Job? Check.

Bolso pistacho

I am among the lucky.

After some three years of freelance-punctuated unem­ploy­ment, next month I’ll be return­ing to work. And not only will I have a full-time job, I’ll also have the oppor­tu­nity to work with peo­ple I really like on issues that really mat­ter. As a mem­ber of the Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health’s exter­nal rela­tions team, I’ll have the priv­i­lege of sup­port­ing glob­ally sig­nif­i­cant work in areas rang­ing from dis­ease pre­ven­tion to diet and nutri­tion to health care policy.

I feel both for­tu­nate and grate­ful – espe­cially given my appar­ent demo­graphic handicap.

As the New York Times reported in May, “[a] worker between ages 50 and 61 who has been unem­ployed for 17 months has only about a 9 per­cent of find­ing a new job in the next three months.” (While I’m at the low-end of that range, I’m squarely within it.)  And if that’s not enough: The num­ber of unem­ployed peo­ple between the ages of 50 and 65 has more than dou­bled since the onset of the Great Recession.

The result is noth­ing short of a national emer­gency,” the arti­cle con­tin­ued. “Mil­lions of work­ers have been dis­con­nected from the work force, and pos­si­bly even from soci­ety. If they are not recon­nected, the costs to them and to soci­ety will be grim.”

Given the focus of my new job, it seems fit­ting to point out that unem­ploy­ment is a press­ing pub­lic health issue. To wit, the Times cites stud­ies link­ing unem­ploy­ment to can­cer, heart dis­ease, and psy­chi­atric prob­lems. One study esti­mated a 50 to 100 per­cent increase in death rates for con­sis­tently employed older men imme­di­ately after a job loss.

While my own story has been less har­row­ing health-wise, these years have unques­tion­ably been the most chal­leng­ing of my life. And as I wrote in Salon last fall, “Cop­ing with pro­longed job­less­ness is hugely demand­ing .…Two years of job hunt­ing has required infi­nitely more of me than any of my lauded past achievements.”

That said, while I wouldn’t have cho­sen it, I can’t say that I entirely regret the past three years. There’s some­thing to be said for hav­ing been swept up in the larger story, for lessons that can come in no other way than liv­ing into them. For all my Har­vard degrees and impres­sive resume, I was not immune – nor do I think I should have been. I’m reminded of an inter­view with the late actor Christo­pher Reeve after the acci­dent that ren­dered him quad­ri­plegic. Asked whether he some­times asked “Why me?” Reeve responded: “Why not me?”

Cut loose from expec­ta­tions, I also found a new voice as a writer – I stopped wor­ry­ing about what peo­ple would think and started tak­ing big­ger risks. This was a tremen­dous gift and one that I carry with me. As I wrote here, blog­ging changed my life, and I’m deeply grate­ful to all of you who’ve shared this space with me over the past nine months. I can’t imag­ine the past year with­out Plan B Nation – or with­out you, its readers.

Now that you have a job, will you keep writ­ing the blog?” a friend asked curiously.

My answer: Absolutely.

Going back to work feels like reach­ing home in a storm. I’m grate­ful for the shel­ter, grate­ful for the sus­te­nance. But out­side, the gales are still blow­ing, and many more are home­less. We’re all still liv­ing in Plan B Nation, whether we see it or not.