Unemployment, Month 5

I have now been without a regular, full-time job since April. That’s more than four full months. Now, before I get started, I need to make it clear. This thing was mostly my fault. I voluntarily left my job, thinking that finding work would be easier than it has turned out to be. I am still convinced that it was the right decision, but I never saw just how hard it would be, both on me and my family.

If you have never been unemployed, I urge you to avoid it if possible. Every single day, I browse at least a dozen job search engines. I have applied for well over 40 full-time positions, and filled out a brand new resume for each. I have been interviewed eight times. Four of those times, I’ve made it to the very end, the final stages of picking a candidate. And all of them have passed.

Some have been more brutal than others. I made it to the final three out of hundreds for a position with the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau. While the final interview went well, I got the idea that I wasn’t getting the job. And when I didn’t, I wasn’t too upset about it. But two in particular were gut-wrenching. I applied for a position at Aristotle and had a lights-out first interview. The second interview went well, and as I walked out, the marketing director told me she would recommend me for the spot. Sounds great, right? This was two months ago, and today I can’t get them to return my emails. I have no idea what happened, but it’s clear I’m not needed there.

The most recent was much worse. I applied for the executive producer position at a competing station, and had another great interview. However, a non-compete clause from my previous contract kept me from joining immediately. The news director informed me that he wouldn’t even approach my old station unless he was sure he wanted to hire me. And days later, he did approach them. But when the two sides couldn’t reach a deal, the news director asked me to request that the non-compete clause be dropped.

That was a tough conversation. I basically had to ask my boss of seven years to get his bosses to break that agreement. I have a great relationship with the Fox GM, and I knew my request would put him in a tough spot. But I did. And a week later, he told me I was clear to join the new station.

That was a great day. I called the news director (who I thought would be my new boss) to tell him. He sounded shocked, but said he’d call me back later. The next day, he does call me back. And he tells me that he offered the job to another person…just moments before I called him.

I don’t think I’ve had a greater moment of anguish. I wasn’t even angry. I was stunned. I had no words. I probably sounded like a drunken teenager after he gave me the bad news. In my mind, nearly four months of joblessness was coming to an end. And in one moment, I was violently yanked from my spot in the sun and tossed back to the darkness of square one.

It takes a toll on you. And your family. The stress in our home has been much higher than usual. I thank God for my wonderful wife, who has been more understanding than I could have ever deserved. But every single day is a battle with pessimism. Every day, poring over bland screens of job listings I’m only vaguely qualified for, brings new doubts and new realizations of hopelessness. And then there’s the lack of self-worth. The depression. The anxiety. It will make you question everything you ever thought about life. About God.

To those who don’t have faith in God, this probably sounds like I need to be committed for suicide watch. And honestly, I can see how this situation could lead to horrible thoughts like that. But I know everything is going to work out for the best. And I know I and my family will be much, much stronger for what we’ve endured.

I am a top two candidate for a writer position with a foundation downtown. The job would be amazing, the pay and benefits would be beyond what I’ve ever had and the career would be fulfilling. I’m not nearly as excited about this job, however. Probably because the experiences of the past few months have tempered the unbridled optimism I used to carry like second nature.

The final interview is next week, and I’m going to be great at it. I’m going to give them the right answers, I’m going to make them smile, I’m going to make them feel good about me. How do I know? Because I’ve done it before. Because I am good about getting people to like me. Because I am outwardly confident, easy-going and friendly. I’m going to bury the negative thoughts and cynicism that have assaulted me for months, and for one hour, I’m going to shine. I am as sure of this as I am of anything.

And yet, I can’t be tickled or exuberant or arrogant like I used to be going into these situations. And that’s the whole point of this post. For me, unemployment has made me a more subdued person. It has suppressed the boundless joy I used to know. It has held back the almost irritating chirpiness that used to define my perspective. Being jobless has, in a way, taken a part of my identity.

I’ve debated for about an hour on how to close this post. I of course treasure your thoughts and prayers ahead of my interview next week. And I definitely hope that you gain a new appreciation for things in your life you may have taken for granted. I guess the best way to wrap up here is to thank you for reading this. This isn’t one of my typical posts where I make a stance on an issue or tell a funny, self-deprecating story. This is just what I’m going through right now. This is what I needed to write.

Keep your head up.

Why I didn’t eat at Chick-Fil-A

Writer’s note: I don’t blog nearly enough. I had to submit examples of my writing for a job application, and in going through this blog, I realized how much I missed writing in a creative setting. I solemnly swear I will be a better blogger.

On August 1, 2012, a host of hungry patrons descended on Chick-Fil-A locations across the country. While Chick-Fil-A is a fast-food restaurant that is used to business, this day was different. Several locations had so much business, they actually ran out of food. Roads and highways across the country backed up, as cars waited up to half an hour to enter the parking lot area. It was certainly the most financially successful single day in the Atlanta-based company’s history.

Of course, you already know that this was not a case of sudden mass cravings for waffle fries. August 1 was a day to show your support for Chick-Fil-A, whose owner, Dan Cathy, had come under fire for his comments supporting traditional marriage. While he didn’t specifically attack gay marriage, there’s no doubt Mr. Cathy believes marriage is only for one man and one woman. What followed was a surprisingly strong backlash from media outlets, the gay community and moderate-to-liberal voters. In response, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee called for those against gay marriage to come out and support Chick-Fil-A on August 1.

And come out they did. The two locations I happened to drive past were slammed. Cars wrapped around the building and spilling out into the street. Lines out the door, with 20-30 minute waits being the norm. The vast majority of the patrons – conservative Christians, who genuinely believe that God looks on homosexual acts as sinful. Many of these, I call my dearest friends. Probably because I am also a Christian, who also believes that God looks on homosexual acts as sinful.

And yet, I deliberately, purposefully stayed away.

To many, this will make no sense. Many will wonder why, if I believe in the Bible, I didn’t show my support for a company that is making its stand for Biblical principles. Not only that, many will wonder why I am putting out my intentional absence on my blog for everybody to see.

My answer has nothing to do with the way I see the world, my beliefs or my experiences in life. It has everything to do with people.

Many people, straight and gay, believe that a stance against gay marriage necessarily equates to bigotry. While I don’t agree with their opinion, I can see where they are coming from. Gay couples in most states do not and cannot share in the rights and privileges that straight couples can. There’s no tax deduction. There’s no automatic inheritance. There’s no provision to be at their partner’s side in the hospital during an emergency. That’s something that is reserved for married couples, whose state recognizes their marriage. There are other benefits the state gives to married couples that gay couples cannot access. The only way to have those rights is marriage.

This is why, to gay couples and others, a stance against gay marriage is a stance for bigotry. I’m not agreeing with their position, merely outlining it. So since this is the way they feel, what would my presence at Chick-Fil-A on August 1 tell them? It would tell them that I think they should remain second-class citizens. It would tell them that I look down on them, that I somehow think I am better than they are. This is not what it would mean to me, but what it would mean to them.

Most importantly (and I came to this point after a lot of thinking), my going to Chick-Fil-A on August 1 could potentially cost me a chance to connect with and witness to my gay friends.

After coming to that point, I couldn’t make an argument good enough for actually going. What else in this world could possibly matter more? Did Chick-Fil-A miss my presence? No. Would my presence have made a huge difference for Chick-Fil-A or my faith? No. But would it have damaged my relationships with those I would love to see at my church? Very likely. It is a simple risk-reward analysis, and I felt the risk far outweighed the reward.

So I ate my homemade pimiento cheese for dinner instead of delicious nuggets or strips. I will be eating at Chick-Fil-A again. Probably in the near future. But on this one day, it was not worth risking the chance I have to be an example of Christ to the world around me. Do I believe in the Bible? Absolutely. I believe it is the word of God, and that I should strive to live my life according to its standards. But I also believe Jesus’ example in Mark 2:13 is far more important than my respect for Romans 1:26-27.