now in a daily routine of job hunting, I balanced my time and sanity with grad school homework, creative writing, and leaving the house once a day to avoid going stir-crazy. I reconnected with friends of friends, played pub trivia weekly, and did the occasional improv show. Meanwhile, my family checked in on me regularly, there for my venting and money worries.

My choices for new cities narrowed down to San Francisco and Chicago, with some sprinklings of NYC. Several of my Phoenix friends had moved to the Bay Area, and I thought about following them. Between March and September, I flew out there four times for interviews and job fairs, each time thinking I would work my gumption and interview skills into a new position. A session with a medium brought up the theme of transition coloring the next year for me. Meanwhile, I entertained the idea of moving back to Chicago, hesitant about how life would be picking up the pieces and reconnecting with family and friends. I made three trips home during the unemployment period for interviews and job fairs, and I hoped that my pluckiness and gosh-golly work ethic would get me employed.

August rolled around, and I got a new push to get a job: my landlord, from whom I rented my townhouse, carpet-bombed my world by telling me that I had to move out by the end of September. My job hunt took on a new, frenzied fervor, as I had to decide on one of two locations: San Francisco or Chicago. This was it. And I couldn’t decide.

With friends in suburban Chicago

August transitioned to September, and I was still unsure of where I would go–job in hand or otherwise. I started forming my contingency plans for September 30: I made two trips to San Francisco that month, one for an interview, and the other for a housing search, planning to subsidize my lifestyle on my savings and freelance work while I looked for work; or moving in with a buddy in suburban Chicago and continuing my job search there. Both options were a big change, uprooting myself and my belongings and taking to the wind. For a rigid planner like myself, this was the scariest situation to be in–letting fate decide my next step. And I waited for something to make the choice for me.

About a week before that September 30 deadline, I got a text from one of my friends in Phoenix, asking if I was still interested in a job. His company, one I had applied at a few times, was looking for a writer. I told him I would send my resume, and I returned to my efforts to forget the looming decision I had to make. I made good on my promise, thinking that nothing would come of it. My head was occupied with other thoughts: packing; ordering a PODS container to move my stuff; WHERE to move my stuff. Any distraction was a good one, and I hoped that a call about a job would be one of them.

I got an email from my buddy’s company about an interview October 1, and I accepted. This presented a quandary, as I would need to stay in Phoenix for a few more days; it also bought me more time for my move. I put my storage as I pondered my final decision. A call out to Facebook regarding a place to stay in Phoenix brought a reply from several friends, including one that I was close with, offering me a spare room for as long as I needed.  I also became more impulsive, as stress is prone to do to one’s psyche; in the panic about the PODS container blocking people from accessing their garages (it was pretty big), I decided to cancel the order and sell off all my furniture. The money would fund my move–wherever that would be–and not weigh me down with bulky stuff.

With friends on the Pacific Ocean coast

September 30 came. My landlord was greeted with me feverishly packing up the last of my stuff. He graciously (perhaps out of pity) helped me box up some of my items as I crammed my car with what I could. I turned over my keys, and he helped me move my couch into storage. I said goodbye to my place, and I drove to my friend’s house. I was officially in flux.

***

The week that I stayed with my friend was tumultuous. I hunted for work during the day, and I hung out with the family in the evening. I tried not to get in the way and not disrupt their routine–going as far as buying my own food. I interviewed with my buddy’s company October 1, and they seemed enthusiastic about me. Errands to pass the time felt like trips to the big city, as I was staying on the outskirts of the Valley. Good news filtered in from my buddy’s company, as they wanted me to get the paperwork process started. Errands became job-related–getting fingerprinted, finding an apartment, and getting my bearings. A friend of a friend on Facebook posted about renting her condo, and I pounced. Word came that I would start work October 8; it was a contract position but it was work. I signed the lease for my new apartment October 5. It appeared that I would be in Phoenix for a while longer.

As I hugged my friend goodbye, I thanked her for letting me call her place home while I wondered where my new one would be. The previous eight months were a search for my sense of home–emotionally and physically. And while that dread of transition led me to monetary fears I hope to never experience again, that sense of limbo shaking me out of my comfort zone gave me new highlights: traveling; networking; seeing family and friends; eating healthier (seriously); writing more; and becoming more assertive in my career. The future is as cloudy as ever, but I know that I can face it.

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