About 300 Chattanoogans and their families received bad news on Friday, that Carey Brown's many local affiliate companies would be shutting down and in the process lay off almost all of their employees. It's a blow on both an individual scale and to the local economy. I know firsthand from my time unemployed last year how the sudden loss of a job can come as a blow that not only challenges you professionally and financially, but also emotionally. Whether you are single and simply trying to squeak by on your own or are wondering how you will pay for your children's back-to-school expenses, unemployment is an anxious time. However, I think that what struggles an individual faces after losing their job can be mended by the community they are a part of.
As soon as I lost my job, I started to hustle. I knew this was not the time to let stress cleaning and binge-watching "Felicity" get the best of me. I also knew that any embarrassment or doubt I felt at losing my job needed to be put aside. The more people knew I was looking for work, the more opportunities I might find. Still, I give myself very little credit in getting back on my feet. Yes, I tried my hardest. My friends, acquaintances and business contacts gave me leads when they could, to be sure. But what made the biggest difference was remembering what had gotten me through college. I went to UTC with help from several scholarships, all of which were paid for by various members of the Chattanooga or Tennessee communities with the expectation I would pay them back, not monetarily, but through using my education to better my community.
Shelley Prevost tweeted this weekend, "Your success is in direct proportion to the service you provide to others." When I was hustling to find a new job, I made it my business to help out wherever possible and to keep my talents sharp around town by giving them to whoever needed them. It's like when you're applying to medical school—it's a plus on your résumé if you've already volunteered at a hospital. You shouldn't do this just to get in, of course, but because you're excited to get started on your career. A genuine interest in participation opens untold doors. Who doesn't love someone who cares about those around them and putting their skills to work for the greater good?
By engaging with your community and getting involved, by focusing on finding work through putting something positive out there bigger than yourself, you are creating a greater possibility of success. When I was trying to find work, I wasn't only filling out job applications. I was also looking for nonprofits I could write for or churning out music and film reviews for free. I needed writing samples, yes, but I was also excited to have time to get involved in this way. While I was working, it was easy to say I was too busy to get involved. Out of work I had no excuses.
If I was going to use my time to find a job, I figured I might as well go for a two in one. Business networking functions aren't the only place you can show what you're made of and put in good work. If you get known in your neighborhood association for being a team player who's eager to help out, a neighbor at a company that's hiring might see an attitude that would be an asset in the workplace. If someone sees a piece of work you did for a nonprofit, they might want to pay you a salary for something similar. If you're known for helping others, others are more likely to want to help you.
It's natural and understandable to withdraw when you're out of work. With less money, you're going to not go out so much and instead stay at home with close friends. You might feel pressure to stay in and keep pushing out more job applications, to start researching companies in faraway cities like Vancouver or Melbourne or Kansas City. Familiar faces are understanding in hard times and will spot you a beer when you need it. Still, push yourself to find new ways to contribute. Just because you've hit hard times doesn't mean you don't still have a lot to give.
Introduce yourself to new parts of your community beyond your old co-workers and your current friends. You never know where a new connection will take you, especially if you initiate with kindness, service and empathy. It can be hard to believe when your former employer has let you down, but you have to keep yourself open to the potential for good out there. When it comes to taking care of yourself, take care of your community first and spread the good. It might just come back to you when you need it most.
Meghan O'Dea is a 20-something writer, pop culture critic and social media fanatic. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter if you have questions, comments or stories on being a young adult in the workforce. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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