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In Between

"I'm between positions."

Three simple words but, for Americans, words so charged with energy.

I was on a Fourth of July picnic that included some people we had never met before, and inevitably one of the first questions asked me was, "What do you do?"

I could have said, 'I jump off cliffs into Lake George;' or 'I design websites;' or 'I'll probably write about this later today - I'm a blogger;' but, of course, I knew what he was really asking, what we always mean when we say those four potent words: "What do you do for a living and tell me why I should not assume this defines who you are to me?"

When I gave my answer to the very nice man who was willing to share his fireworks viewing spot with us, I saw him mentally shift gears into neutral. He outwardly remained as friendly and non-judgmental as possible, but he would base his response on any cues from me that indicated how I felt about my current employment status.

If I responded with shame, he would give me sympathy; if I responded with resentment, he would join me with reviling the cause of my woeful tale; if I remained non-committal, he would agree that the economy is rough these days, and add that everyone suffered from the financial bank bailouts in 2008 - no one's 401k escaped a huge hit back then, from which we have still not yet recovered, isn't that true? I, too, have not escaped repercussions, he would wish to convey.

The ball was in my court, and I appreciated his sensitivity. He didn't know me, and he sure didn't have to be sensitive to my feelings, assuming of course that I had any insecurities about my current state, but it was a safe assumption to make. Unemployment is usually an emotionally charged place for a man, and other men instinctively feel this in sympathy because 'there but for the grace of God go I,' and we know any self-respecting man would rather be employed than not.

So this is a potential mine-field hidden in a simple social greeting, and he immediately and gracefully began to tread more lightly - just in case. A sensitive man. I liked him for that. Fortunately, I could relieve him of his apprehension, which I recognized was simply the product of polite conversation and could only be of superficial interest - but such are the shallow social waters in which we swim, when we are thrown together with strangers and have to make conversation for a few idle hours. (Which is why we often prefer to avoid such opportunities altogether, if the truth be told.)

I told this nice man that I am comfortable with my current unemployed status, and using my free time well. I would rather be earning a paycheck, of course - or better, win the lottery - but I choose to see this period as an opportunity. I didn't need to go into any detail with this stranger/aka new friend, but I sensed my not going into detail was just fine with him, too.

Instead, we deflected to several of my past career choices, and how they were part of a larger story that reflected the ongoing evolution of our lives. We settle down in a certain town for a while and then we move on. We develop certain skills during one period that are used to land the job in the next period. We meet friends and coworkers and employers that all contribute to different adventures and life choices in our future. That sort of thing. We shared our mutual stories and stayed within comfortable parameters and the nice man was not sorry he had asked me, "What do you do?"

On the other hand, I know full well that having to say "I'm between positions" can be quite devastating. Devastating for the speaker, and even alarming for the unwitting casual receiver of such news. I have felt the stomach-wrenching, heart-palpitating, gasping-for-breath fear and inertia that suddenly strikes when you join the ranks of the great (as in multitude) unemployed. Most people assume you are "freaking out" because most people would be freaking out if they were in the same situation. A perfectly understandable response to a perfectly understandable reaction.

Actors know the job-seeking place well: you have to sell yourself in audition after audition, and "cheerfully" accept rejection again and again, until you finally land that role/position that pays the bills. In the meantime, few bills are being paid and, for men at least, an important piece of one's public identity is temporarily on hold until that new position is secured. Sure, you have the boundless free time you have always wanted, but at the same time you don't completely enjoy it. "Uncertainty" has moved in with you, until the day comes when employment occupies your time once more, along with the compensation of steady income and the semblance of security.

But freaking out, though a natural response to sudden insecurity, does nothing to change the situation. Shouting "no" at something doesn't make it go away. In fact, getting upset only delays the beginning of the journey towards the ultimate solution. It's a waste of time, and keeps your attention riveted to what has just transpired, instead of focusing on the results you want to see manifest.


I see this period as an opportunity to do things differently. This time around I am looking for a better fit: a genial business environment, nice people to spend my day with, and a position that would utilize my varied skill sets and experience. I should mention, incidentally, that I have never been fired. I resigned from my last position because the workload was too stressful and my colleagues were dropping out right and left with health problems; and I didn't want to be next. I can afford to be selective and wait until a more satisfying and suitable berth presents itself for my consideration.

Believing in an ideal outcome is more than just a coping mechanism to keep the hounds of fear and doubt at bay; it is necessary. We often get what we expect, but when we are willing to settle for less we spend a long time living with that, too. I know this is the time to keep my energy as creative and progressive as possible. Keep confident, keep moving forward, keep stirring the juices of creativity and inspiration. Follow those niggles, however subtle or mysterious in source. Coincidences are not just coincidences.

I write every day; I email friends and share my story, which changes like cloud shadows crossing a sunny landscape; last week I uploaded an e-book on Amazon's Kindle for 70% sales royalties; and I am sending at least a dozen query letters to literary agents every day promoting a different, more ambitious book on Rome's origins (they all accept email these days, much cheaper and faster). These are my pet projects, just as you have your own to toss into the vortex of public consideration.

I am also confident that one of these days the position I am seeking will make itself known to me. Every day I peruse Craig's List and the confidential ads, etc. and on occasion I'll find something worthy of sending out my resume (or in the case of web design, links to samples of my work). I am willing to pass on a dozen openings in the confidence that the thirteenth will be the right match, and I trust that when the fit is right it will all click into place with ease.

That is how these things usually work. When it feels like you are pushing the boulder uphill, trying to jam that square peg into the round hole - stop! It's like falling in love. You can't make it happen, you have to let it happen, organically. Taking a job just to earn that paycheck will probably feel like the round hole that can't quite accommodate my square peg, and for now it is clear it is better wait for a more comfortable fit.

Even better, it is the Fourth of July, and it feels like everyone in America has added vacation days before or after that holiday, making it seem like the entire country is off this week and the next. It's a good time to be off, too. For instance, I was able to watch fireworks with distant family and their friends, and then spend a long lazy weekend poolside with other friends. I am enjoying this time of leisure while I may, resting up for the period of employment I know will follow.

Until that day arrives, when asked, I tell people I'm between positions, and I am comfortable with that. My time right now is being well spent.