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Samuel Johnson has re-entered the workforce – and it’s taking some adjustment.

Tell me about your previous work life. What did you do, for how long, and how much did you make?

I’ve been a graphic designer for five or six years. I did take some classes along the way, but I’m mostly self-taught. My last position was as an art coordinator for a printing company in New Orleans that did T-shirts, hats, and other apparel. I brought in $17 an hour.

Self-taught? So what is your educational background?

I did some college back in the day. Didn’t finish, though. I figure 32 years old is as good a time as any to start up again, so I’m enrolled now and working on a degree in electrical engineering.

How did you end up unemployed? And how long have you been out of work?

I left that job to move back to San Diego, thinking there would be plenty of work out here for me, and that wasn’t the case.

I thought if I just looked hard enough, I’d find graphic design work. One ad for an open interview said to bring a résumé and samples of your work. So I went, and fifty other people showed up. That’s when I realized there were a lot of graphic designers out of work. I guess for every job there were fifty people looking for the same job.

So I expanded my horizons a bit, and I actually found a couple of jobs, but they didn’t work out. One was a job as a general assembler for a company that built specialized refrigerators. They let me go after about a week – with no reason whatsoever. I think it was because they knew I wouldn’t be there long term if I found something better. Then, I went the adventurous route and took a sales job. I answered an ad for a carpet cleaning position. I did the training for a few days, and it turned out to be nothing like they said it would be. They wanted me to knock on doors and sell a $2,000 vacuum to people who didn’t want it. It was a commission-only position. When I did some research on the company, I realized it was a scam.

OK, so now you’ve landed an actual job. How did you find it, and what are you doing?

After a year of not working, I started putting in applications for minimum-wage jobs, retail, grocery stores, places like that. One grocery store said they weren’t hiring. A couple weeks later, I saw an ad on craigslist for a position at the same store. I had the application sitting on my desk, so I filled it out, left the house, and turned it in. I got an interview within a week, and they hired me on the spot. The man who hired me showed me the stack of applications he’d received that week. It was huge. About half a ream of paper.

So far, minus the training, I’ve worked four days. They have me ringing up customers, stocking shelves, and, my favorite, fetching carts. I do it with a smile because I’m happy to have a job, but I’m also glad the store is kind of hidden so I don’t see too many people I knew when I was out there living the good life. It would be kind of embarrassing.

And how much are they paying you?

Let’s just say it’s about half of what I used to make. During my break the other day, I went and got something to eat. And when I got home, I realized I had just spent more than an hour’s worth of work on some cheap Chinese food.

And what kind of adjustments have you had to make?

Well, I went from having a regular nine-to-five schedule to basically being at the mercy of my boss. Some days I work from one in the afternoon until ten at night. Sometimes I work from eight in the morning to whenever. It kind of sucks, but it is what it is. I know I’m not the only one in this position, but I don’t want to be that guy waiting for the job he used to have that’s never going to come. At some point, you have to realize it’s time to start over.

So what are your plans with this job? Are you going to keep looking for something else?

I plan to stay with it because I’m back in school, and this is going to allow me the time to commit to pursuing a new career.

What would you say to someone else who is just realizing they, too, might have to take a minimum-wage job after ‘living the good life,’ as you say?

Don’t let your pride keep your pockets empty. It took me about a year to accept that I was going to have to work a “regular” job. It’s a hard adjustment, but you’ll get through it.

Any tips or tricks that you want to share about how to get by on less?

Yeah. Eat at home, and stay away from movie theaters.


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