Jeff Ruane

The Despair of the Job Hunt


This is a personal reflection on losing my job and the effect it's had on me. There are so many people in much more difficult positions, and I realize the combination of luck and privilege that got me to the point I'm at now. I can only imagine warehouse worker me reading this ten years ago and thinking "you don't know the pain and dehumanization of manual laborers." I don't want to compare or dismiss harms, I'm writing this publicly to let people in similar positions know they're not alone. I don't care who you are, getting fired is brutal.

"You're fired"

I lost my job in March. More accurately, I was shitcanned. Abruptly. Some of what I talked about in Lessons Learned ended up catching up with me.

I'd very much like to vent about how I was mistreated. But I'm actively looking for a new gig, so I'm going to play it safe. I'll save that for private reflection1.

Suffice it to say, if it feels like you're on the receiving end of abusive behavior, it's probably not your imagination. I was hired in September, and I knew it wasn't going to work by November. The way I was treated was not OK. I talked to my immediate manager about it and started looking at job postings on LinkedIn. Regretfully, I never took the step of sending in applications. I rationalized it to myself: "things will probably improve, people are just stressed out about the big project," and "I've told my manager about my concerns, I'm sure he'll have my back." I was wrong about the former, and I have my suspicions about the latter. Anyway, I missed morning standup one day in March and got fired 2 days later. Missing a meeting is bad. I fucked up.

Anyway, they gave me a month's pay and two weeks of health insurance in exchange for me agreeing not to sue them. Looking back on it, I wish I had spoken with an attorney before signing it, but here we are.

Funemployment? Maybe? Hopefully?

The process to get on unemployment is difficult insofar as the state's baseline assumption is that I'll eventually commit fraud. The process feels like it's set up to completely demolish whatever ego I had left. It took a long time because apparently being terminated for cause creates extra work for the auditors or whoever. My wife has a chronic health condition, so in the meantime, we signed up for Medicaid. Thank goodness we live in Colorado and that process is much more straightforward than other parts of the country.

After about six weeks, my unemployment was approved. However, my unemployment payments put us over the maximum income allowed to qualify for Medicaid. I looked at the healthcare marketplace, but the cheapest possible plan (which covers essentially nothing) would cost as much as my monthly unemployment income. It's all so broken. Make it make sense.

To qualify for unemployment, I have to perform at least five "work search activities" a week. The definition of a "work search activity" is somewhat open ended. Applying to jobs, obviously, but also networking with former colleagues, going to career fairs, walking into a business and asking if they're hiring, &c. The lax definition is because folks in more rural areas might not have many jobs they can apply to on a weekly basis. Frankly, I appreciate the care they put into crafting these requirements.

As a software engineer, however, applying to jobs is easy. I've been applying to a minimum of five jobs a week for about two and a half months and, until this week, it's yielded a single interview. At one point, I applied to a job on a Saturday and got a rejection email about 2 hours later, despite having a strong referral. People are working nights and weekends to reject me2.

I've found my sleep schedule is getting more erratic. Shifting from the bed to the couch, and back and forth again. Sleeping until the afternoon. My temper has gotten shorter. My desire to socialize has gotten even more stunted than it already was. My sprinkler system needs to be fixed, but I don't have the money, so now my lawn is dead. I'm watching too many sports because it's such an easy distraction. Looking up Nikola Jokić's stats while his primary defender is Rudy Gobert kills a lot of time and tricks me into thinking I'm being productive even though I'm well aware it's escapism. I don't see a clear alternative. I'm just grumpy all the time and I absolutely hate that I've allowed myself to become this way.

Getting fired fucked with my head in a profound way. Am I good enough to do this work? Am I difficult to work with? Do I rub people the wrong way? Am I even going to be able to pass a technical interview? Am I even able to bring worth to a company? My confidence is broken.

This kind of self talk and these behaviors are within my control, at least to some extent. I believe in giving myself grace during difficult times, but there's certainly a limit to that before it turns into the new normal, and I'm at that limit. I need to make changes.

Silver Linings

But it's not all doom and gloom. I'm so grateful that I've got such a big network on former colleagues who check in every few weeks to see if they can help, or to let me know of a new lead. This line of work is a privilege. Not that it can't be bad, but it's a whole lot easier to get back on my feet as a software engineer than it would've been in most industries. This industry pays well too, and there are a lot of people out there who would end up losing their home if they couldn't find a job for 3 months.

I've also been able to spend a lot more time with my nephew and it's been an absolute joy. I'm also able to help my pregnant sister out when the need arises, and I'm so glad I'm able to be there for her and my brother-in-law.

God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise

This week has been different. I've had 7 interviews and am in the late stages with at least one potential employer, and I'm so grateful and relieved. The journey's not over though. A headspace like this doesn't just go away with a job. Time to call some friends, go play some basketball, go camping, get involved in learning some new technology or contributing to open source. Oh, and fix the sprinklers.

  1. Listening to "Farewell Transmission" on repeat while scrawling on the wall with a sharpie, sobbing, shirt covered in marinara sauce.

  2. Obviously, I don't actually believe that, I'm sure it was some automated HR software that decided I didn't meet the requirements, but it was massively demoralizing all the same.

#labor #mental health #work