It was 2006, shortly after graduating college with professional degrees in architecture, and things were looking up for us.
Real estate in Florida was reaching its peak, developers couldn’t hire architects fast enough to create new projects, and firms of all sizes were hiring even semi-decent talent.
I honestly believed I could find good-paying work anywhere we moved in the United States.
It so happened that my wife already had a job offer pending with a company she interned in 6 months earlier. After a few weeks of research, I applied for and got a job at the first company I interviewed with.
Though our company has gone from 35+ to 5 people through the downturn, I’m still there today and loving what I do. My wife turned out not to be so lucky.
Fast-forward 6 months, and things began to turn hairy, though most people were still in complete denial about it. Real estate was falling, developers were dropping projects like flies, and design revenue suddenly dried up.
My wife’s company held onto jobs as long as they could, but people simply had nothing to do. When they started shedding weight at the close of 2007, my wife quickly found herself out of a job.
Thankfully, my company was still in decent shape and willing to invest in good talent. With a bit of creativity on my part, I showed the right people what she could do and sold the deal. She was hired less than a month after losing her first job, and the experience became nothing more than a hiccup in our finances.
Looking back in time, there were a few key take-aways from this layoff:
- Sometimes, it takes a force of your hand to do what you really wanted to do in the first place. (We had been trying to convince my wife to come work with us for months).
- We should have seen the layoff as an indicator of things to come and contingency-planned a bit better.
- Word-of-mouth is still the best and fastest way to get a job, especially in a tough economy.
Fast-forward another 18 months, and it’s the middle of 2009, and we’re 4 months pregnant.
Around the architecture world, things were getting bad. Most of our architecture friends from college had no jobs or had left the industry completely. Our company was down to 12 people or so, and everyone was watching their back.
On Independence Day weekend (oh, the irony), about half of our remaining staff got the cut, including my wife. For the second time, we found ourselves in a predicament, but this time without a clear out.
The prospects for another design job were slim, even for those with the highest talents. The future of my own job was at risk. We had 5 months until our first child was born.
It turned out that about 6 months earlier, my wife’s Dad had started a brand new service company that was in bad need of office help. My wife on took on the challenge and hasn’t looked back.
Thinking back, there are some take-aways from this layoff, too:
- When problems overwhelm you, systematically tackling them one at a time can be really helpful. Instead of trying to solve all of our issues at once, we took one step at a time.
- Hard work is rewarded, even if it takes years to see the results.
- Contrary to popular belief, working with a spouse can be a lot of fun. I’m being completely honest when I say that I still miss having her around the office.
As I write this, a lot of families are feeling the pain of unemployment. Millions of people are out of work, and many of those have been unemployed for years.
Emergency funds, if they existed in the first place, are probably long-gone. Houses are being foreclosed on, bankruptcies are being filed, and tough choices are being made. I’m not going to pretend that this reality doesn’t exist.
At the same time, I think unemployment can have tremendous benefits to individuals and families. On a personal level, it forced us into many decisions we were unwilling to make in better circumstances.
- It helped us reconsider our priorities. Needs became wants and our spending became more focused.
- It forced us to learn to live on a single income. When a full-time second income comes around in the future, we’re going to feel like we’re swimming in money.
- It made us reconsider the idea of traditional “job security” in this new economy.
- It forced us to recognize the importance of income diversity, and look for other sources of income that could help stabilize our current and future cash flow.
- I feel like we’re better prepared in case anything like this happens in the future, both emotionally and financially.
A Path to the Future
Things turned out for the best. Our wife is able to spend most of her days with our son instead of sending him to day care. We’ve learned to live on less than one income and reconfigured our spending.
We don’t know what the future holds, but I have to believe that my wife’s unemployment has been a key component in making us into who we are today, and we’re going to be better off financially because of it.
What are your thoughts on the positive effects of unemployment?