Jack stood in the unemployment line. He looked around him. There were people there from every walk of life. Young, old, senior managers, middle managers, fry chefs, and janitors. Nobody was immune from this place.
Jack scowled as the thoughts rushed through his head. “Wasn’t I loyal? Didn’t I work as hard as everyone else? What happened? Suddenly I’m no longer valuable because they think I’m too old or too expensive?”
An older gentleman behind Jack tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, young man. Do you mind moving forward?”
Jack was shocked to see the line eight feet in front of him.
The old man inquired, “Your first time?’
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I guess my mind was somewhere else.”
“That’s okay. I’ve been here before. To be honest, I kind of like coming here.”
Jack could not hold back his shock. “I’m sorry, you like coming here?”
“Sure, this is the great equalizer. Coming here reminds me we are all the same. Rich or poor, hardworking or a slacker. It’s sort of like death.” The old man chuckled.
Jack smiled but felt a little uncomfortable with the analogy. “My name is Jack.”
“My name is Alex. Don’t take that the wrong way. Nobody wants to be here. In fact, for what you get it’s almost humiliating, but we are all in the same boat.”
Jack could not hide his bitterness. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do. I never saw myself in this position. I was always the go-to guy. Loyal to a fault, the corporate image. Now everything is on its head. Loyalty means nothing in this day and age. Hard work isn’t just expected, it’s extracted. It feels like when you have given more than you have you are promptly dropped off on the curb.”
“Don’t let this make you so cynical. There are two types of people standing here. Those who will be back, and those who want to make their own way. The people who are coming back are able to see their jobs as temporary circumstances. Their work doesn’t define them. The second group is more like you. They identify their life with what they do. This is devastating to them. They aren’t content to just work. They want their work to mean something, to outlast the task itself.”
“What about the third group?”
The old man looked bewildered. “The third group?”
“Those who give up.”
“Jack, you may consider yourself a lot of things, but looking at you, I can tell you that you are not a quitter. Stay loyal to who you are. Mind stepping up a couple feet?”
Jack turned around, he was only about 12 people from the window now. “I may not be a quitter, but I’m not even sure where to start from here.”
“Don’t worry Jack. It’s going to come to you. Take a week or so. Let this sink in a little bit. You’re free now. No schedules, work hours, or cranky bosses. Do you have any savings?”
“Good. This is what it’s for.”
“My wife said the same thing this morning. I guess I do deserve a breather after all these years.”
“That’s the spirit.”
The old man got out of line. and started to walk away.
“Alex, where are you going? Do I need to save your spot?”
“Nope, like I said, I like to come by here every now and then. When I got laid off I started my own consulting company. I sold it five years ago. My wife and I just got back from Hawaii. I thought I would drop by before we fly to Italy.”
Jack shook his head. “Thanks, Alex.”
The old man smiled and walked away.