On Being Retrenched - One Year Later

Approximately 100,000 Australians lost their job during the Global Financial Crisis. I was one of them.
Tomorrow marks a year to the day since I arrived at the office, the one with a great view of Circular Quay where I'd worked as an advertising account exec for just under two years, on an ordinary Tuesday with little more pressing on my mind than wondering what I would have for lunch, and found myself two hours later clutching a cardboard box laden with my possessions, wandering blindly around Wynyard station trying to find a taxi and wondering what the hell just happened?

The GFC never really hit Australia, we have been told. Certainly I never thought it would hit me. I knew job losses were coming but thought, as one of the longer serving members of the team, I would be safe; failing to take into account that I was also one of the best paid. Who knows? Anyway the shock was pretty much total. I managed to keep it together at the office while I was being told...and as I packed my desk, with my head swirling with thoughts such as "how will I pay the rent?" (redundancy payout) and "I bet my new relationship never survives this level of stress" (we were married last month). Finally when I was alone I let all the tears and pain come out.

Nonetheless, I did actually believe I would find another good job pretty soon. It took me some weeks to realise that that wasn't going to happen; there just weren't any jobs like that available. I was cut off, alienated from the life I had proudly created for myself. And I grieved! For so many years I had aspired to a corporate career in the Sydney CBD, and it was all gone so suddenly. Although it wasn't something I especially yearned for during my waking hours, I had a series of dreams whereby the company asked me to come in and offered me my job back. I had equated the life with success, and now it was gone. I wondered, why me? With the recession turning out to be a lot less severe than expected, obviously most people were going to keep their jobs. Why did I have to lose what I worked so hard for? And I had loved my job, and I missed it.

Okay, so my corporate career was over, now where to go? First to Centrelink. In my misspent youth I had many more dealings with that organisation than I would have liked, and when I finally got my life together around age 25 I vowed I would never need anything from them again. Having to walk into the office to claim Newstart was one of the lowest moments I have ever had. I thought I was past all this, really. I hated the thought I might be mistaken for one of "them" - the long term Centrelink clients. I wanted to shout at the others in the queue "I'm not like you people! I used to lunch on corporate accounts and travel on cabcharges! The company sent us jetboating! We were given champagne!". But of course I said nothing. The staff were remarkably kind when they learned I was there through no fault of my own. But the fact remained: I was back on the dole.

I needed a new career. Around this time, the idea of Community Work came up. I was thinking maybe website design, or becoming a librarian? But my (by now) fiancé told me I had a lot to offer. I'd always thought of myself as a rather spoiled, selfish creature but I decided it was time to go for it; devote my life to helping people instead of fleecing them (and being rude about them at Centrelink). So I applied, waited ages, got in to study Youth Work, and that was that.

It really was what I had been looking for, without knowing. I discovered a passion for social justice for young people which had been lying dormant all along, and which I hope to turn into a lifelong career; got to volunteer at the NSW Youth Work conference and hear some inspiring speakers (Eva Cox!) and most of all got to meet and study with some of the loveliest people I've ever met.

So some good comes from everything. If I hadn't been retrenched, I'd probably still be at the same desk doing the same old thing tomorrow, tracing the path of middling corporate jobs until retirement. And contrary to my fears, the loads of extra time I had to spend with my then boyfriend in the early days - and the bonding we shared in comforting one another - brought us closer much faster than otherwise would have happened. I've no doubt we would have gotten married eventually, but we had a unique opportunity at a unique time. It hasn't always been easy - financially it blows, I haven't really bought myself any new clothes in a year, had a brief but unpleasant stint as a housewife, and ended up taking a back-killing job selling Manchester to help pay the bills until I graduate. But overall it turned out to be one of the best things that has happened to me, giving me a career and a husband... so a very heavy cloud had a lovely white gold lining.

EDIT, JUNE 2010: Apparently, about a week after I wrote this post, the company went belly-up. I always resisted the temptation to say anything negative about the company or the people there; turns out I needn't have. Seems kind of mean now, though - the corporate world seems a bit shallow and pointless.