I sat in my office in stunned silence. Anxiety squeezed my heart, and tears filled my eyes. I was being let go from the job that I loved passionately for more than seven years. In a moment, with one sentence, my world fell in.
Gone would be the clients I had grown to love and care for. Gone would be the co-workers and friends who were an important part of my life and had, in some ways, become a support system for me.
As I walked to my car this past Jan. 20, the wind seemed colder, and the sky darker. I felt so alone. I sat in my car for 30 minutes and cried. I don't remember driving home; I don't remember the conversation I had with my wife. I only remember experiencing the feeling of great loss.
I went into a period of grief that lasted almost three months. Feelings of failure and loss wrapped around me like a heavy shroud. Fear and self-doubt took root in my heart. I was 53 years old. Who is ever going to hire me? Yes, I had a master's degree in counseling, but I graduated a couple of years before the rules changed, and now most places are looking for people with a license in counseling. To pursue licensing would cost thousands of dollars.
I applied for unemployment, and began my search for work. Soon I was receiving rejection email after rejection email stating that, while I had great credentials, someone else ended up being a "better fit." I had two interviews that had gone well, but both fell through.
I read books on being positive and thinking like a winner. I tried having an upbeat attitude, looking for the silver lining. Some well-meaning friends even reminded me that God was in charge and he had a plan, and that whenever he closes a door he opens a window. But honestly, it seemed like he was slamming windows on my fingers again and again.
After six months, I needed to report to unemployment to recertify my claim by submitting a job search form indicating that I was indeed looking for work. I also needed to sit through a video that was intended to encourage and enlighten me on new ways to find work. Unfortunately, I was already doing all of the things suggested.
I was also instructed to speak with one of the job counselors. When I was called, I asked the counselor, holding back tears, what she could do to help me. She told me to just keep looking, and broaden my search to include jobs similar to what I was trained to do. But again, I was doing that.
It has been close to 11 months now and I am still looking for work. There are times that I feel hopeless, and I have a new concern that, as we approach the "fiscal cliff," my unemployment will come to an end on Dec. 31. But being out of a job has also reminded me of a great gift.
During this time, my family has been a great encouragement. Also, my friends from my former job and friends from my past didn't disappear, but have been an amazing support. They keep in contact with me continually and they are there for me whenever I need a listening ear.
So if there is a silver lining in the emotional ups and downs of the past year, it is the treasure of unconditional love I have experienced from so many people. I am both humbled and blessed.
Mark Lee Schnitzer, a counselor who lives in West Seneca, tries to see the silver lining in a difficult year.