Welcome to Plan B Nation
Almost exactly three years ago, I found myself abruptly unemployed at the peak of the Great Recession. Mine wasn't exactly the standard layoff -- my communications job at Harvard Law School ended because my boss decamped for Washington, D.C., to join the fledgling Obama administration. (You may have heard of her: She's now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.) The impact, however, was much the same as any other layoff: Like millions of others, I was looking for work at the worst possible time.
From the start, it seemed to me that I had two choices. I could view unemployment and its aftermath as an aberration -- as something that shouldn't have happened to me -- or I could do my best to accept the situation and ask what it could teach me (an option made far easier by the fact that I had some savings). I opted for the second path, and as it happened, in the months, then years, that followed, I grew increasingly fascinated by the inside of the downturn -- the inner lives of those of us cast adrift in the economic maelstrom.
How can we cultivate happiness when things aren't going our way?
What strategies and resources are most helpful in navigating tough transitions?
What does it mean to be resilient, and can we really "just do it"?
Being a writer, my first impulse was to sort out these questions on paper, first privately and then, little by little, for public consumption. After "outing myself" at Salon -- "I'm Amy. I'm unemployed." -- I went on to explore those questions in a personal blog as well as for venues including Psychology Today and SecondAct.com. My goal was twofold: both to claim my own Great Recession story and to forge connections with fellow travelers in what I'd come to think of as Plan B Nation. ("Plan B -- it's the new Plan A!" I quipped to a friend who, like me, had an unexpected reversal. "Plan A, that's so 20th century," I dryly remarked to another.)
It's been quite a journey, both harder and more rewarding than I could have imagined during those scary and confusing first weeks that followed my last day of paid employment. While my life has changed a lot since then (more about that to come), the post-recession world continues to be a vastly challenging place. During boom times, it can be easy to drift along, buoyed by a strong economy and the promise of life unfolding more or less according to plan. But when resources are scarce or uncertain, as is often the case today, we need to get creative, to clarify our priorities and make the most of what we have.
Strategies for doing exactly that will be the focus of this column. I'm thrilled at the prospect of connecting with SecondAct readers and look forward to sharing what I've learned and, of course, learning from you. I'll be recounting personal stories (both my own and others') along with looking at research likely to prove helpful in traveling the often-rocky Plan B Nation terrain. I'd also love to hear from you. Are there topics you'd like to see addressed? Do you have a story to share? Please let me know.
There is no single Plan B Nation story. We have different strengths, different weaknesses, different temperaments, different needs. That said, my hope is that, whatever your situation, you'll find something useful here. While the facts of our stories may be quite different, our feelings are often the same.