June 12, 2009
Time management: Staying productive, fulfilled after a layoff is an acquired skill
A few days after she was laid off in March, Dina Schipper’s husband asked if she could make sure the dry cleaners came to pick up his shirts.
It was a perfectly routine domestic request, something she would have done without thinking twice while she was working. But now it sent Schipper, who had been media relations director at a New Jersey science museum for a decade, into a tailspin of self-doubt. “I was thinking, ‘Oh no, is this what I have become?’ ” she says.
For all but the luckiest ones, the overriding question is, “How will I support myself and my family?” But along with that comes another immediate question, more mundane but vexing nonetheless: “How do I spend my time?”
Andrew Lisy, laid off from a Wall Street job in February, counts himself among the luckier ones. At 24 and with nobody to support, the Manhattan bond trader was just beginning his post-college career. He figures he has the savings and severance pay to tide him over for six months.
His approach has been to immerse himself in new projects as he ponders the next step. Lisy spends several hours a day on a social networking site he created, The Free Agents (freeagentnet.com), where members can meet others recently unemployed and swap tips on life between jobs.
Others look for fulfillment — and job leads — in volunteer efforts. Eric Shutt, 23, was laid off from a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. He’s getting by on unemployment benefits, which cover his rent, and with some help from his family. While he looks for a job in communications, he’s volunteering for Artomatic, which stages free art displays and other cultural events in unfinished indoor spaces.
Shutt says he took the news of his layoff “as a good thing, which is partly a defense mechanism and partly real.” Mostly, he says, “I wasn’t going to let this thing take me down.” He hopes his volunteer experience will spark new opportunities as he gets his career going.
Data from the government’s American Time Use Survey show that when women are unemployed and looking for a job, the time they spend on child care and housework is far greater than that of unemployed men. (Not surprising, since employed women spend more time on child care and housework than employed men do.)
Schipper spends more time now at her daughter’s school. She carpools kids to rehearsals. She recently attended her first Brownie meeting. Those are the positives. The negative is the continuing struggle to maintain a sense of purpose and structure to those hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
“Everyone says to me, ‘This is the best thing that’s ever happened to you,’ ” says Schipper, who’s working on starting her own business. “But what about on Monday morning, when I wake up and say, ‘OK, now what do I do?’ It’s been a mixed experience.”
Mixed for her, but a boon to the household: “I feel like I always need to be doing something,” she says. “So I’ll vacuum. I’ll mop the floor. What next? OK, I’ll polish the silver!”
Peter Sterling has also found an outlet for his energies in both child care and household work. The 43-year-old advertising executive was living and working in Los Angeles when news of his layoff came in a call from the New York office. The next day, he gave notice on his rented condo and planned a move to Phoenix, where his young children were living with his ex-wife and where he owned a house.
“That was the best therapy, to take definitive action right away,” Sterling says. After the move, he focused on renovating his house by day and spending time with his kids, ages 7 and 12, in the evening. “I guess I didn’t realize how miserable I was not seeing my kids every day,” he says.
Retiree Lou Kramberg, 60, isn’t looking for full-time work anymore. But neither was he ready to stop working entirely when he was downsized out of his part-time consulting work doing training at New York City hospitals, a skill he honed over a 35-year career.
And so he decided to do the same thing for free, teaching computer literacy and job-seeking skills at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in Manhattan. His students include Holocaust survivors, new immigrants and the newly unemployed.
“It’s such a pleasure being able to give back,” says Kramberg, living now on his pension. Besides, he says, the alternative was not ideal.
“I could have stayed home and driven my wife crazy,” he says.
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