Commentary > Everyday Money
The upside to unemployment
You may be buried in the lemons life has thrown you. But there might be some sugar within reach.
April 2, 2003: 5:17 PM EST
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/ Senior Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - You don't have to be Einstein to figure out the distinct disadvantages of being laid off.

The potential for financial stress, a prolonged state of unemployment and a hefty dose of rejection are just three. The press and pink-slip partygoers have done a great job reviewing those downsides and their remedies.

Considerably less attention, however, has been paid to the possible silver linings. Not only do they exist, but they may benefit you for a lifetime.

Here are just a few:

Honey, I met the kids. Parents who lose their jobs may get a special dividend from the involuntary pauses in their careers. "I've gotten much closer to my kids than people working full-time ever can. I think I know my kids better than any of my peers," said one father of two, a communications executive who spent nearly two years without a full-time job.

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An attorney who never thought she'd be a good stay-at-home mom echoes that sentiment. "I can be very maternal. I found I really enjoy it," she said of being at home full-time with her 20-month-old daughter. "I can't believe how much I've gotten to know her personality. We have such a stronger bond."

In fact, if she hadn't gotten laid off, "I wouldn't have even known what I was missing," she said.

Hey, what was that? Oh, a deep breath. A pink slip and a dismal job market also have given the attorney a little respite from feeling torn all the time. She used to feel guilty at work, thinking she should be with her daughter; and then felt guilty she wasn't working more when she spent time with her child. "Getting laid off took the guilt off of me. It was a relief almost," she said.

Also gone are the days of tag-team parenting with her husband, who runs his own business. "Before it was always racing. That's the one thing I really don't miss," she said, adding that now "we do so much more together as family, quality-time wise."

There's also the kind of deep breathing that comes from being in better shape, a definite possibility when you have sunny afternoons to yourself. "I have the best chest and biceps of my life," said one former Wall Street marketing consultant who's been out of work since July 2002.

Trading your workaholic self for a more Zen model. Even if you don't have kids, there's great relief to be had from the push-pull of a career.

"I guess I was more burnt out than I realized. I find it absolutely painful to read the Wall Street Journal," said one former executive from the financial services industry who just turned 40 and is treating her recent layoff as a midcareer break.

"I wonder why I have no interest in reading about my industry," she said. "I wonder, 'Do I need a break?' or 'Do I really need a break?'"

Right now, she's taking yoga and fantasizing about becoming a food importer.

The former Wall Street marketing consultant with the buff biceps also has gotten his attitude in shape. He's now pursuing marketing work in "recession-proof" industries that are more in line with his interests, even though such jobs pay half what he used to make.

"If I take two steps back now, this will allow me to take four steps forward," he said. And at 34, he appreciates that it's easier for him to work for a smaller paycheck now than when he was 25 and buried in student loan debt.

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What's more, he understands the onus is on him to adapt to the new wrinkles of the work world. "The world has changed," he acknowledges. "If I don't change with it, I'll be left behind. It's one of life's lessons."

Redefining "fine." Realizing that you can get by on less for a sustained period of time can build inner strength and a greater awareness that money is far from everything.

"I felt I always had to work. This made me realize I don't have to work," said the attorney-turned-full-time-mom, who noted that she and her family have cut back but know they can survive. "We're doing fine."

Being out of work has just reinforced what the communications executive with two kids always knew. "I've learned to keep things more in perspective," he said. Health and happiness, not money, are the biggest issues for him.

Getting some real perspective. Losing your job no longer has the stigma it once did. There are just too many talented, successful people out of work these days who were blown off-course by the winds of economic or corporate change.

Knowing you're in good company not only can make a layoff easier to handle. It also can impart a larger lesson that applies to areas well beyond your career.

"You ultimately can do your best, but you can't control many factors," said the communications executive. "You have to just roll with it."

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/Money. She also appears regularly on CNNfn's "Your Money," which airs weeknights at 5 p.m. For comments on this column or suggestions for future ones, please e-mail her at  Top of page

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