On May 19, 2009, along with a lot of other people, I was laid off from Quark. That was my best-paid job to date, and it would turn out to be my last full-time job.
I was 65, working in a field (IT) that has always been notorious for age discrimination, and it was during the Great Recession, a.k.a. Yet Another Grim Republican Recession, a.k.a. Please Save Us Again, Democratic Party.
Now, I’ve been laid off many times over the decades. (See my essay The Day Job.) This included times when I was in my forties, fifties, and even very early sixties. For various reasons, including a lot of luck, I was able to find a new job each time. I knew — or at least strongly suspected — that it would be different this time. 65 is old in any industry; in IT it’s, like, Egyptian mummy, dude. Even if the economy had been booming, I would have been unlikely to find a new IT job.
I set about looking for a new job, nonetheless, using the methods that had worked for me in the past. (Which you can read all about in my short book The Surprising Benefits of Being Unemployed.) I also looked for whatever contract work I could find, to provide income in the meantime, and just in case “in the meantime” turned out to be a long time.
I picked up a few tech writing and Web development contracts, but it became increasingly clear that the chances of my getting another full-time job were zilch. At some point, I basically stopped looking for full-time work and focused on contracts.
I also applied for Social Security. This was shortly before my 66th birthday. 66 was the age at which I would be eligible for maximum SS benefits, so applying before that meant that I would be getting a slightly reduced monthly amount for the rest of my life. We didn’t see a choice, though.
In fact, my original plan was to work till age 70, because SS gives you a “bonus” for every year you work past the maximum-benefits age, up to 70. If I had kept working till 70, my monthly SS check would have been more than a third greater than it is. Having just hit 70, I can now see the basic flaw in my original plan: Had I tried to keep working full time for another five years, I would have gone totally bonkers.
For the first few years after that last layoff, Leonore and I felt sad and tense every time the May 19 anniversary came around. Then Leonore suggested that we try to see the date as marking my freedom from full-time work. Except for worrying about money and the future — and that wasn’t really something new — we were really enjoying the ability to spend so much time together and being free from the tyranny of the alarm clock. She suggested observing May 19 as David’s Liberation Day.
And so we did, and so we do, and it has become a happy day, indeed.
Giving the day that name has been important. It did change my attitude, just as Leonore hoped. It marked some kind of mental transition from “fearful out-of-work guy looking desperately for a job” to “happy, free, relaxed guy who does the occasional contract because the extra money is welcome, but he’s entirely his own boss”.
As it happened, during the last five years, I also liberated myself from the traditional publishing industry and switched entirely to self-publishing. It’s true that the traditional publishing industry had liberated itself from me. I had become as appealing to editors and agents as I was to software companies. However, just as with IT work, I had stopped pursuing them. I was no longer sending out query letters, just as I was no longer sending out resumes. When I finish with this blog post, I’ll return to my current novel in progress knowing that once it’s in final form, it will be published. By me. Just thinking about that makes me happy. I feel as light as air.
David’s Liberation Day, indeed!