Being Unemployed Made Me Better
As I write this, the Marta whooshes by my bedroom, so close that if I leaned over my balcony, I’m sure that I could touch it. Cars slosh through the rain, the sound echoing loudly against my window, and the steady rumble of cargo containers being stacked on top of one another in the adjacent train yard have become a soundtrack of sorts, playing a harsh melody outside my window all hours into the night. A year ago, I would’ve complained.
I would’ve found a way to move out abruptly in hopes of finding a bit more peace and quiet—I would’ve desperately sought comfort. But today, I’m just thankful to be able to afford a place of my own to live. Today, I’m reminded just how blessed I am to be able to say that.
But you didn’t come here to hear about my apartment. You came here to hear my rags to riches story, though I’d say the riches are in the knowledge that I’ve gained, not in the paycheck that I’ve acquired. Perhaps, like me, you were once unemployed and desperately seeking respite from your daily struggle, and have lived to tell the tale. Maybe you just started on that journey, maybe you’re still on it, and there’s a deep feeling of loneliness as you fight through your situation quietly in hopes that nobody knows just how real life has gotten for you. To you, I say, there would be no testimony if there wasn’t a test.
And while our level of struggle and sacrifice may differ, the commonality is that it’s a mental, emotional and spiritual battle that will challenge every part of your being. But if you get your mind right, it will transform you in a way that you would never imagine.
WHY I LEFT LA
I’ve previously talked about my move to Los Angeles, so I’ll hit the fast forward button and press pause at where I was just five months ago—curled up on my bed in a rented room in Granada Hills. I shared a house with six other men and women, majority of which were 20 – 30 years my senior. At $600, it was the cheapest thing I could find.
Ironically, December 2017 was the month that I made the most money since my move to LA, but only because I picked up as many catering shifts as possible. I traded in Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve with my family just to earn double my normal pay rate. The reality of the situation hit me hard when I realized that I wasn’t serving wealthy people because I wanted the extra money, I was doing it because although that month was a feast, I knew famine was just around the corner.
Despite having multiple clients ranging from corporate contracts to individual projects, my freelance gigs were unreliable—I often went weeks without being paid on time, which resulted in deep anxiety whenever another bill notification hit my inbox. I was juggling five catering companies, freelance gigs, dog sitting and background acting in hopes that if one failed the other would cover me. Meanwhile I was applying for full-time jobs, but as far as I know my resume never made it past the inbox and into a recruiter’s hands.
This situation had gone on for months, and I did my best to keep my head up and a smile on my face—not because I was being fake, but because I knew that there were people in worst situations; I didn’t feel I even had a right to complain. I couldn’t blame my situation on anybody but myself, poor decisions that I’d made, and the miscalculated risks that I decided to take. But that day I had finally reached a point where I was tired of being strong. I finally stopped fighting back the tears and allowed myself to cry.
In all honesty it wasn’t the circumstances that was the final blow, it was the realization that I wasn’t even doing work that I was passionate about. My dreams had been pushed aside while trying to survive, and with the exception of one or two projects, I was taking on work just to earn a paycheck. The death of a dream is worse than the struggle to achieve it. I constantly ran into and worked with people who moved to the city with a dream in their heart and light in their eyes just for it to become extinguished once they stepped on the hamster wheel. LA was La La Land. Despite what Instagram showed, people were surviving, not living, and I could see myself slowly following in their footsteps as I gasped for air in attempt to stay afloat.
I knew I wasn’t going to drown, but I also didn’t see sense in swimming against the current when there was a better path to take. After speaking with a couple of friends I knew what I had to do. But it required me to swallow my pride, to be willing to look as if I’d given up, pack my bags and return back to the east coast to get my shit together. With little hesitation, I sold everything that didn’t fit in my car to help cover my relocation costs, and journeyed back home.
BACK TO ATLANTA
I hit the road in January. Before I left I had a plan to move to Atlanta and hit the ground running with my job search. However, my housing situation fell through a week prior when someone backed out on renting me a room. I arrived in Atlanta just a couple hours into my birthday, but I wasn’t there to stay. I didn't have the money to lease an apartment, and this time I refused to move without a job, so instead I drove to North Carolina to live with my grandparents in Hertford—a small town outside of Elizabeth City.
I arrived with just a couple hundred dollars to my name. I was still freelancing, but payments weren't coming in on time. Bills were getting paid late, and late fees were being tacked on. I wasn't paying rent, but I was (and still am) five-figures in debt, just to pay the bare minimum I needed at least a rack coming in every month, but with the exception of the clothes I was selling on Poshmark, I was bringing in zero.
I had already been applying for jobs since December, but I kept getting rejection emails. I shrugged it off because I've had to hustle before. I was used to putting in a ton of applications before getting a positive response. What I wasn’t used to was not getting any positive responses. For two months, to be exact.
I continued to apply for jobs. Any job. I signed up for temp agencies. I put in applications at Planet Fitness, Applebees, wherever. Minimum wage in North Carolina is only $7.25, certainly not enough to cover bills even working full-time, but I was desperate. Yet nobody was hiring, and because I wasn’t in Atlanta it was hard for me to even be considered for jobs with temp agencies. I kept getting rejection emails, despite my resume being pretty stacked. If there was any little bit of ego left in me, it died every time I pressed the send button.
By this point I was stressed as hell. I wasn’t sleeping well, partly due to waking up in the middle of the night with large, unexplainable bites covering my body. Even at home I wasn’t comfortable. I was trying to keep my head up, but it was a struggle, and there were days when I didn’t even want to get out of bed. I would watch everybody live their best life on the 'gram, and eventually decided to remove social media off my phone so that I could focus on my own life and not on people's false realities.
One day, after deep reflection, instead of moping about I went into prayer, praise and worship. I chose to find positivity in my situation and thanked God for things not being worse. I let Him know that I trusted Him, and that despite the circumstances I knew he’d never leave me nor forsake me. I needed to depend on Him and not on the world.
I put work behind my faith and revamped my resume and cover letter three times until they were fleeky. I only applied for jobs in Atlanta that I really wanted—I didn't want to repeat the past by taking jobs just for a paycheck only to end up in a toxic work environment. My situation hadn't changed, but my mindset did. I no longer questioned my worth with every rejection, for my value didn’t lie in my degree or my experiences. The no’s weren’t daggers of defeat, but confirmation that there was a greater victory on the other side of my persistence.
By the end of February I received an email that I'd been selected for an interview with my current employer. Ironically, I had applied for a different position with them back in December and got rejected. So this was definitely starting to feel like a God thing. I interviewed, got moved to the next round, but it took three more weeks before I would get the final in-person interview. I drove eight hours to Atlanta on a Friday and came back to North Carolina the next day with nothing more than a prayer on my lips—not that I would simply get the job, but that I only got it if it aligned with my purpose and His plan for me.
I did have one other job offer waiting back home—Applebees. I was scheduled to start training as a server the following week, but they were patient as I had already told them I was in final rounds for a job. I had reached a place where I was thankful that I just had potential income. If I didn't get my current job, I would've been at peace knowing that God knew what was best for me.
On March 13 I got the call saying that I not only got the job, but they were offering me way more than I expected to make, plus fully covered benefits. As someone who went without benefits on and off for over two years, I was scared to even sneeze in fear I'd have to pay hundreds of dollars to see a doctor. Now I would no longer have to stress about affording one.
I said I would never go back to a 9 to 5, but I’m beyond blessed to be employed at a company that not only aligns with my goals, but values work-life balance. I can now work on the writing I really want to do without stressing over my next paycheck, and when it’s time for me to go, this time I will be prepared for the move.
I'm still in recovery mode—I have a lot of debt to clean up—but the experience showed me who I really was and molded me into who I needed to be. I’ve been broken and sifted, many negative thought patterns and mindsets were left behind, and what remains are the very characteristics necessary to move on to the next leg of my journey.
The experience showed me who I really was and molded me into who I needed to be.
As I’ve said, the riches of my testimony aren’t in my paycheck, but in who I became when I didn’t have one. There were many things that I took for granted, and when those things were taken from me, there were many nights I cried out because I no longer had it. Now I find gratitude in the grittiness of it all.
The dream doesn’t have to die; but sometimes it needs to be re-strategized. It’s attainable, but it’s also a test of how bad you really want it. What are you willing to give up now in order to have better later? What habits and mindsets do you need to break before you can truly walk in your purpose? For me, it was a lot of shedding of things that I never recognized as being a privilege to have, and accepting that at the end of the day, I made a choice so there was no room for excuses or complaints.
This walk isn’t for the faint of heart, but in the end, it will leave your heart full. Keep your head up, your mind right, your lips positive, and your pride absent.