Like little stars.
“I quit,” I said, my black leather carrying bag already over my shoulder. I’d imagined this scene for years, a triumphant take-this-job delivery followed by my supervisor’s wounded expression.
His face barely registered emotion as he said, “Go tell human resources.”
I worked for a respected social policy research organization, where Barack Obama had applied for a job before he was president. For seven years I’d sat in a windowless office and formatted reports in Microsoft Word. I sauntered to human resources like a movie inmate on his final walk of freedom through Shawshank prison.
Forty-two and single, I was jumping without a net into the potential person I was meant to be. I’d watched Larry Smith’s famous TED Talk about following one’s passion, and enrolled in an advertising portfolio class. I was determined to rebrand myself as a digital copywriter.
“Good for you,” my father said. “We’re meant to take risks. Read ‘Start-Up Nation’!”
That was the book I bought him for his 70th birthday. It reinforced the stereotype of the Jewish genius by chronicling how a culture of irascibility and entrepreneurship made Israel the most innovative country on earth. It was a drug for my dad. A retired production engineer in New Jersey who’d racked up patents for his inventions, he saw himself as the Ashkenazi Thomas Edison. He mentioned the book whenever I complained about my work.
I was thankful for his support. My position was supposed to be a pause from a lackluster music career, not a destination. I read Suze Orman and tried to make myself indispensable by revitalizing the publishing department’s production process. Proactive, I joined my company’s social media committee, where I sat in meetings for endless months. I updated my LinkedIn profile and résumé with the words “deliverables” and “timelines.” Yet my duties didn’t grow, and recruiters never called. I was stuck in the land of the typing dead.
“This’ll be a new beginning,” my father said. “Time to make things happen.”
Denied unemployment benefits for resigning, I contacted a pro-bono legal organization. They appointed a lawyer who believed I had a strong case for collecting on appeal. I imagined rising like a phoenix from a pyre of word processors.
Then my advertising class ended.
“No one will hire you with a spec portfolio,” a well-known recruiter who’d been recommended to me said. “You’ll have to work for free.”
I was disappointed. I hadn’t expected a welcoming party, just an entry-level spot. I had a friend who wrote junk mail at a department store. How hard could it be?
Over the next few weeks, I tweaked my online portfolio and attended networking events. I tried for secretary spots, traffic coordinator positions, and email content writers. Temp agencies said administrative jobs were going to career admin assistants. Full-time recruiters, who quoted Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Edison in their LinkedIn updates, kept redoing my résumé.
Changing one’s career in a tight economy, without the proper pedigree of internships and connections, was like trying to audition for a famous pop band in midlife without an instrument.
“Everything will work out,” my father said. “You’ve got what it takes.”
Five months after my grand exit, I won retroactive unemployment benefits but was still jobless. I started to panic and attended résumé workshops, where I agonized over every bullet point. In my dreams at night I begged my boss, who’d put me on probation three times, for my old job back.
Broke and ashamed, I asked my parents for money and tapped my 401K to make my Cobra payments.
I’d believed that resigning at 42 was the acknowledgment of unrealized potential. Now I thought it was the delusional move of a man child who’d missed out on the party.
Nine months in, with my unemployment payments finished, my parents’ assistance exhausted, I responded to an ad on Craigslist for doggie daycare. Afterward I stood behind an Upper East Side apartment building while a pack of canines ran back and forth over an Astroturf yard.
“You can’t let them bark,” the business owner said. She wanted a six-month commitment after a trial period.
I nodded eagerly as the dogs yapped, woofed and defecated. I scooped, threw rubber balls, scolded and cajoled. They howled for my boss as she squeezed through the building’s back door and went inside.
Her jarring text arrived on my cell a minute later.
“I’m sending you home early, David.”
I missed word processing.
Between anxiety attacks, I decided to try Starbucks. Its lengthy application process seemed fit for prospective NSA employees. A Starbucks recruiter recommended I approach managers onsite. At the fifth branch, where I was able to get a manager, a young Latino, he looked straight at me — a white, middle-aged guy — and said, “You want to work here? You look like you should be a doctor.”
Despondent, I visited my parents in Jersey and told them I wanted to jump off a roof. They put me in the car and rushed me to the hospital.
“You were right to leave that job,” my dad said as the nurses escorted me to intake.
I no longer agreed. I stepped outside of the box to access my latent achiever and start a new career. Instead, I emptied my retirement fund and entered the psychiatric ward.
For a week I sat in group therapy sessions with addicts, self-mutilators and suicide attempters. Before I left, the head psychiatrist spoke with me in her office.
“David, I’m not sure you belonged here,” she said.
After a year of being turned away, it was the first statement of rejection that made me smile.
David Sobel, a Manhattan freelancer, is hoping to find work by selling a memoir about unemployment.More David Sobel.
Like little stars.
World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.
So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).
My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.
High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.
Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.
New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.
Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.
Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.
Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.
Really does taste like pineapple.