A reflection: Finding work during lockdown….PFFFT.

Tina Fey doing an eye roll in disbeliefAs I write this, we’ve been under shelter-in-place for almost nine weeks where I live. Where I live, we are very much near the heart of where the worst outbreaks are in the United States. With the exception of leaving the house only to go grocery shopping, a couple trips to home improvement stores (my husband wants to renovate our master bathroom), and a few trips to pick up takeaway food now and then, we’ve stayed home. We haven’t left anyplace outside of a 20-mile radius of our home. We wear masks everywhere we go now. It’s our new reality.

Many have now adjusted to this new reality of working from home or doing school from home. At my house, this wasn’t much of an adjustment. We were homebodies for the most part anyway, and both my husband and I are used to trying to work from home. It took some adjustment for my son to get used to doing his college class from home, but with the help of his tutor (also known as me, his mom) to help him navigate through online classes (since I’m a veteran online student), he actually did better than attending his online classes. He got a final grade of a B for the class, which was a huge relief for his father and I, since we hoped that he’d at least pass with a C so that he didn’t have to take the class over (he was actually failing the class before classes were pushed online).  We also had a death in our family–my father-in-law passed away at the beginning of April due to complications from prostate cancer (not COVID-19), so that really affected us strongly for about a week or two that it was difficult to concentrate on things. But we made it through a rough April, and now it’s May, and I keep hoping that things will get better.

One of the most difficult things I’m trying to get through right now is not working. Now, remember, I haven’t really been working all year, and right now with the pandemic, a lot of people aren’t working.  I am constantly reminding myself that I’m in a good place–my husband is still gainfully employed and busy, and I’m receiving unemployment for now. I also have savings–because a smart consultant puts money away because it can be a while between gigs sometimes–to live off of. Since we aren’t going out as much, I’ve actually been saving a lot of money, and I’ve joined the bandwagon of making more homemade food, including being encouraged by other tech comm bakers to learn how to make sourdough starter and start baking different bread products (I’m starting to get pretty good at it).

But I digress…while baking as a hobby is a great distraction, it’s not working. When you’ve been “between jobs” since the end of 2019, you start to lose hope of finding something. I’ve been through this before, where I hadn’t found anything for as much as a year. I fear that this is happening again. Before the pandemic hit, I could already see signs that another recession was going to hit, which often hits consultants and tech comm the hardest, from what I remember in the past decade.  This pandemic isn’t helping at all. I’m starting to see the ridiculous job descriptions where the potential employer asks for crazy requirements, 100 people will apply, and they’ll find that one person that has those requirements. Or they are short-changing people with the rates they are offering for that job.  Or, they’ve just stopped their hiring until this pandemic ends, which is indeterminate at this point.

It’s that last one that’s really hitting me hardest right now.  I was finally starting to make some progress finding work. I had sent out dozens of applications out, and in most instances, I either never heard back or I got a flat out rejection. Some employers would take as much as two months to send you a rejection letter! Or, in my case, it’s somewhat worse. I was called by a few companies, and got past the first few interviews–in one instance, I was even getting to the last stage where they wanted me to come up with a test presentation and we were setting up the date to do the presentation, and it was all cut off. All hiring has been frozen indefinitely until the pandemic ends. At the rate that I see it, that means it could still be several months before things free up and hiring is back in action. Now, I’ve been assured that it was not a reflection of their interest in me, and that once things open up again, they want to pick up where they left off. While I understand that it’s all about business and not a personal reflection on me, I can’t help but still take it personally.

I’m sure I’m not alone feeling like this. Heck, I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been through this kind of uncertainty before–of not knowing when I’m going to secure another gig (contract, permanent, or otherwise). Nobody feels good when you don’t have a job, and you want to be productive and be able to support yourself and/or your family. That’s normal. This applies to everyone who isn’t working right now, not just those in technical communications.

But this is much different. In the past, there were fewer obstacles. It was just time being against us, nothing else. Excuses of budgets and headcounts, and not enough work to distribute (although everyone else would normally be overworked anyway) never flew well before, and with cutbacks now due to the pandemic and economics, it’s worse. There was always a sense that you wouldn’t know when things would improve, but now that uncertainty is heightened. This pandemic is an obstacle. If anything, it’s the biggest obstacle that any of us–again, not just tech comm’ers–have to face while looking for work.  And we have an advantage–we are in a field when we can actually do work from home, and many can adapt to working from home more easily. We’re used to adapting constantly, as that’s part of what makes a good technical communicator. But when your doubts about your abilities are heightened, your fears are heightened, and that uncertainty point thinking that it will eventually end is taken away, it becomes terrifying. There is no end point, no point when you think it might finally turn around. It’s a feeling of hopelessness that consumes you, because when you are trapped inside, and you can’t actively be part of society anymore that things start to crumble.

If you are still working, consider yourself blessed. Yes, it might not be the most ideal situation working from home if you aren’t used to it, but you still have the ability to put your brain to work doing what you do best and get paid for it. There are a lot of us who are like me now, looking for work, and finding it harder and harder to find anything, despite reports that there are more technical communications jobs out there. I don’t see them. They are disguised as programmer jobs and marketing jobs. Some can do those, but I’m not one of them. I’m not a programmer who can write; I’m a writer who understands some bits about programming. I’m not a marketer who understands content; I’m a content strategist and manager who understands how marketing can fit into that.  I know I have a good mind, good ideas, and if I’ve learned anything about myself during this pandemic, is that as much as I like to work alone and at home, I also can’t work in a vacuum. I can’t be the only one working on an idea. I feed off of other people and their ideas, and work to incorporate bits and pieces from different sources into something more collectively derived. But I can’t even practice that because everything has been put on hold indefinitely, with no end in sight, and that’s incredibly destabilizing. You can only keep up for so long without feeling like you are losing your edge.

About a year ago, I had a talk with someone about trying to figure out what to do next, and was trying to figure out what additional training I might need (and this was just as I was starting yet another certificate course) to try to get ahead. Her advice was to stop trying to take so many courses. Yes, keep up with what’s going on out there, but I already had the know-how, and it was just a matter of finding the best place that I could use it, and that I should stop trying to waste my time trying to get additional credentials to bolster my position. She said that I have what I need already.  I’m looking at things a year later, and going through the same questions still. Really? Are you sure that I have “it”? Because if I had “it”, would people be clamoring to bring me into their companies? Wouldn’t I have several offers laid out before me and I’d have to choose? I haven’t had many choices for years. Sometimes a step back in order to take one forward later doesn’t work. I’ve been stuck and I need to move forward, yet I feel like I keep moving backwards. For an “old woman”, I’m ready to move forward and “chomping at the bit” to learn and get ahead instead of being stuck where I am, which is unemployed and stuck in my career.  I still like tech comm, but it’s continually difficult when the unspoken rules keep changing, and I can’t keep up, especially in being something that I’m not.  And again, I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels like that right now.

All I can do is hope that this pandemic ends sooner than later. It infuriates me to see people not following the basic guidelines or rules in staying home or the limitations in going out in order to flatten the curve so we can get back to more normal business soon. This affects everyone, obviously, but those of us who are out of work feel it the most. Again, I remind myself that my day will come, I’ll find work and feel like I’m worthwhile and participating in life again, even if it’s from home in a shelter-in-place circumstance. But it doesn’t feel like it’s anytime soon. There will be a new normalcy when this is all over, but I can’t wait for that normalcy to start, and I wish we had even a slight clue as to when that will happen, even if we don’t have an exact date. It’s hard when you don’t know when you have something to look forward to.

If you are out of work right now, how are you handling things? Include your comments below.

About TechCommGeekMom

Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who has recently started her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, BASF North America, Merck, and Deloitte, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog, TechCommGeekMom.com, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/daniellemvillegas, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog.
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