Thoughts on One Year of Unemployment

May 27, 2011 was my last day of employment. I can’t even begin to express how happy I am to not still be at my old job. The boring insurance regulations I struggled to memorize, the awful office politics, the back-stabbing egotistical corporate ladder climbers. Even as I shed tears for the work friends I was leaving behind, walking out the door on that last day was such a relief. But it’s really strange not having a job. It’s really weird depending on someone else when I spent so many years taking care of things myself.

I hated my job

I’m slowly starting to get over the fear of not having an income. There aren’t a lot of jobs I can do here without being proficient in German anyway, and right now I have a hard enough time ordering food. And I really don’t want to get sucked back into another office job I will end up hating. I spent nine years working in insurance, and I hated almost every minute of it. By the time I opened my eyes and admitted to myself that I hated it, I felt like it was too late to make a drastic change, so I just carried on for a few more years. One of my biggest fears is ending up in that situation again.

Things finally changed

The past year has been a crazy mix of ups and downs. I got to marry the most wonderful man in the world. I sold/donated/gave away/abandoned almost every possession I owned in order to move to Germany. I traveled through 13 countries in five months, experiencing the great side of travel and the difficult side of travel. I dealt with culture shock time and time again. And I met great people on the road and here in Freiburg.

I let my job define me

I’m realizing how much my job defined my life before, and how that’s left me with a bit of a void over the past year. Even though I was never passionate about aviation insurance, it was the thing I woke up and did five days a week for nine years. It occupied my time, provided me with enough money to pay my bills and travel, and it was an answer to that question everyone asks when they first meet me – what do you do? I hate that question now.

What do I do?

Now, when Andy goes off to work, I spend my days working on this blog, which involves much more than just writing a few posts each week. I do a few things around the house while still resisting the role of hausfrau (housewife). I go to the market near the cathedral in the center of town to buy fresh vegetables once a week. I meet with my friend from Spain once a week for our English/Spanish tandem. (Yes, I am trying to improve my Spanish while living in Germany.) But mostly I work on the blog and a few other ideas Andy and I have that will hopefully lead to some income. And yet when people ask me what I do, I usually sheepishly laugh and say “nothing right now” instead of just saying I’m a writer. Even if I don’t feel like a writer.

Now I define me

So this whole unemployment thing is really about redefining myself as someone I want to be, rather than limiting myself to the insurance underwriter I didn’t want to be in Atlanta or the hausfrau I don’t want to be now. I want travel blogging, writing, photography, and social media to be a big part of it. I love to travel and plan trips, and I love encouraging others to travel. I also enjoy going to the market once a week and fumbling through words for things like onions and hoping I heard the prices correctly. I like cutting up a ton of vegetables to have a few salads for the week, and trying new salsa recipes like the one a reader from Mexico sent me. I will learn German, but I will also keep practicing Spanish, even if it does occasionally confuse me.

I’m still looking for a purpose. But maybe I need to let go of the traditional definition of what a job is. Maybe I just need to get over searching for a definition of myself.

*****

Thanks to Andy for his photo of the market in Freiburg, and thanks to our wedding photographer for the photo of our first dance. Thanks to Juan for taking the photo of me and Andrea in front of the airplane and for flying us around Seattle so many years ago. And thanks to the reader who sent me the wonderful salsa recipe.