At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Navigating the "Wilderness Walk" of Unemployment

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The economy added 162,000 jobs in July, falling short of what analysts had expected. Fifty-three percent of American adults are still out of full-time work, and Tanya Ross-Lane is one of them.

After the 2008 financial crisis, she watched her salary slowly slip from fifty-five thousand dollars to forty thousand dollars as she worked as a senior training specialist with a company that made ATMs and security-systems. On Groundhog Day 2010, after thirteen years of work with the company, she was laid off.

Her husband, Michael Lane, was also unemployed at the time. He lost his job with a home contractor where he earned an hourly wage pouring concrete and installing cabinets and floors.

Ross-Lane has spent the last three years bouncing from different part-time gigs and temporary contract positions around the Cleveland-Akron area of Ohio, which was a major downgrade from her entrepreneurial past.

A Special Gift

Before working as a senior training specialist, Ross-Lane started her own business. In 1991 she founded MLane Group, a commercial cleaning company based in Washington, D.C. She worked construction during the day and ran her business cleaning Domino’s Pizza restaurants at night. Previous to that, she managed two different fast food franchises, Popeye’s and Church’s Chicken.

She recaps her experience hiring employees at fast food restaurants and her cleaning service:

No one grows up thinking they’re going to fry chicken or clean floors for a living. They don’t think what they’re doing is important and most of my employees saw no future in their role. But when I encouraged them to discover their gifts and God’s purpose for them on earth, I helped connect their present with their future, and their jobs meant so much more to them.

Lower turnover rates proved that her encouraging management style was effective. She says the average employee at the fast food restaurants she managed generally stayed on payroll six to nine months. But under her leadership, she was usually able to retain employees for over a year.

Ross-Lane was a natural leader, but it wasn’t until later in her career that she realized what a special gift she had. While she was a senior training specialist, she says coworkers always told her she had a unique ability to identify talents in others and encourage them to use their gifts to find dignity and purpose in their work. She has been inspired to pursue a career employing her unique gift ever since.

Navigating the Wilderness

As someone who once encouraged employees to find fulfillment in their work, Ross-Lane is now sitting on the other side of the table, unemployed. While looking for work, she joined a community job club hosted at a local church.

We all felt like we lost most of our identities. We were going to lose our wealth and had no dignity left since we lost our jobs. I wanted to believe that God had a purpose in closing these doors, and that one would soon re-open.

She says God used the job club to improve her interviewing and networking skills in order to find part-time and temporary work, but he also used her to encourage others looking for work.

My faith drove me to want to help others believe God was in control and had not forgotten them. Similar to what I preached at my former job, I helped these people find dignity and purpose during their season of unemployment. God places each of us in situations to help us grow or reach others.

Along with an impressive work experience, Ross-Lane holds a B.S. in Business Management, an M.S. in Strategic Leadership, an M.A. in Learning and Teaching Technologies. But she is still unemployed today (though she prefers the term “in-between her successes”). She received unemployment benefits during her time out of work, but she says it wasn’t dignifying.

I would rather earn a paycheck. I want to add value using my God-given talents and skills to create value in the marketplace and receive financial compensation for a job well done.

Her unemployment benefits have since expired.

She dreams of the day she can again be an entrepreneur or have a role in career development, where she can put her leadership skills into practice, but her hope is running thin:

I used to have so much confidence that I would find another job and be able to start my own consulting business. My confidence is growing weak and my faith is waning, but still I believe in the American dream. I would like to have a leadership role in learning and development or start my own consulting business, but neither dream has come true yet.

Though her dream has not yet materialized, she has been steadily working towards it. For the past nine months, she has been building the framework for her own career development and recruiting service called ARK of Central Ohio. She envisions providing career assessments, leadership training, customer service training, and recruitment training to small businesses. She is also passionate about reaching out to Christian businesses and providing workforce training based on biblical principles.

Ross-Lane is currently offering her expertise speaking pro-bono at jobs clubs, rotary clubs, local chambers of commerce, and small businesses. She is working on developing content and a website that will give her the traction she needs to start making a living for her services.

Her husband has since found full-time work with a window-installation company and all three of her children are employed full-time. But she still struggles with her career-downsize:

This is a wilderness walk for me and my family, for they have never seen me without work this long. I have been the majority and primary income earner in our family for the last twenty years.

She says she finds peace through prayer, fasting, and understanding there is a wilderness walk for everyone.

Elijah, David, the Israelites, Jesus, they all had their periods of wilderness. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, but God is telling me he hasn’t forgotten me. He is taking care of me, maybe not the way I want him to, but I haven’t lost my house, my car, or a meal yet. God is telling me to hang in there.

Ross-Lane leaves the unemployed with words of wisdom and hope during their job hunt:

You will recover by being good stewards of your God-given talents during this down time. Keep your skills current and your talents exercised by doing part-time work and volunteer work. Believe that an employer will soon have a need for your skills and talents and you will be able to prove that you are the right fit for their organization. Seek God to order your steps in the path to follow.

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