by Regan McMahon
In the first few weeks after I took the buyout, people would ask me, “Are you enjoying your time off?” I’d I tell them no, because I’m too nervous about finding another job in this terrible economy. I wasn’t on vacation. I wasn’t even going to lunch with friends. I’d spend each day glued to the computer, scanning job Web sites, hustling up and writing freelance assignments. I feel like a shark: I’ve got to keep moving to survive.
The first thing that shook me out of my panic pattern was my husband’s mom taking a turn for the worse. She’d been in declining health, and now it seemed as if she could go any day. Called to her bedside, I gave up the computer for a few days and was able to forget about myself, my problems, my bank account for a while. That did the trick: I returned to my daily life a little saner, a little less compulsive about finding work fast, a little more realistic about how long it might take to land something.
Some people figured I had timed my buyout perfectly. “So you can just kick back and enjoy the holidays and start job-hunting in January – way to go!” enthused my office pal Derrick before I left. Actually, I had hoped to get a job by Thanksgiving, but that didn’t work out. So, whether I like it or not, Derrick’s scenario became my Plan B.
I still need to network and keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities, and I have freelance writing assignments to keep me busy. But I need to give myself permission to take time off to go Christmas shopping and hang out with my kids, too. If work-life balance was important to me when I was employed, I can’t abandon it now that I’m unemployed.
My wake-up call came when my daughter was struggling in her English class. I asked her why she didn’t ask me to help her study. “You’re always at the computer,” she replied. And I realized I was no better than the parent who works 60 hours a week at the office and ignores his family. That guy may justify his actions by saying it’s what he needs to do to keep his job. I could justify mine buy saying it’s what I need to do to get a job, or to pay the bills while I’m between jobs. But I had to listen to my daughter. Perception is reality when it comes to kids. She clearly needed more of me than I was giving her.
So with that conversation in mind, I’m trying to wrap up my December assignments and leave space for family time. Family dinners are sacred in our home, so those were never in jeopardy. But I need to be open to the small moments, where my big, just-turned-15-year-old asks me to tuck her in, or make her tea for her sore throat, or watch “Gossip Girl” with her. Minutes spent in those pursuits won’t lead to a paycheck, but I have to face facts: No one gets hired at this time of year even in the best economy, so I might as well relax, recognize that the buyout funds will carry me through for now, and ramp up the job search in January. Some say businesses will be in freeze mode until after the Inauguration, when hope and change may lead to a thaw.
In the meantime, I’ve decided to invite my friends from the paper over for a holiday party. This will be the first time I’ve seen many of them since I left in the fall. It would be nice to be able to announce that I’ve got a hot new job, but I haven’t. So this will be a celebration of our friendship, pure and simple. I worked with most of these people for many years, and I miss them terribly. I chose to step into an uncertain future without them, and that story is yet to be written. Here’s hoping it’s a happy New Year for all of us.
To be continued 
Read Part One 
Read Part Two 
Read Part Three 
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports .