The tenacity of employment

This weekend I was talking to a friend whose company recently laid off about half of her co-workers.  As somebody who occasionally pays attention to the news, I’m aware that this kind of scenario is becoming pretty commonplace. Economic forces are in play that I don’t understand and are clearly unprecedented in my lifetime. Even under normal circumstances, I realize that layoffs are occasionally a part of doing business. I started working at my company back in July and I’ve seen several people be let go. Each time I was initially shocked and upset, having previously been sheltered from the experience of watching nice people lose their jobs for reasons of necessity.

This is the fifth job I’ve held. The one at which I’d seen the most turnover was a retail store, where people tended to lose their jobs only for obvious incompetence or disciplinary problems. For most of my life I haven’t perceived my own employment as a tenuous thing. My friend has a better-developed perspective, I think, having once been laid off herself. It’s probably easy to lose that view after you’ve been continuously employed for a while. Now she’s revisiting old thoughts about what would happen if she lost that security. She’s crafting a contingency plan. In my usual passive way, I’ve acknowledged that as a useful exercise but haven’t (yet) started applying it to my own life. I’m still absorbing the lesson–learned from her and others–that losing a job doesn’t mean permanent disaster, at least for most people.

I enjoy my work quite a bit, and I really like the people at my office. I’ve always felt pretty lucky to have found a job within three weeks of moving here. At any job, I’d like to think I’m such a great asset that there will always be a place for me, but that’s a delusional notion. The idea that I might someday be fired or laid off (for whatever reason) has, upon first contact with my conscious mind, caused a sort of panic-simulation. In this town I’d be competing with thousands of bright, educated folks–and I’m not even sure what kind of work I would go looking for, which kills the idea that I could win by being more driven than the next person. But I do have a savings account and a supportive family. I would figure something out and, in the long run, probably wouldn’t regret any of it.

This is only vague speculation, not based on any real fear that my job is in danger. When you start listening to the news, and hearing from more and more friends being affected by layoffs, it’s easy to feel that nobody is safe from malevolent economic trends. I’m just taking a moment to add “job” to the master list of things one shouldn’t take for granted in life. Gainful employment, like any other precious intangible, might disappear at any time for expected or unexpected reasons. Just remember to expect it without expecting it.

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