I Was a Middle-Aged Poster Child
by Dale Rosenberg
At 54 years old, and with the particular shade of grey hair that parenting three teenagers engenders, I don’t look much like a poster child. But that’s what I was asked to be last week, at the annual benefit for a large non-profit social services agency. That’s how it was presented to me. “You’re the poster child for our job loss services,” the woman who contacted me said. “You’re so skilled and experienced and articulate and you’re working so hard to find a job.” Eight months into middle-aged unemployment, in the middle of a world-wide recession, this is what my life has come to. I’m asked to be a living example of someone this agency has helped.
Have they helped me? I've attended a bunch of their workshops and regularly go to their job loss support group. I have not gotten a job, or even an interview, with their help. The only interviews I've had were through personal contacts of mine. Still, I do think they have a good program and I am grateful and a little bit hopeful that something will come of it. I agreed to attend the gala. I asked if I could speak, tell my own story, but was told that was not the format of the evening.
It was a dinner benefit, with three honorees, and the idea was that each honoree would highlight a particular program of the agency and then tell the story of a particular client helped by that program. Then the client would stand up and be given a certificate of... I'm not sure what. Not achievement, exactly. Anyway, I said I'd do it and be cheery and grateful and charming, as requested.
How did it go? I survived. I felt both humiliated by being subjected to this and proud of myself for doing it with a smile on my face and playing the part I was supposed to. There were supposed to be three of us downtrodden poster children on display (and, of course, we were seated at the same table), but one didn't show. I don't know what the missing one's story was but the other one who was there was a former abused child removed from her home and, through the great charity of this agency, raised in a group home where she graduated from high school and is now a productive member of society.
I had no input into what was said about me, other than to provide a resume to give them material to write from. I was not even introduced to the honoree who read my story. He is a captain of industry who donated $100,000 at this dinner. Here’s what he read about me:
Tonight really isn’t at all about me. It’s about what this place does. Tonight’s honor really goes to Dale Rosenberg – an experienced IT professional with a track record of implementing solutions and a solid understanding of the kinds of technical things that boggle most minds. Among so many accomplishments, Dale initiated the first information security and business continuity plan at Merrill Lynch International Bank. But, the economy was not kind to Dale and she lost her job as a computer systems manager for New York City during the recession last year. Through her Rabbi Dale found this agency. She credits the spiritual support group and workshops she has attended with helping her cope with the challenges she faced at a time in her life when she thought those challenges were way behind her.
Dale – your sustenance in the face of some pretty tough times speaks volumes about you. Would you please stand to accept our honor?
I was relentlessly upbeat and positive and grateful throughout the evening, and didn't outwardly cringe once when asked what my connection with the agency was. The food was pretty good, particularly the appetizer (roasted beet salad). There was an open bar and I considered getting drunk, but decided it was a bad idea.
There was absolutely no one I met who will be of any help to me in my job search. In fact I didn’t meet many people. I was instructed to come towards the end of the cocktail party since “you won’t know anyone there” but to be sure to be on time for the dinner, since that’s when I’d be on display.
When I told my son – age 21 and a junior in college – about my poster child experience, he asked me why I subjected myself to this humiliation. I explained that I feel I have to, that I was asked to do it by people who just might possibly be contacts who could hear of a job for me at some point, so I need to be cooperative. I’ve written both to the woman who planned the event and the honoree who told my story to ask if I can meet with them to do exploratory interviews. Eight months into unemployment, I’ve exhausted the efforts of friends and friends of friends who might be able to help me make contacts. I don't expect that these people actually will want to help me but I’m willing to grasp at straws, even straws with humiliation tied to them.
Being unemployed, I’ve had to give up a lot of luxuries I can no longer afford. It’s an adjustment, but I manage. Of all I’ve given up, I think I miss my pride the most.