Let’s get real. Unemployment is not a vacation.
For years I wanted to move back to Montana, returning to where I grew up, around my family and my childhood friends. I think many people who leave Montana have a longing to move home. It was no secret to me that finding a job back in this big beautiful state can be tough. I tried off and on over the years and heard from people who made the move back about how impossible it was to find work, or at least jobs that matched their experience or out-of-state income. Even now I know someone looking to move back and he can’t seem to find a job.
In December of 2017, when I came back I thought it wasn’t necessarily going to be permanent. Leading up to that time, I spent MONTHS looking for a job in Montana without any leads. Instead, I was actively interviewing with Keen in Portland, OR and had, shortly after the New Year, been offered a very lucrative job there. Which I turned down. I love Portland and have many friends there (I previously lived there for 8 years)…. so why did I turn it down when I was needing a job? Well I knew on the drive home from California to visit my family that Christmas that I wanted to stay in Montana. I grew up there, my parents were still there and of course I also met a guy there at that same time. I always put my career ahead of moving home and I was at the age where it felt sort of “now or never”. So I made the decision to stick it out and see what I could find. Surely it would be easier to find a job in Montana when I was living there. Surely something would come about.
Nothing came about. Four months passed so without any leads in Montana, I found myself interviewing once again with a shoe company in Portland: Nike. They flew me to Oregon for my second very comprehensive team interview. Hoping against hope that they would let me work remote, they ultimately said the position had to be based in Oregon, so I once again declined and decided to pursue other avenues. At this time I was helping with the political campaign for the guy I was dating. I was busy going door-to-door, updating his Instagram & website, going to fundraisers, and reporting his campaign finances to the state. While unpaid, I enjoyed it so I started to do direct sales as a side hustle to feel somewhat financially productive. In the fall I picked up substitute teaching jobs, did some consulting for a bra company and filled in at the chamber of commerce to cover a maternity leave of an employee. All the while I was still looking, applying and interviewing for jobs.
Yet, still nothing. Well sometimes something. I often found myself applying for more junior positions to just get my foot in the door. It worked, but not the way I hoped. One company had me come into their HQ in Great Falls to meet with their CEO and VP who were pretty much trying to figure out a job that I could do for them. Nothing came from it, they didn’t have a budget for me at that time. Sometimes my achilles was, ironically, too much experience. Once I drove 6 hours in a blizzard (one way) for an interview. For that particular gig, I applied for a more junior role only to be offered a job the CEO created based on my resume. It was awesome and flattering and I took the job! Ten weeks later, the investors who owned the company came in and made significant layoffs, including eliminating my newly created role. The job was short lived, so there I was once again. Unemployed.
As many of us have experienced, looking for a job can be one of the hardest, most stressful things that one can go through. I can’t imagine how the stress would be for someone who has a family to support. For hours a day I looked on various websites searching for positions that were interesting, inspiring, and that I’m qualified to do. Moving home to Montana made the job search even more challenging – like a needle in a haystack. Sometimes I had to stop looking. I had to take a break. I couldn’t think about it anymore. I was tired. Unless you’re going through it, many people don’t understand the amount of stress one is under when not working and the immense pressure not only financially, but socially to be back at it. In fact, for me, the social part is what was the biggest struggle. When I met people they would ask “What is it you do?”. And it was awkward to justify that I was looking for work, between jobs or taking a break. My career had been my identity for years. I was proud of having a successful career and it felt odd to not have it.
Now combine the stress of looking for a job and the stress of social pressures to find a job ….with the stress of moving plus not having a home.
Unemployed + living out of a suitcase = Crazy
There you have it. I’ve been living out of a suitcase. I’ve been homeless and haven’t seen a good amount of my belongings since December of 2017 as they are boxed up in a storage unit.
I have bounced between my parents house and staying in the home of the man I date while I look for a job. I haven’t felt settled or at home for 20 months. It’s stressful and I’m surprised I have been able to go this long and not have a nervous breakdown. My loved ones have been very welcoming but in truth, it sucks. My parent’s house is definitely the main base since I can use some closet space and be in my childhood room. But I lived away from home for 25 years. So you can imagine the pros and cons of just moving in with my folks again. We both are going a little insane. And my boyfriend is a widower. I can’t feel at home surrounded by his late wife’s things and he’s not ready to make that change. At his place, I’m primarily living out of a suitcase (on the floor by the bed) which comes and goes with me.
Seems odd, right? What’s my deal? I’m an adult, so why didn’t I just get my own place? Well, think about it….you kind of want to live in the town you work in. So I put off renting or buying until I knew what town or city my job would be in. (Now I’m counting the days until I can unpack things and feel at home again. In Montana. Soon!!)
Not only was it wanting to be in Montana that made finding a job challenging, but I really wanted to do something new that was helping others. My perspective on life and career had changed. After some health issues years ago, I remember sitting in design meetings (at yet another shoe company) and that day we sat for hours debating details such as what color shoe laces we were going to use or what shade of brown leather would be best. I sat in the back in the conference room and pondered that someone somewhere in this world was getting the devastating news that they had cancer or another life changing/threatening disease and their life was crashing down around them ….and here we were wondering if we needed to add another blue flip flop. A flipping flip flop. My heart wasn’t in it anymore and I needed something to feel my life had more purpose, that it was helping to make an impact in this world. That I was giving back.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond lucky. I have people who love me plus money in the bank to do things I like to do. I was a saver when I had that career in corporate America and having that emergency fund has paid off. But don’t be fooled by Facebook or Instagram. The fact is, being out of work isn’t alway fun. I’ve been trying to make lemonade out of the lemons and counting my blessings. It’s been a test of perseverance.
If unemployment had a slogan it would be: It’s more work than working. Keep that in mind when talking to friends or family who are looking for work. Don’t ask them how the job search is going, because if it was going well they would be working! Just be supportive. Or better yet, help them network.
And if you know someone who wants to move back to Montana…..well tell them to be patient, to never stop looking for the right opportunity, and to trust that no matter what – Montana is worth it.