Retrenchments: Reality sets in

2009-04-30 00:00

Although it is clearly a difficult topic to discuss in public, retrenchments in Pietermaritzburg have undoubtedly taken hold across many of the city’s main sectors.

One may even go as far as saying that in some business circles, it is kept fairly well hidden from the public domain.

The period directly after one is retrenched almost inevitably turns out to be one of the most harrowing times in one’s life.

For one young Pietermaritzburg woman, Victoria* (30), her recent retrenchment from a local law firm dished out all the expected emotions, namely a feeling of worthlessness, irritation, pain, fear and eventually panic.

It also brought home the true nature and impact of the local and global economic downturn, proving that no town, city, province or country is immune to such overwhelming forces.

However, in her case, it also shaped a new career path in her life, characterised by the unlocking of previously unknown entrepreneurial and creative streaks.

She related her brief spell (two months) as an unemployed young person in Pietermaritzburg, noting that she was retrenched in February.

At first, she took the relatively shocking news fairly well as she was already in line for a new job elsewhere in the city.

“I felt like this is a raw deal, but at least there’s something else.”

However, this changed when — a short while later — the opportunity fell away.

“Then, it’s this sickening feeling in your stomach. It’s actually quite scary. You’re thinking, who do I owe money to? You send your CV to every ad in the newspaper.”

Certain pleasures that are usually taken for granted, such as Victoria’s constant desire to shop, suddenly became a major dilemma, particularly when every spending decision had to be weighed up in a much more rigorous way.

“I used to be a shopaholic. I couldn’t go to the mall without buying something. It’s not nice when you have to cut back.

“You don’t want to be alone at a time like that. Even though I had my own place, my parents and I decided that I would live with them. They really supported me emotionally and with the job search such as sending out CVs.”

Her friends, for the most part, were also sensitive to her situation.

“This is the time when you discover who your true friends are. My two best friends, when we went out, used to pay for me.”

One of the most challenging aspects of life without a job relates to how one spends one’s time, particularly during the day.

“At first it felt like an extended holiday.”

However, this soon changed and Victoria was left wondering about what to do with herself.

“I even helped organise baby showers! I used to volunteer to go grocery shopping for the family. I also started doing a few creative things. By the second month though, I was frustrated. You really start getting depressed. You ask: ‘What did I do to deserve this?’”

Victoria is very clear about one key lesson related to finding a job in this city.

“I learnt that ‘It’s not always what you know, it’s who you know’ that can get you the job.”

She has a few simple and even unusual tips for employed and unemployed people.

“Wherever possible, get some kind of insurance on your clothing accounts. It’s cover for when something like this happens. Also, take out a savings policy of some sort that can pay out on a rainy day. Network with as many people as possible.”

Victoria is clearly one of the fortunate ones though, as she has been able to find alternative (half-day) employment and spends the latter half of the day in new and exciting pursuits.

These include racking up orders for her work — which entails making creative frames for photographs of pregnancies and children — and assisting in organising baby showers and selling Honey jewellery.

“Everything in life happens for a reason and now I believe this. Also, I have the afternoon to pursue my dreams and talents.”

* Not her real name.

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