Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Better, not bitter

“How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.” ~Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

These days, I like to consider myself an opener of doors. Five months ago I considered myself a journalist.

I’ve been busy these past few months applying for newspaper jobs and freelance gigs, and I won’t lie to you: There is a tremendous sense of loss when you get laid off. And it isn’t the paycheck or the embarrassment I’ve come to realize is routine for nearly all of us -- it’s the loss of self.

No capes have ever been required for me to think I could save the day. All I ever needed was a couple ball-point pens and a legal notebook to feel invincible. I proudly extended my hand and introduced myself as a reporter for whatever paper I was scribing for at the time. And I do mean proudly. I have identified myself as a reporter/writer/journalist since I irked the Moon Area School directors by circulating a survey about homophobia way back in high school.

When some people talk about their first loves, names like Dan or John or Matt are whimsically recalled. Mine wasn’t a man, but a publication. And I’ve fallen head over heels with almost every newsroom in which I’ve valiantly battled the deadline. When I signed the separation papers with the Observer-Reporter in June, it felt like the most important -- most identifying -- part of who I am was signed away, too.

Since then, I have spent more time than I’d like to admit mulling over the layoffs, and all it ever does is fill me with a bile and bitterness. I wonder if it ever occurs to the guys doing the pink slipping that they aren’t just eliminating a person’s job. They are eliminating that part of the poor bastard sitting across the desk.

As the weeks tick by with no job offers in sight (and few legitimate jobs to go around in a tremendously competitive market) I’m trying a different plan. Yes, the applications will still be sent. Yes, I will continue to freelance. But I’m going to start using this time to develop the parts of myself I neglected when I was too busy classifying myself as a writer. This month I started a novel, finished part of a professional project and lost 10 pounds. I’ve learned to make a stellar casserole and have become domesticated enough that I am mulling aprons and once again allowed to bake in my home unsupervised.

While the job market rebounds and the newspaper industry learns how to compete in the world of free online content, I’ll be working to make myself more of a Renaissance woman.

I want to work on being better. Not bitter.

And I hope you all do, too.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University and PittsburghMom.com. She can be reached by e-mail at amandabgillooly@gmail.com


  1. Despite all of the difficulties associated with finding a job, this time can be used to better ourselves in other ways. Understanding that fact will only help us in all aspects of our lives. Nice post.

  2. You nailed something here that I had yet to articulate. Yes, part of your identity goes missing. Part of your personality, almost.

    Anyway, back to the job hunt I go...

  3. Thanks guys. I figure if I try, I can emerge from this as the best possible version of myself. Thanks for posting, Jimmity. And Joe, I'm hunting with you buddy.

  4. How can I paste into the comment box? I wrote a response offline, but am unable to paste.

  5. Unsure what the problem is, Roger. Can you CTRL-V it in there? If you're still having trouble, e-mail me the comment and I'll immediately copy/paste it in under your name...

  6. Here's my e-mail, by the way... wvhones@hotmail.com

  7. Two thoughts come to my mind when reading your piece. They are related, and let me try to articulate what I mean (you folks are the ones with the good word skills – the rest of us are just hackers). The first is a general observation, and the second one is personal.

    Our society assigns worth to a person based upon “what they do,” or “where they work.” When we meet another person, what is the first or second question asked? Yes, “What do you do for a living?” Based upon that information, we subconsciously make certain assessments about the person, perhaps form a stereotype. Even based upon appearance, we already start to form a judgment. The new knowledge of somebody's livelihood, or position in life (yes, even a homemaker), either reinforces our initial assessment, or causes us confusion.

    I am the first person to suggest that this checklist against another person we've just met is wrong. What somebody thinks, what beliefs they hold, what governs their actions, what principles are important to them – all undoubtedly more important than how they are dressed, their position in life, or what they do for a living. Nevertheless, I know I am guilty, and I suspect that most others are too.

    That leads me to the second point, the personal story. Please understand, my comments are not pointed to Amanda here. I don't know Amanda (other than your posts here), and have no reason to point fingers. My intent is a general one that is pointed to everybody. Amanda's post only provides a basis for my observation and comments.

    We each fall into the same trap, or so I believe, of wrapping ourselves too firmly in things that are not important. And, one of those things is our employment. We tie ourselves too strongly to our “work.” That tie can take many forms. As I stated above, we ask others “What do you do?” and others ask us the same question. We make ourselves who we are through our work life. Amanda, you called it identity, and I would agree with that wholeheartedly. Our identity is wrapped up in who we are in terms of our education, our work skills, or our position in life. For some, this might still be a good thing (e.g. stay-at-home mother, with a couple of children being raised). For others, their work becomes them, and they become their work. People only know us for our skills or education, and know very little about us as a person. By that, I mean others often know little about us with regard to what makes us tick, how we think, why we do what we do, our interests, etc. Often our relationships are extremely shallow. If the identity in terms of work goes away, so does the relationship. Perhaps this is why having a meal with somebody is so important in getting to know another. I digress, … sorry.

  8. Part II (too many characters; apparent reason I had trouble before -- sorry, too long winded!)


    So what? Amanda has hit upon something very important, our close ties to our work, employment, education, or other such basis. As she states it, it becomes our identity. When we are cut off, our loss not only includes income, office relationships, and the like, but also gets personal. The hurt goes deeper than the missing income and not having a place to go every day. It damages who we are, or, rather, who we think we are.

    I suspect my perspective is tempered by a few more years in the path of life, and a few more knocks and bumps in the road than others who read and post here. I've learned these lessons one way or another myself, the hard way. Now, I try to have a few people as friends, ones that I can go deep. It helps me understand my identity way beyond work, education, or station in life.

    One of the worst things that has happened recently is the use of “friends” on social networking sites, such as FaceBook. The word has been badly distorted. A friend is somebody who understands me way beyond work, employment, or education, or even station in life. Some of my best friends are nearly half my age, but we connect on an idea level, not on a superficial identity that comes and goes.

    There is much more to write about this topic in terms of a spiritual realm. But, I will not delve into that part to keep the discussion open to all comers.

    I know this does not help you find employment tomorrow. I'm sorry, I wish I could help. But, maybe the time off now will help you establish an identity that is not so closely related to being a journalist.

  9. Roger, I couldn't agree more. And in some ways, I am glad I caught myself before I fell into that trap. I suppose journalism has always been more than "work," you know? I've never had more fun, met more interesting people, made better friends, than I did in the newsroom.

    But I strongly agree that our society does put a high price on the idea of success. And that reminds me of a quote from one of my heroes:

    "Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value." -- Albert Einstein

  10. When I ask someone about his or her career, all I am implying is that I am interested in having a conversation with that person. It sounds to me like Amanda's decision to brave the kitchen is a BIG step in redefining her identity, but she is always going to have a passion for asking questions.

  11. Wow, after reading Roger's twin comments, I was feeling like kind of a jackass... but then I read Scott's and realized that I'm not all that bad...

    My wife often points out that I have conversations with people and never ask them any questions... They initiate the conversation and all I do is respond to them. The reason? I honestly don't care whether you are married, where you work, where you live, how many kids you have... etc. In fact, I probably don't want to be having this conversation in the first place. I am probably only here to fulfill some obligation that I don't see any value in but am doing it because it's easier than pissing someone off by NOT being here.

    I felt like a jerk at first because I never even get to the point where I care what your position in life is, let alone your values or perspective on the world.

    But then I read Scott's comment where he professes a genuine interest in people and realized that my lack of conversational probing is really just an act of honesty.

    I'd make an awesome wing man.

  12. E,

    I think these are the true, defining qualities of a newspaperman(or woman): A genuine interest in people and an insatiable curiousity.

    That's why we get paid the big bucks ;) You know: 'Don't try this at home' sort of stuff.

  13. Oh, mandymorecandy... I can fake it like you wouldn't believe :-)

    How far outside of your comfort zone have you gone in looking for work? What kind of industries have you pursued? What are the most creative ways you have tried to spin your experience into a relevant skill set for a particular occupation?

    I ask, because I am perpetually BS'ing the usefulness of my english degree and my fluency in reading middle english text and relating to medieval english literature. Sometimes, I think my ability to BS is of greater asset than my actual skills :-)

  14. Amen to that brother. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance...

  15. A discussion of a book recently published about the topic of defining our person by our job, identity, etc. I've not read the book, but find the title and interview interesting in view of the above discussion,


    Anybody read the book, and can comment about the contents?