Jobless? Party in the spirit of Rome

Posted Oct. 09, 2009, at 8:09 p.m.

If you are like too many people who are forced to start or extend a long search for a new job, you certainly can feel disheartened by the process. When you are feeling down and out of a job, it’s obvious that it’s time to network. But networking need not be limited to visiting career centers, communicating with everyone you ever worked for or with — along with friends, family, fellow alumni and mentors who have guided you over a lifetime. All of these people are worth contacting by phone or e-mail. But let’s face it, the process is tiring, and making e-mail contact also can be lonely. Your task is not a happy one, after all.

That’s why it’s time to take a more upbeat approach and gather everyone who might support you — practically and emotionally — into one place. If you feel like a citizen of ancient Rome with your life burning down all around you, consider throwing a “Fiddling While Rome Burns Party (toga optional).” This may sound silly, but if your party succeeds as mine did some 14 years ago, you may turn out not to be not just the hero of your own life but the emperor of your future.

First, get a grip on a little ancient history. For those who do not have this in the front of their minds, it was A.D. 64 when a massive fire swept through Rome, leaving two-thirds of the city in ashes. Legend has it that Emperor Nero played the fiddle or the lyre, oblivious to the plight of Rome’s residents while the conflagration raged on. But a more careful scrutiny of history indicates he actually ran about in the city directing largely unsuccessful firefighting efforts.

Nevertheless, the notion of fiddling while Rome burns still suggests behaving playfully during a crisis. That’s why, when I was laid off from a job years ago, I decided to throw a party around this theme. Like Latin students at their Saturnalia parties, I actually did drape a sheet around myself for the occasion. Given that I was financially challenged, I made my party a potluck event, and I made sure to contribute “Roman-style” fare such as grapes, wine and pizza. I invited everyone I could think of to the event, including not just people whom I saw as most likely to know about job leads but neighbors, members of my church and a few relatives.

Why would I wish to lark around when my job situation was in ruins? There are three answers to this question. I wanted to feel less alone about my plight. I longed to throw cockeyed optimism in the face of difficulty. And I thought I would make myself more memorable in the eyes of potential helpers if they saw me as upbeat and creative in the midst of all the challenges I was facing.

I have to laugh when I remember how I was the only one to wear a “toga,” and how I worked to disguise my bashfulness about this. I also have to smile when I remember that I won a most rewarding newsroom job in a matter of just three weeks after I threw my Roman-style bash. The job came from an unlikely source. It turned out that one of the church members whom I’d invited was a professor of journalism who was sometimes asked to recommend students for entry-level positions on a major Boston newspaper. When a request came in to her shortly after my party, she recommended me instead of a student for the newsroom job. And, as they say, the rest is history!

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