I've now heard those dreaded three words twice in my life --the first time as an executive at a prestigious PR firm, the second, in front of millions of American TV viewers as I vied for my "second chance" as a contestant on The Apprentice.
Losing a "good job," as the nation grappled with what many have called the worst economic climate since the Great Depression was scary-so scary that my desperation to secure new employment propelled me out of my real life and into the spotlight of reality television, as I competed for a $250,000 salary and a one-year membership to the world of the employed.
If you followed my quest for an express ticket out of the unemployment line, then you know that my story did not end the way I'd hoped. After permanently disproving the saying "It's as easy as riding a bicycle," (I failed to demonstrate the bicycling prowess necessary to pass the NY pedi-cab exam- my first mis-step on the long and arduous road to my termination.), I was banished from the board room and back to my real life, marked by lots of bills and little income.
Having been dealt two terminations, I was beginning to lose hope, but amid all of the distress something miraculous happened. By sharing my job loss story with the world, I gained the opportunity to meet so many of you. Shortly after the show aired, I began receiving letters, emails, Facebook posts, and tweets from other unemployed Americans who identified with my story. You told me of your struggles to provide for your children, the hours you've spent submitting résumés and job applications online, the miles of pavement you beat every day going from door to door looking for work in a job market where no one ever seems to be hiring.
You've shared your frustrations, your humiliation, your self-doubt, and even hopelessness. With me you've been vulnerable, open, and unafraid to tell the truth about the actual people (and families) behind the unemployment figures.
To those who took the time to reach out to me, I've made a personal point to write back to each of you. We've exchanged emails, Facebook messages, tweets, and in some cases, coffee or an occasional lunch. I reach back out because I know all too well the hurt and confusion that you detail in your letters, and I want you to know that you are not alone. For those who are grappling with these issues, but have never shared your story with me personally, I want you to know that I still hear and understand your struggles too.
You want to know what you did wrong. You want to know why "this" is happening to you. You want to know how you are supposed to feed your children and what you are supposed to say when people ask you what you do. You want to know how you-someone who has given your company and your country so much-could suddenly find yourself with so little without a helping hand to cleave to or an end in sight.
Quite simply, you want to know Where the jobs are; How you can find another; and When you can begin earning a living again.
If I knew the formula to finding employment in this economy, I promise I would share it with you. I believe that any American who aims to work should have the opportunity to do so. You deserve to earn a living. You deserve to be able to take care of yourself. You deserve to provide for your family. You deserve the dignity and respect that an honest day's work brings.
For each of you, I hope all of these things and more. In the meantime, I can only offer my own personal journey as a beacon of light in what I know feels like a dark and lonely tunnel. One year, a reality show, and countless interviews later, I once again find myself counted among the employed. I am working in my field, this time with the added bonus of serving an organization that helps displaced people re-enter the workforce.
I'm not telling you about my job to brag- for I am truly humbled by and thankful for being able to wake up and go to work every day. I'm offering my story only as a token of hope, that even though the future may seem uncertain today, if you continue to press and persevere, there is always the possibility of a new beginning tomorrow.
Whether you worked in a factory or a fashion house, a bus depot or a board room, we are all in this unemployment boat together. As our politicians fight over the best ways to stimulate or stymie the economy, I believe that it is up to us- those who have truly been in the trenches of unemployment- to share our trials, tribulations, stories, and solutions.
Despite the statistics, we still live in the greatest country on Earth- one founded by debtors and fostered into a global super power. The strength of America has always been its people, and whether employed or in waiting, we, the people, must continue to persevere.
Unemployment has no face, no age, no gender and no address. It is on the minds and in the homes of Americans everywhere.
The jobs problem in America can be fixed, but it will be up to us-those who know its ails most intimately- to come together and lead the charge.
I look forward to sharing with you, through my partnership with AOL and its Jobs Week initiative, some of the stories that you have shared with me- profiles of hope, perseverance, resilience, and triumph-along with some of the lessons I've learned along the way.
Join us on this week-long journey and as we aim to re-humanize our country's employment crisis, we can, together, empower America to face the fired.
Stories from 24/7 Wall St.