I have a friend who has been unemployed for a while now. And I confess—I have not been altogether sympathetic to her situation. For one thing, I’ve been self-employed just about all my life, so the idea of getting unemployment benefits seems like a luxury to me, especially as my friend doesn’t have any dependents, and does have a comfortable financial cushion.
For another thing, my friend hated her job, so it seems as if this is in some ways a fortunate opportunity. Plus . . . she was one of the last people laid off after successive down-sizing moves in a large, troubled company—so arguably, there’s not much to be ego-wounded about, and it wasn’t any sort of surprise.
And yet, my friend has been in a deep and deepening depression since the day she got her official notice. I honestly did not understand this until I heard a recent interview with Dominique Browning on CNN’s Reliable Sources. Browning, who had been editor-in-chief of House and Garden for twelve years, began a steep emotional descent when the magazine was suddenly shut down. In the interview, she describes herself as a “zombie” and the experience as a “nightmare.” The fact that Browning was a very successful professional, living far from the edge of economic hardship, made little difference in terms of the way unemployment turned her life upside down.
Browning walks us through the experience in Slow Love, a new memoir that Publishers Weekly calls “enchanting, funny, [and] deeply gracious.” For a while, Browning can’t stop baking muffins (she gains fifteen pounds), and as she navigates sleepless nights and panicky days, she confronts her own life in a deep and difficult way. Read a generous excerpt in the New York Times—and don’t miss the comments, which come from both ends of the sympathy spectrum.
Needless to say, Browning’s story has a happy ending: She rediscovers herself, moves to a small town, and becomes a blogger. (Really.) Also needless to say, many if not most folks don’t have the luxury of reinventing themselves quite so completely. But Browning’s story has a lot to share, no matter whether you are coping with vocation disruption yourself, or trying to understand someone else’s challenge.
Especially valuable: We are reminded by Slow Love of the ways we use work to structure our days, define our identities, and (often) distract ourselves from personal problems. It happens that Browning loved her job—but many people, like my friend, find they miss jobs they didn’t like a bit. So (here’s the relevant bit) it’s worth remembering that when the unemployed go out into the world as job-seekers, they are not looking just for a replacement paycheck. They are also looking for a place to to reconstruct a vital aspect of their life that has gone missing.
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