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Facing Unemployment In 2005

(1/5/05) The new year is nicely underway and for most people that means going back to work after some time off for the holidays. For WFAE commentator Gerry Soud it means more time swimming in the unsettled waters of unemployment.

As a 50-something baby boomer with a great resume and references, I'm adept at swimming with the sharks, but these days it seems I'm stuck in a school of guppies. Two years ago I was downsized from my big cheese corporate job and since then I've had more doors slammed in my face than a vacuum cleaner salesman.

Those who think rejection builds character need to work my side of the pond for a while where humanity soon resembles the face of a Kimodo dragon. At first, after being right-sized out of my job, I experienced an incredible lightness of being. I had a good severance package, possibilities were endless, and I possessed a resume that always found its way to the top of the food chain. I figured no one in right mind would ignore my well-documented talents.

I was wrong.

Two years later I'm still floating along with the guppies trying in vain to remind the sharks that I was once one of their star man-eaters. Before now I never gave much thought to all those people ignored or forgotten by the shark crowd. I was swimming along just fine and figured those folks didn't have the right stuff to swim with the big fish. They deserved their fate. Besides, I had paid my dues, my tickets were punched, and I knew how to win the game.

Wrong again.

These days I'm outside looking in and renewing my membership in the shark club fades with each passing week. One minute I want to blame the economy for my fate and the next a society that worships at the unwrinkled feet of youth. I dumb down my resume, consider dyeing my graying sideburns, and ride my bike for hours trying to convince myself that, as my daughter claims, 50-something is the new 30-something.

Some nights I wake in a cold sweat, my heart pounding, reminding me that tomorrow will likely bring another rejection letter or, as usual, just cold, hard silence from sharks who no longer give much thought to people like me. I'm the writer who can't attract a publisher; a speaker without an audience; the movie star whose agent no longer calls. A friend tells me it's an irrational system. Just keep networking. Something will break soon, he encourages. Maybe he thinks I will break soon.

These days my dog loves our long walks. We explore different routes seeking a new perspective on our lives, keeping our legs limber for what we still believe will come again. Once a week plastic recycle boxes line the street. I find myself hoping there's a box just for me.

From my bedroom office I watch a squirrel digging through autumn leaves. In the distance a young cat begins to stalk. I hear the steady breathing of my sleeping dog as he chases former glory. My reverie is interrupted as the guppies begin moving in the swift current. In the distance I see sharks circling. My 50-something resume is landing on another stranger's desk. It's another tough day at the office.