Here are just a few of the ways I am different since I stopped working full time:
Helping Others: Never have I felt so vulnerable, at the mercy of others and sometimes downright desperate for someone to give me a hand. I have joined networking groups, made friends and expanded friendships with people who are also unemployed, and done my best to spend time with others who could help me in my search and lend a contact here and there. My sympathy for the unemployed, the homeless, the downtrodden and the needy is at a higher level than it has ever been and I know that I will be a better friend and volunteer because of this experience.
Good Health Care: My COBRA expires next month and I will lose my BlueCrossBlueShield Federal plan. Recognizing this was happening, I have spent the first half of this year catching up on all the doctor visits and medical appointments while I still had choices. I do not understand why legislation has not been enacted to allow employees to continue COBRA coverage beyond 18 months since the insured pays the full cost plus a premium. Starting next month I will be enrolled in an HMO that costs almost as much as my current plan but doesn't come close to its benefits; none of my current doctors are covered (many I have seen for more than 10 years). While I am glad that there is an affordable option, I am saddened that the cost is high and the benefits are inflexible and far fewer. Health care is a privilege, not a right. I now realize how fortunate I was to have had that great coverage.
Cost Per Hour: I have taken on several consulting and part time hourly jobs during this period including a very short stint working for an estate sales company, a month as a Census worker, a few weeks as a special events consultant, provided administrative support for a conference, performed some brief government relations work, helped write a federal grant application, served on a review panel for federal grants, and a few other miscellaneous tasks. Additionally, I have participated in paid surveys, clipped coupons, shopped at consignment stores, consigned some of my clothing, sold items on eBay and sold used books on Amazon. I have also taken in boarders including international students and others assigned to the Washington, DC area temporarily. In short, I have taken advantage of every opportunity I can think of to make a little money while waiting for full time employment.
Getting an hourly wage makes you think differently about expenses. 3 hours of Census work would pay for the pressure cooker I recently purchased. That is a lot of hard work for a pressure cooker. I would have had to work for 10 hours at the Census to pay the grocery bill for last week. Now when I shop, I look closely at every price. I think I appreciate my purchases more, too. I don't know if the pressure cooker was the smartest purchase I have made, but it is fun to have a new toy.
Appreciating Living Things: While I have always been a nature lover, this time has opened my eyes to many little things I had previously taken for granted such as spider webs with drops of morning dew, the sound of the cicadas, the fireworks of the lightening bugs, the late afternoon and early morning light in the garden, new life in the pond (the minnows had a slew of babies and the tiny black tadpoles have turned into tiny little timid frogs), the antics of my old dog, the annoying but really cute chipmunks that live in the garden, my amazing bullfrogs, and the night noises of the owls, coyotes and foxes. When I was running around trying to multitask while working full time, I paid no attention to most of these things.
Slowing Down: I take my time doing some things now and try to make them more enjoyable. Ironing, cooking, washing dishes, and even cleaning are tasks that formerly got in the way of other things, or I paid someone else to do. As I have de-stressed, I have learned to make lemonade out of the lemony activities. And if a project at home doesn't get finished in record time, it really doesn't matter.
Volunteering: I have done more volunteering during my extended time off than I have since I became a Mom (26 years ago). Volunteering isn't optional for me anymore. Hard working smart volunteers are needed by many organizations in so many capacities. I have enjoyed doing different things with charitable groups and meeting new people. There will always be a place for me somewhere and I plan to keep up with this new habit.
- When I was weeding the garden, a tiny baby tree frog hopped on my hand. I like to think that it was one of those that I raised from tadpoles in the safety of a colander in the pond (to keep the fish from eating them).
- I lost a pearl earring and found it at the end of the day.
- I received two very sweet cards from friends who care about me.
- I received a gift of two female bullfrogs to put in the pond full of male frogs. They are all quite happy and contented and there is a lot of noise out there in the evenings.
- A friend made a job connection for me today.
- My guests from Spain took me out to dinner on Friday night and I took them to Great Falls Park, Maryland, and for a night drive through DC.
- My serissa bonsai bloomed - tiny white flowers. Beautiful.
I am different now, in a more compassionate, relaxed and appreciative way. Maybe those are the lessons I needed to learn before moving to the next job. I'm ready. Really ready. But I'm cool about it and meanwhile I continue de-stressing and am open to more change experiences.