As an employment lawyer, I spent every working day of two years with people who had just been fired or were terrified they were about to lose their jobs. Although it became “normal” to deal with this subset of the population, I never for a moment trivialized the fact that our clients were essentially existing in crisis. So when they came to us, on time at their scheduled appointment times, looking put together and completely patient to our own hectic schedules, I appreciated every effort I knew they must have made.
Some studies say that most Americans are only two paychecks away from poverty. And some of our clients were single parents, or even just people with rent to pay. Aside from health issues of family, losing a job was the worst thing that could ever happen.
Most of us will never have to know what it’s like to be unemployed. But I do- the freedom and possibility on its good days and the absolute desperation and humiliation on its worst. I know that the few times I have gone several months without a job, it was by choice or choosiness, or at least a consequence of decisions I made, like how much to study for a test, what school to attend, holding out for “the dream”, or moving.
But there is something truly humbling about juxtaposing the moments where we excel on a standardized test, give a resounding oral argument or public speech, submit an award-winning paper or piece of art, have a client or customer tell us emphatically that we made a tremendous difference in their life with those moments of sitting across an interviewer and convincing them we would be the best candidate for their unimaginative and pathetically low-salaried job.
I have loved ones right now facing these fears- whether it’s trying to line up a job for the next phase, worrying about an unpredictable market or going out on their own after a downsizing. I’ll be the one person that never says, “it’s just a job.” Because I know better.