After high school, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in Media and Video Production. Since there were no courses available in this field anywhere near my hometown in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, I moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland to take a course that was offered at a private college in that city. The industry seemed to be really picking up there with many productions happening all over the city. By the time I graduated, there was absolutely nothing going on. I sent a couple of resumes off to local radio and television stations, but nothing panned out. For almost a year, I worked at low-paying, dead end jobs to make ends meet. I continued to do my writing, which back than was more of a hobby than a career, and snagged a volunteer position at Roger’s cable doing camera work for a local talk show and directing the tapings of city hall meetings.
In 2002, fed up with my most recent dead-end job, I once again embarked on a large-scale job-hunting frenzy. I was called for an interview with a marketing research company downtown. The position was for a survey interviewer. I wasn’t overly enthused by this type of work as it meant working in a call center atmosphere but I went for it anyway because it paid more than I was making at my other job and it wouldn’t involve selling credit cards or phone directories to people in foreign countries.
I was hired on with that company and started out on the phones, part-time. Within a year, I moved up to quality assurance monitor and than onto editor and than onto data coder. Between those duties and random other tasks that were thrown my way when the office became very busy, I was getting full time hours. I started to love the job. I liked the people I worked with, I loved the work (working with statistics and doing research grew on me during those years) and I loved my schedule. I was able to make my own hours by choosing day or night shifts, to not work weekends or to work overtime. Of course, I chose to work as much overtime and weekends as possible so I could bank enough money to take a month off in the summer and go home to Nova Scotia to spend time with my family and friends there.
For eight years, things were going well with the company and that was confirmed at a Holiday staff party in 2009 when our manager told us how well business was going despite the downturn in the economy that seemed to be affecting many other businesses. However, in the months following, I started to sense something wasn’t right. Work slowed down significantly, there were layoffs, I wasn’t getting full time hours anymore and some of the new incentives that were going to be put in place in the new year were stalled. Overall office morale went down the tubes. Then came the dreaded call. Normally, when my supervisor called me in the early afternoon, it was to ask me to come in a few hours early for the night shift. This call was different and I sensed right away that something was wrong when I was asked to come in for a meeting. By the end of that meeting, we all went our separate ways with our pink slips in hand. The company had folded and no longer existed…and just like that I was unemployed.
I made my way home in a daze. When the news finally hit me, I didn’t know what to do. I had an apartment to pay for and many other bills. Jobs I was qualified for that paid more than minimum wage were scarce and I had been employed for so long that I forgot how to job search. I didn’t even have a resume and completely forgot how to write one. I was completely lost. I had previously toyed with the idea of possibly heading back to the mainland at some point to look for higher paying work and that option occupied my mind for several weeks while I tried to figure out what to do next. I did give it some thought but looking back now, the decision was still a hastily-made one by someone who was not in their right frame of mind. I gave notice to my landlord that I would be vacating the apartment on January 10th, I booked a moving truck to transport all of my belongings, booked the ferry to transport myself to the mainland, let my family back home know that I would be crashing at home for a while until I found a new place and let my friends in St. John’s know that I would be leaving for good. The latter was the hardest; I spent more than ten years building a life in St. John’s and I had a circle of good friends I would be leaving behind.
I left St. John’s on a cold, blustery day in January. After a 16-hour bus ride across the island and a 7-hour ferry crossing to Cape Breton, I tried my best to settle in at home. I moved back into the home I grew up in and, although it was familiar and full of wonderful childhood memories, I found it hard to come to terms with the fact that I was back there; I became so independent after living on my own for so long and I always said I would never move back to Cape Breton or live with my parents. But there I was, living back in Cape Breton with my parents. I felt like a complete failure and, as time went by, I began to have second thoughts about leaving Newfoundland. I couldn’t shake the thought that if I had of just thought things out more thoroughly and not acted so quickly, I could have continued to make a life there. On the plus side, the lay off from that job provided me with some free time to job-hunt and work on my freelance writing while still making enough money on unemployment insurance to get by on.
Cape Breton is a very economically depressed area and there are very few jobs that pay more than minimum wage available. I was able to do some catering work here and there but full-time jobs in my field, or in any field besides call center work, were scare and when they did come up, the competition was fierce. Plus, I didn’t know anyone and being from a small town, that helps when you are looking for a job…unfortunately. I learned quickly that your education and past experience don’t always get you very far in Cape Breton if you do not know the right people.
For almost two years, I wrote until my fingers were numb, I built relationships with publishers and found some part-time gigs writing content and blog posts, I worked on my own blog and built an online presence and a lengthy portfolio and worked on my photography skills. Last summer, after a conversation with an acquaintance who worked at a job for the federal government, I decided to apply for a job opening that came up. Having no knowledge of the application and hiring process for government jobs, I sought help from a career counselor and started work with the government last fall. I really liked the job, but like the last one I liked, it came to an end. At least with that job, I knew it would end at a certain time because I was only hired on as temp employee. Nonetheless, it was still disappointing to find myself, yet again, lining up at the unemployment office.
The good thing about being laid off in the late Spring? I had the summer off. I still looked for work and worked on my blog and some other freelance projects but I mostly had all that time to myself. I had just moved to a new place a few months earlier and I lost my Mom in April so I was due for a break…some time to arrange my thoughts, de-stress and have some time to myself. I made good use of that time too. I embarked on a road trip to Moncton to visit my great-aunt, a woman who was close to my mom but whome I had never met. I spent a lot of time walking the beaches of Cape Breton and taking long hikes in the woods. I made many mini-trips to the Cape Breton Highlands to visit my sister who was living in Ingonish for the summer. And I managed to get to Newfoundland to visit my friends and the city I once lived in for many years.
So what’s next? I’ve applied for a few jobs and hopefully one of them pans out soon. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to get on with one of the camps out west doing housekeeping…or anything I am capable of doing out there. The money is good and the work is plentiful in the oilfields but, if I can help it, that idea will remain on the backburner. For now, I would rather take a break here, in Cape Breton, for a while. Most of my family is here, I am settled in my place for now and my cat, Captain Jack, doesn’t fair well with me being gone for long periods of time – nor does he take well to other people looking after him. I also considered going back to school to take travel and tourism or journalism but not sure about that at this time either. If I could have things my way, I would just travel, write and take pictures for a living. I realize that not that many people are fortunate enough to be able to do that full time and not starve to death or resort to living in their car but it’s nice to dream. I feel I am doing more than just dreaming though. If I work hard enough and keep at it, that dream could come true and the possibility that it COULD come true is enough to keep me going even if my passions never transform into a full-time career. I spend many hours each day tweeting, blogging, commenting, editing, posting and networking. I even enrolled in the MatadorU Travel Writing course which I am currently working my way through. Writing is what I do when everyone else is sitting down in front of their televisions every evening. I write in my dreams, I keep a notepad next to my bed and in my car, my phone is full of apps that help me keep all my thoughts and aspirations in order. I will always write. I will always travel. I will always capture the beauty of my surroundings in both words and pictures, but for the time-being, I will need a day job to pay the bills!