Tag Archives Hollywood

5 Ways I Stayed Productive (and Kept Sane) During Unemployment

Gordon Creek Road by Luke Detwiler , Winding Road | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Luke Detwiler
Text and design by The Girl Next Door is Black

The last time I experienced unemployment was over 10 years ago. I was in my mid-20s, living in the heart of Hollywood, California. I don’t just mean living in Los Angeles, I actually lived in the Hollywood neighborhood. My roommate and I could see the Hollywood sign from her condo balcony. I came home one Friday evening to a message from my temp agency informing me that I’d been let go from my several months long temp assignment. Again? I thought. While this hadn’t been a permanent job, it still marked the third time I unexpectedly and abruptly found myself without employment in a 3 years.

Is this what it means to be in the working world? Absolutely no job stability? I had a feeling I knew what motivated the sudden booting: I think my temporary employers were concerned I’d caught wind of their shady financial reporting practices and might report them to the SEC. I did know. One of their long-term permanent employees gleefully spilled the tea. She despised them, but did a great job of pretending otherwise. I think she wanted me to do the snitching for her. Shady.

One of my new L.A. BF’s was also among the ranks of the unemployed. We shared a lot in common including our age and an aversion to the concept of working in an office and signing our lives away to the rat race. At that time, I hadn’t identified a new career path after parting ways with my attempt at an acting career, so I floundered a bit until I basically fell into my most recent career in tech. I took on a few temporary jobs here and there, but during that economic climate, even short-term temp jobs were drying up. So, my BF and I had a lot of free time on our hands, along with the excitement and Energizer-energy that accompanies early twenty-something youth. Unfortunately, we did not have a lot of cash.

Hollywood Sign View of Los Angeles Basin Photo cr: Mary-Austin and Scott, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Mary-Austin and Scott, flickr.com

We’d wake up late mornings and IM each other while we looked for jobs online and concurrently planned out our next bit of shenanigans. We went out most nights as there is always something to do in L.A.: always a party, an event or an opening. I also learned the Long Island Iced Tea, with its melange of liquors, is the best drink for your buck if you want to get drunk for the least amount of money. We found $1 bargain shopping bins at trendy thrift stores, figured out the best ways to score free food, drinks, and swag – free movie tickets are easy to come by in the “Entertainment Capital.”

We were aces at finding clubs giving away free drinks if you were willing to arrive unfashionably early; art gallery openings were a great way to appear cultured and score free wine and cheese. I’d also inherited the role of organizer & events planner for a woman’s social group that I’d joined when I first moved to L.A. two years earlier. I had plenty to keep me busy. I look back on the time fondly even though I was broke and being broke in Hollywood where money = power, influence and prestige, is not easy. It may not have been the most productive way to spend 10 months of unemployment, but I enjoyed it and don’t regret a bit of it.

Now that I am older and, I hope, wiser, my priorities are different. My situation is different. am different. I also realize, having been laid off now four times, that with the ending of each job, something bigger and better always arose. Each layoff propelled me to something greater and more beneficial for me.

This time around, I recognized the opportunity in front of me. The layoff signaled to me, an opportunity to move on to something greater. Maya Angelou said, of an employer firing her and learning to be grateful: “So you fired me. Good on you and very good on me, ’cause what I’m going to get, darling, you would LONG for.” Yes!

I felt a duty to myself to make the best of the situation. After taking care of the basics one does after losing their job, like filing for unemployment, taking care of health insurance (thanks Obama!) and dealing with finances, I set to planning. Here are five things I did that helped me stay productive and kept me sane during unemployment.

1. TOLD MY FRIENDS, FAMILY AND NETWORK

I know some shy away from announcing their layoff to people they know. Maybe they feel embarrassed, ashamed or down. Whatever the reason, layoffs are a part of life. We no longer live in a society where employers keep people on for decades and happily wave you off at age 60 with a cushy pension. There is no loyalty in most workplaces – on either end of the relationship – and at any given time any of us can lose or leave our jobs.

Wood Social Media Icons | The Girl Next Door is BlackI didn’t do anything wrong to warrant being released. I worked hard and have the performance evaluation to show it, so I let people know. As a result, I felt freer; I don’t like hiding things. Friends and family have been emotionally supportive in the aftermath. Additionally, friends and former co-workers from jobs past have referred me when jobs in my role crossed their paths. In many industries, getting the next job is about who you know. Tech is definitely no exception. I am grateful not just for their referrals, but their respect. Most people don’t refer someone for a job if they don’t respect their skills and work ethic.

Being open about the layoff has led to a few uncomfortable moments; but nothing I can’t handle. When you talk to someone who asks, “How’s the job search going?” before they even eek out a hello, that’s a little awkward. You wonder if you’re not looking hard enough and then you realize it’s only been three weeks and did this person forget what it’s like to look for a job? When a person you rarely hear from messages you from out of the blue, “How are you?” and you know what they really mean is, “Have you found a job yet?” because they’re just being nosy, you wish you’d excluded them from your Facebook post.

A recruiter who contacted me, shortly after I updated my LinkedIn profile to reflect the parting of ways between me and the old job, told me his company had their eye on the ex-employees of my former employer, “Fancy Startup”. Who knew? Tech companies compete for good talent here, he said. That knowledge made me feel that much more optimistic about the potential return on my job search investment.

 2. MADE A “FREE TIME” WISHLIST

It’s not often that a 9 to 5-er gets the opportunity to have the entire daytime free. Not just a holiday Monday or Friday off when most everyone else is off too and banks are closed and so is the post office, so it may as well be a weekend. An actual free weekday when TV shows air that you’re never home to see live. When stay-at-home moms and dad entertain their kids who are on summer break. Free time during business hours when you can make the phone calls you need to make!

Free Time Clock Photo cr: Wes Peck | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Wes Peck, Flickr.com

I recall during one particularly trying work day, walking down Market Street (a main thoroughfare in San Francisco) and wistfully envying a group of teenagers seated in a circle on a patch of grass laughing and talking. The sun shone brightly and I thought how nice it would be to lay in the grass in the sun in the middle of the day. I think the kids may have been doing drugs together, but still, the sentiment remains.

I set about making a list of everything I could conceive of doing that I could either only do during the day or that’s better done (e.g., less crowded) during the day. Whether I could get to it all, and how much of it was actually feasible mattered little. The list gave me a jumping off point, ideas for keeping busy, small achievements to aspire to, and activities I could look forward to doing.

The first thing I checked off my”free time” wishlist? Laying out in the grass in the middle of the day.

Eventually, I expanded the list to include lower priority items on my to-do list that I now I had plenty of time for. BLO (Before Layoff) so much of my life was either spent at work or recovering from the exhaustion of work. I never had enough time. PLO, I spent one luxurious afternoon cleaning up my junk email box. I unsubscribed from several newsletters (including “Fancy Startup’s”; it took them 3-months to remove me from the list, #fail),  organized items into folders, and cleaned up my social media accounts. I know that doesn’t sound thrilling, but it was glorious  to have the time.

Feet in the Park San Francisco | The Girl Next Door is Black
Here are my happy feet in the park
3. CREATED GOALS AND ESTABLISHED A ROUTINE

As much as I detest the idea of having routines and schedules, I recognize that it’s helpful to give a sense of stability in my life, thus increasing my comfort level. I recall from my earlier unemployment experience how lost I felt some days without the schedule I’d grown accustomed as an office worker bee. I also quickly concluded that pressuring myself to look for jobs constantly would eventually drive me batty. I had to establish some boundaries. Modifying the typical US work week, I decided Mondays through Thursdays are for “work” and Fridays through Sunday are for play (with exceptions considered if I ask myself nicely and negotiate well). I created a loose routine that includes not sleeping in past a certain time (I hate feeling like I’ve wasted half the day), time for job searching & networking, therapy, fitness and a few other items.

My Super Important Goals | The Girl Next Door is BlackIt’s important to me to feel a sense of accomplishment or achievement. I imagine that even when I’m retired, I’ll want to feel like I’m having the best retirement I can. So, I do what do and I made goals for myself to keep motivated and active. Or as I titled it, “How to Not Become a Lazy Bum:”

  • Do something productive at least each weekday – e.g., exercise, read, apply for jobs, etc.
  • Look for things to consider as accomplishments – Sometimes we don’t give ourselves credit for the important things we do each day.
  • Leave the house at least four out of five weekdays – Perhaps this seems odd, but I’ve seen how easy it is to become a recluse over time
  • Keep a clean apartment – My nightmares include dying alone in a filthy apartment that the fire department has to bulldoze through to extract my felineravaged body. I also find it harder to think if there is chaos around me.
  • Keep a journal of the things I’m doing –  I cannot tell you how much tracking my daily accomplishments has helped me from feeling like a useless layabout. I accomplishment quite a bit on an average day.
Glass of Water on ice, Photo cr: StockPhotosforFree.com
Photo cr: StockPhotosforFree.com
4. MAINTAINED HEALTHY HABITS

I’ve worked out in the mornings for at least the last 6 years. At first, it was to ward against the end of day workout killers of “I’m too  tired,” or the “I’d rather go to happy hour,” and other distractions. Now, while I certainly enjoy that benefit, I also like that starting my day with something that’s good for me, mentally and physically.

I didn’t want unemployment to lead to my blowing up Sumo-size. So, I make it a point to continue to work out several times a week and not turn practice trash compactor-like eating. It’s so easy to graze on food when you’re at home. I work out at home and I also find ways to get active outside, to which San Francisco’s weather is usually conducive.

I try to walk as much as I can. When I worked, even though I took the bus, I still got in an extra mile a day just walking to and from bus stops. I didn’t want to lose that advantage, so I use the Moves app to make sure I’m walking enough.

I got into the habit of drinking water regularly in my twenties because of it’s health benefits. At work it was easy enough to keep up the practice with a large water bottle I’d keep on my desk. Now that I’m home, I make it a point to get in my regular intake of water each day. This is one of the ways I know I’ve grown up. I care about my daily water intake.

5. TOOK TIME TO REFLECT

Initially, I was antsy to return to work. After working continuously for over 10 years, it barely occurred to me to think of anything else. A few weeks of disinterestedly applying for jobs, bored senseless by the role descriptions, I realized that by jumping into yet another job, i might be wasting this opportunity to make a change. How many times have I complained that I don’t feel like the office life is for me? That I don’t like slaving away to make some faceless person wealthier. That I find it ridiculous how executives catastrophize situations and trickle down their stress to employees as though the cure for cancer is slipping through their fingers on a daily basis. My 25-year old self knew she didn’t much like working in an office, whether it’s in the confines of the corporate or a fast-paced fancy start-up.  While I’ve managed to fake it well, it’s not who I am. The more time that goes by, the harder it is to survive in a world where I don’t fit in. I felt off-center after the mindwreck of my last job.

Girl Meditating on Water Photo by Abigail Corpus, flickr.com | The Girl Next Door is Black
Photo cr: Abigail Corpus, flickr.com

A friend told me I needed to take time for myself. “I live by myself and the only other creatures I take care of are two cats. Who else am I spending time on?” Upon reflection, I understood what she meant. The very nature of my career involved giving to and taking care of others’ needs. I spent the majority of my days solving other people’s problems. By the end of many workdays and work weeks, I was too spent for much else.

I needed to take this time to get back to WHO I AM. I’d lost myself.

I have savings (having learned from the first time around!) and I figured now is as good a time as any to invest in giving myself a break to step back, reassess and really consider my next steps.

I explored my natural interests and delved in to the activities I found interesting in hopes of leading myself toward my new path.

I made the rounds with my family and friends whom before I didn’t have as much time for. I reunited with several friends, including a few whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I knew these friends surfaced in my life at this time for a reason. I figured I had something to learn from them or maybe even something to share. I welcomed these opportunities not just as a chance to catch up with old friends and nurture those friendships, but to see what unfolds as a result. What doors will open for me? What new angles will I notice?

I also enlisted the help of my friends in my search for direction. My career counselor suggested asking friends and former co-workers for their thoughts on what career fit they envision for me, for their thoughts on my strengths. Not only do I think it touched them that I asked for their input, their feedback helped to gel a few ideas that had sloshed around in my head for a while.

Being laid off can rock your world, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a result of my layoff. I’ve been ready for a change. I’ve undergone a transformation and it hasn’t been the easiest. I got really depressed at one point, but I made it through. I feel like I’ve returned to center. I recognize myself again. For the first time in over a decade, if not longer, I have a true sense of direction, one about which I feel confident. I know what I want to do next. Now it’s just a matter of making it work and having faith that things will work out. I am excited to see how my life continues to unfold.

Have you gone through a layoff or experienced prolonged unemployment? How did you keep busy? How did you maintain your sanity and sense of self?

I Woke Up Thirtysomething

photo cr: Alan Cleaver, flicrk.com
photo cr: Alan Cleaver, flicrk.com

 

“As you sit in your rocking chair at the age of 100, what might be a regret you will have if there was something(s) you did not do/achieve/try?”

I stared at the question on the work/life reflection worksheet given to me by my career counselor. One of several questions aimed at helping me find my “passion.” The idea being once I discover this elusive passion, I can direct my efforts toward an endeavor I’d truly find satisfying and meaningful, instead of middling through a career that like a perfunctory meal, provides nourishment, but doesn’t inspire, isn’t particularly memorable or something you want to effusively praise to your friends.

Things I’d regret not doing? I don’t even know what I’m doing 6 months from now! Since I stepped onto the other side of 30 it seems time hurtles by like it’s in a foot race. Occasionally, the race is interrupted by brief pause, an allowance for me to catch my breath. During one recent pause, feeling particularly present, I realized: I am not sure how I even got here. Whose life is this? One day I woke up with a career, a recruiter describing my resume as “impressive” and people asking me for advice because they think I know things. When did that happen? Was it not just yesterday when I moaned to my friend that no one seems to take you seriously in your twenties? But, that was years ago now.

I ask myself, what do I want my life to look like at 40? That’s my next major birthday milestone. It’s a tough question. In younger days the path was clearer, the choices more binary. Each phase ended with a right of passage: a graduation, a year ending dance, an exam of life-altering importance.

Then it’s welcome to adulthood! You’re in the real world now, baby! The paths are many: crooked, narrow, hazy, smooth, booby-trapped, newly paved, yellow-bricked or bumpy. There are fewer guideposts along the way to center you, fewer checkpoints that allow you to ask, “Am I going the right way?” Seemingly endless options, and like a menu with too many entrees, at times overwhelming. If you don’t choose well, you risk waking up after another blurred lapse of time wondering, “How did I get here?

photo cr: Lululemon Athletica, flickr.com
photo cr: Lululemon Athletica, flickr.com

When thirty neared, I had a serious crisis of confidence. During the post-college years I’d spent pursuing an unconventional life of meaning, deciding to pursue a longstanding dream of being an actress, a great many of my college friends had spent their time building careers, marrying and starting families. While I plodded through jobs unfulfilling jobs – to me, the kind of work I took on was for survival, not intrinsic satisfaction – my peers were taking glamorous international trips, buying their first homes, continuing on to grad school, talking about 401ks and life insurance and I was doing…what? Nothing I was proud of. After a few years, I recognized that the business of Hollywood isn’t for me and felt lost. Now what? For quite a while, I viewed the period I spent pursuing  an acting career as a waste, a decision that set me back.

I enjoy reading autobiographies and stories about other’s lives. They are fascinating and often inspirational. In my twenties, reading bios detailing all the incredible accomplishments other people have achieved, I often feel like I’d done nothing to feel prideful over. Being surrounded by the conspicuous consumption culture of Los Angeles and living paycheck to paycheck didn’t help. Near thirty, I realized that I wasn’t being fair to myself or giving myself enough credit for all that I had experienced, seen and overcome. I climbed out of my well of self-pity and focused on the trajectory of my life for the next few years. What did I want to create, see, and do? Who did I want to become? I created a vision board. Make fun if you like, but I’ve been able to strike through a lot of things on that vision board because I’ve achieved them.

If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned about life in my 30+ years, it’s that it’s full of surprises. I may set the framework for what I hope for in my life, but the actual content is harder to predict and I’m mostly okay with that. Some aspects have unfolded in ways I would never have imagined. I would not have predicted that I’d live in Los Angeles for over a decade, quickly tire of Hollywood shenanigans, dump my starving artist life and return to the world of business. I wouldn’t have guessed that today I’d be single, childfree and living in San Francisco working for a tech startup. I enjoy and appreciate my life, but it’s not the one I thought I’d have. At 22, I thought by now – mostly due to the narratives we’re told through books, visual media and society – that I’d be married, have a couple of kids (a boy and a girl, of course) and have a high-powered job doing something worthwhile.

photo cr:  Lel4nd, flickr.com
photo cr: Lel4nd, flickr.com

When I attempt to write the story of what life will be like for me at 40, I come up blank. I’m still on the fence about having kids. Some days I want to, other days I don’t and time isn’t on my side, Halle Berry’s amazing uterus notwithstanding. [Though, if I do decide to remain childfree, San Francisco is apparently the best place to do so!] I am realistic enough to consider that I may not find that life partner to share my future with and I have to account for that in my vision. Even my past dreams of owning a home are up in the air. I no longer think about owning a home in the suburbs because the word “suburb” scares me. I don’t know what kind of job I want or in what field. I’d love to live outside of the United States in France or Brazil or many other places and travel the world meeting interesting people, having stimulating experiences. I’d like to be fluent in at least one other language. There is a long list of things I’d like to accomplish, but no comprehensive story.

For now I’ve come up with simply this:

When I’m 40, I want:
  1. to be happy;
  2. to feel proud of my accomplishments;
  3. to continue having awe-inspiring, thought-provoking experiences;
  4. to continue learning;
  5. to feel like I’m progressing as a person;
  6. to have love in my life, whether that be the love of family and friends or them + life partner and children.;
  7. to keep traveling internationally (and domestically);
  8. a dog (and for my favorite cat to be around and kicking in his geriatric years).

Whatever it takes to get to achieve these things, I’ll set the stage and life can flesh out the script and fill in the cast of characters. My role is to stay focused on my goals and remember as often as I can, not to take the days for granted. Time isn’t going to slow down for me.

You have to live life deliberately. It’s all too easy to put things off, only to find one day you’ve lost precious time that you can’t recover.

 

I Admit It: I Love L.A.

Giant Blue Bear on 405 Freeway Los Angeles | The Girl Next Door is Black
Seen on the 405S while on my way to work one day. The traffic was so insane it took me 2 hours to go 4 miles, with 13 miles more to go. I was so tired of being in my car. But, I got a good laugh when I saw these bears on the truck bed in front of me.

I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Los Angeles by the time I left in 2012 after over 10 years of calling it home.

My biggest complaint about L.A. is the heinous, constant traffic. It’s terrible and it’s a regular topic of conversation in L.A. Few cities in the US compare.

I moved to San Francisco full of hope and relieved to live in a true walking city.  No more daily near-death incidents on the freeway! No more road rage! No more wondering why everyone in a BMW seems to drive like a tool.

My how things have changed.

Watts Tower Los Angeles, California | The Girl Next Door is Black
I was homesick for L.A. | Watts Towers in South Los Angeles

By the end of the my second month in San Francisco, I was pretty depressed. I had no friends, the job wasn’t what I thought it would be, my apartment building is old and seems to have no noise insulation whatsoever. I pay what’s essentially a mortgage to hear my upstairs neighbors’ every elephant-ine moves and sometimes entire conversations (sadly, nothing interesting).

In a very dense city of close to one million people, I felt lonelier than I have in a long while.

Around the same time, I had to head back to L.A. for my dear friend’s bridal shower.

It was exactly what I needed.

Three months in San Francisco allowed me to see Los Angeles with new eyes again.

When I picked up my rental car at LAX, the agent asked , “What kind of car would you like? Do you want a car that gets good mileage?”

I scoffed.

“No, I don’t care about that! Which is the fastest in this class?”

He pointed me toward a cute, gray VW Jetta with a V6 engine Sorry, Earth.

Roosevelt Hotel's Tropicana Bar pool Hollywood Los Angeles, California | The Girl Next Door is Black
The Roosevelt Hotel‘s Tropicana Bar pool. Look at those trees! | Hollywood

As I sped toward my old neighborhood, in the warm sunshine, with the windows open, letting the breeze circulate, singing at the top of my lungs to a song on Power 106, shaking my booty in the seat, I felt so at peace. On the freeway. On the awful 405 freeway that I’ve written scathing yelp reviews about and I felt at peace.

It was comforting. I missed the benefits of solo time spent in my car. I can’t sing at the top of my lungs in my current apartment – everyone would hear. I still have my car, but I drive so rarely these days. I didn’t realize how important that personal time was.

The palm trees were as gorgeous and magnificent as I remember thinking they were when I’d moved there over a decade ago.

I thought: the sun really does love this place! How can it be so impossibly beautiful, warm and bright?

A friend who’d lived up in Berkeley for undergrad warned me when I told him I was considering San Francisco, “You’re going to miss the weather.

“Yeah, yeah, I know, everyone says, ‘the weather is so amazing.'”

I liked it, some days even deeply appreciated it, but, I realize now just how much I took it for granted. I really think the sun sets up camp there and just visits other cities from time to time.

The trip went by in a blur. I met up with former co-workers and other close friends, including my older friend J___ who is almost like a surrogate mom to me. We, the bridesmaids, pulled off an excellent bridal shower and made the bride happy.

I’m so glad I went back.

I released the pent-up emotion that had built since I moved to San Francisco. Being back in L.A. made me feel normal. My friends’  warm welcomes reminded me that I I’m not alone. I am loved. That I am someone people want to befriend.

I understand Los Angeles. I once functioned as part of the city. A sense of inclusion in your city is more important than I ever realized.

"Home Is Little Tokyo" mural at 1st and Central in Los Angeles. http://www.publicartinla.com/Downtown/Little_Tokyo/home_little_tokyo.html cr. The City Project, flickr.com
“Home Is Little Tokyo” mural at 1st and Central in Los Angeles. This mural reflects the rich history of Little Tokyo. When Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, a number of African-Americans repopulated the area, including Charlie Parker. cr: The City Project, flickr.com
Golden State Burger Los Angeles Fairfax | The Girl Next Door is Black
A group of my friends and I had a “burger club.” We tried to taste as many of the gourmet burgers in L.A.’s ever-growing burger scene. | Golden State Burger, Los Angeles

When I left L.A. that weekend, I said and felt something that I so rarely did in the time that I lived there: “I love Los Angeles!”

I love that in a city largely ruled by the entertainment industry, we clap as the credits roll at a movie’s end.

I love that there is so much amazing food of all types of cuisines.

I missed the unique/break-the-rules/bold/relaxed/trend-setting fashionI forgot how seeing the way others dressed inspired me to push beyond my fashion boundaries.

Was it my imagination or did some of the guys get cuter since I left?

I miss the train-wreck-style “entertainment” of high-speed car chases.

I miss the morning show on KROQ and waking up to the cheery crew at KTLA Morning News.

I liked that I didn’t see hipsters every.where.I.looked. Hipsters have their own neighborhoods in L.A.

Hearing people argue about which eatery in the city has the best Mexican food never stops being amusing.

One thing that hasn’t changed: I still hate LAX.

I knew I didn’t want to move back though. At least not until I give San Francisco at least a year. Even then, I left Los Angeles for a reason and I didn’t make the decision lightly. Moving back might feel comforting at first, but eventually the same elements that made me want to leave will probably arise again. It hasn’t been the easiest move, but I know that the experience is good for me.

I really needed that trip. I needed a reset. I needed closure with Los Angeles.

When I returned to San Francisco, I felt reinvigorated.

I owe Los Angeles an apology. I didn’t appreciate it enough when I lived there. I spent most of my 20s in L.A. and I will forever be linked to the city via my memories.

I now find myself protective of Los Angeles. I will defend it.

It’s not the kind of city you can live in for a year, or even three years, and think you get it. You cannot possibly get it. The city is huge!

If you’ve only been to Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice, you probably don’t know Los Angeles. What about Echo Park, Monterrey Park, Baldwin Hills, Burbank, Studio City, Leimert Park, Pasadena or Highland Park?

There’s an ad that plays here in SF, sponsored by Discover Los Angeles. I used to think it was beckoning me to return. A female voiceover says – and I’m paraphrasing:

Just when you think you’ve seen all I have to offer, there’s more.

Thank you, Los Angeles. I owe you a lot. Now, it’s San Francisco’s turn.

Los Angeles Snowglobe | The Girl Next Door is Black
Kisses & Hugs L.A.