When people lose a job, they lose more than an income. The real battle happens in the heart and mind as the jobless struggle to maintain self-esteem and ward off depression. The scars last forever.
Here's what some of them, back from the brink, have learned:
» READ MORE: Nate Greiner, Exton:
Then: Laid off as a media buyer in 2009. In between, he tried and failed to start his own media-buying business while working full time at Home Depot.
Now: Works as a media buyer for Drexel University, a "fantastic opportunity" that he loves, although he earns "far less than my prior peak salary, but I am grateful to be employed again." He said he never wants "to endure the hardship I encountered during the past recession again."
"The best advice was to focus on me and my self-preservation. Always have an alternative plan. Continuing to network also proved beneficial by establishing new relationships and keeping up with current ones. Last, keep learning."
» READ MORE: Mike Bruni, Wrightstown
Then: Financial adviser, lived in Jacobstown, Burlington County, laid off in March 2010 at age 27, out of work for a year.
Now: Working for JP Morgan, lives in East Windsor., N.J.
"In March 2011, I joined the Vanguard Group; I took a 33 percent pay cut but was happy to be back at work." Bruni got his master's degree, joined PwC in New York and was laid off after six months due to lack of work. "Fortunately I was only out of work for three months, having learned how to network and job-search from my previous experience. I have learned just how resilient and resourceful I can be when my back is against the wall. I am not too proud to take work when I need it. I know my work ethic will serve me well in any role."
Then: Curriculum designer in talent management, lived in King of Prussia, laid off in December 2008, followed by several short-term contracts and then a permanent job. Laid off from that job after three years, out of work for six months, and has held her current job for three years.
Now: Global learning and development manager, frequent volunteer to help others who lose their jobs.
"Always be willing to help others. I don't give to get; However, people will be there for you if you have been there for them. Always be building and staying in contact with your network. If you have been fortunate enough never to have lost your job, be understanding of those who have. Have network meetings/calls with them, share connections and ideas. You never know when you will be in the same boat."
» READ MORE: William West, Philadelphia:
Then: Corporate communications for Cigna Corp., laid off in January 2009. Landed a part-time job after a 2011 article on unemployed was published in the Inquirer, in addition to freelancing assignments.
Now: Now retired and doing volunteer work.
"We lose a couple of things when we lose a job. First, there is income. Second, we lose a circle of colleagues. I think colleagues are a very important source of validation. In particular, they can tell you, knowledgeably, that you are good at your job. Losing that buttress can be almost as important as losing a paycheck. A piece of advice my brother gave me when I lost my job: Give yourself permission to change your mind. Not every piece of work you pick up will turn out to be to your taste. Just let go and move on."
» READ MORE: Karen Jones, West Chester:
Then: Environmental and safety manager at Reynolds plant in Downingtown, laid off in October 2009 when the plant closed. Out of work for two years.
Now: Environmental, safety, and health engineer, a lower-level position in the same field.
"Companies have learned to run leaner and employees are tasked with more responsibilities. As far as life lessons, learn to be flexible. Anytime I have ever tried to plan my life, I have ended up doing something completely different. Do not be afraid to go beyond your comfort zone. Don't worry. Be happy."
» READ MORE: Samuel Jimenez, New York:
Then: Landscape architect lost work when construction dried up in March 2010. Worked three jobs, horticulture trainer for inmates, retail clerk, and bouncer.
Now: Senior associate in a private landscaping firm, a job he loves after having worked a series of contracts as a community designer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), helping New York communities recover from Hurricane Sandy.
"This life is about transition. Get used to transition. It's not a bad thing. Gone are the days where one can be a 'company man.' The way we roll with the punches in life also translates to professional life. At the end it makes you a stronger person."
» READ MORE: Beth Monahan, Philadelphia:
Then: Laid off in Nov. 2010 from a job in corporate communications.
Now: In business for herself.
I'm happy to report that I am now working for myself as a home concierge [in Northwest Philadelphia]. This means I help people with anything home-related — recovering from surgery, caring for pets, errands, organizing, senior care, transportation, meeting contractors, etc. I find this work rewarding, and it suits me to have a variety of tasks and clients each day. I recently helped a woman recover from a broken ankle. On my first visit, I helped her get her first shower and picked up some groceries and wine for her. She was so happy!
I've learned to live on significantly less income, but it hasn't been that hard. My spending is now needs-based versus wants-based, and it turns out my needs are not that great. The hardest part has been individual health insurance.
I marvel sometimes that I have not had a "job job" for six years and have not incurred any debt or hardship. I do not miss the stress and boredom of corporate life. It served me well, but that leg of my career is permanently over. I find that helping people is much more fulfilling. When I looked back and read my profile, the headline was "Wanted: A Job With Meaning." That made me smile.
» READ MORE: Michael McGinley, Oakland, Calif.:
Then: Lawyer laid off twice, in October 2007 and March 2009. Worked for years as a contract lawyer, here and in California.
Now: Landed a permanent job this year in San Francisco.
"As cliche as it sounds, struggle does result in a greater appreciation for life and a deeper understanding of what is important. We are not defined by our economic output and the value the market puts on it and shouldn't let ourselves be so defined."