One of the most amazing things about quitting work has been the amount of chance encounters I have had with old friends in recent weeks.
It seems that, doing the 9 to 5 routine, it’s much harder to bump into friends by chance than when you actually have time on your hands.
There are so many old buddies still living in Galway who I literally have not bumped into in years.
And a few chance meetings have resulted in two hour cups of coffee and wonderful conversations about our lives.
After my four days in hospital, I have been given a chance to take stock. I felt a huge sense of liberation the evening I was discharged from University Hospital Galway (UHG) and my surgery reminded me to take stock of all the good things in my life.
I also never wanted to see a hospital trolley again, after 26 hours of lying in a corridor at UHG.
Every day, for three to four weeks, I have to attend the clinic in Shantalla to have my wound dressed by a Public Health Nurse. Throughout the past week, the nurses have been super efficient and never left me waiting for long.
Appointments were over and done with in just ten minutes, in contrast to the awful inefficiencies and hours and hours of waiting I’d experienced in the hospital.
I’ve had to slow down and it’s made me question my eagerness to rush back into a working life after more than 20 years in the same job.
Suddenly, I realise I can do whatever I want. I can go back to Nicaragua and volunteer among some of the poorest, but most welcoming, people I have met in my life. Or work as a divemaster in a tropical island again, enjoying an amazing lifestyle.
Instead of rushing out to find a new job in the Galway wind and rain.
This morning, walking through Shantalla, I met an old childhood friend who I literally had not seen in ten years.
A carpenter by trade, he was hit hard by the economic downturn, but he did not want to emigrate when the crisis hit home in 2008.
These days, he’s finding huge fulfilment in a community employment scheme. He hasn’t got much to live on, but he is enjoying the camaraderie of working in a small group and learning new skills. He relishes attending the course three days per week.
Yesterday, I met another old friend who recently left his job. A man with a number of third level qualifications, he took a job on a factory floor in a medical devices company simply to pay the bills.
Frustrated, but with a decent pay cheque, he ended up staying with the US multinational for almost ten years.
He knew, and his employers knew, that he was overqualified for the job. But sometimes needs must ...
And today I read a blog by a much younger man, in his late 20s, who had to give up on what was, for him, a “dream” job with an organisation he respected, simply because he could not afford the rent in Dublin.
It was one of those Job Bridge schemes, where his dole would have been topped up by €50. Sadly, he realised that he was better off in Galway and staying on the dole – or looking for a job which did not suit his skills, because at least it would cover the bills.
On the Salthill promenade, I met a former neighbour who has experienced both a redundancy and the break-up of his marriage this year. He’s mad keen to work, but he has spent months looking for a job without any luck.
I know another old neighbour who has had to go to the Middle East for work, while leaving his wife and young family at home. He got sick of trying to make ends meet in a business which just wasn’t working any more.
This week’s main story in the Connacht Sentinel brought plenty of good news, showing that the jobless rate in my home town had reached its lowest figure in almost six years.
It’s fantastic that the number of people on the dole is now 13% lower than this time last year.
But these few chance encounters in the space of a couple of days have made me question how much the jobless figures hide the true extent of emigration or the numbers of people getting by on Job Bridge and community employment schemes which barely pay the bills.
How many people are going through the motions just to keep the wolf from the door? How many families have been forced to live apart just so that one of the parents can provide a decent wage?
There is still an awful lot of unfulfilled potential out there. There are still so many people struggling to get by on courses or schemes which don’t match their skills.
No wonder there is so much anger and fear out there that people will soon have to start paying for water, to a private company, in one of the wettest countries on earth!
Ireland might be coming out of recession, but an awful lot of people still have an awful lot to offer in the work place in a way which is not being reflected in either their day-to-day jobs or how much they get paid.