More Recession Re-set: "I'm Tired of Slaving; I Want to Live"

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"For me the recession and getting laid off has been transformative. It brings to a head what I really value." says Alex Gargarita, 45-year-old single father of two. Alex is one of thousands left jobless because of the tech industry contraction in Silicon Valley, but rather than viewing the career disruption as hardship or professional setback, he plans to use his downtime as an opportunity to reinvent his life and self.

Alex has been working in Silicon Valley since 1986, so lived through the dot com swan dive of the late 1990s. "This is so much worse," he says. "This is the worst downturn. Much worse than the tech bubble bursting."

Official statistics back up Alex's impression of the economic state of Silicon Valley. According to the state's Employment Development Department, post-dot-com-bust unemployment peaked at 9.2% in early 2003. In August, effects of the recession had unemployment in Silicon Valley at 12%, though experts note the rate of job losses has slowed dramatically over the past two months, indicating the tech industry may be entering an early stage of recovery.

For Alex's future life plans, Silicon Valley recovery is all but irrelevant, since he has no intention of returning. His unemployment check covers the mortgage payment for now. Anthony, his 21-year-old son, has picked up a part-time job to help contribute to household expenses while in school studying criminology.  Alex is learning out how to apply for various government assistance for help with utilities and food, so their collective scrimping and saving will keep them going for awhile. If Alex ever has a moment of insecurity, anxiety, or doubt, he just looks at his youngest son, 11-year-old Nicholas, who struggles with an autism-spectrum disorder. "He's just happy and wants love and wants to play. Whenever I need a sense of perspective, I just talk to him."

Most of Alex's 20+year career has been dedicated to marketing one high-tech product or another. He excelled at his work, earned good money--enough to purchase a small house in 1997, sufficient to convince him that comfortable affluence equaled happiness. But after being laid off in July, he has begun to spend time examining his values, re-evaluating what he thinks important.

"I can't really dwell on being unemployed and feel bad about it. I've really been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life and career. Over this time, I've begun to realize that living with that traditional corporate culture mindset, in a lot of ways I felt like a robot. Balance was really lacking when I was working. It was all work, work, work. It's about 'the rush.' Peope do that all the time, I think in Silicon Valley more than anywhere else. It's an addiction to work. An addiction to ambition. An addiction to succeed."

"I don't know what an ideal American dream is anymore. Right now I'm trying to re-invent myself completely. There are so many things I would give up for a better quality of life. And what I consider a better quality of life is evolving under the current circumstances. I have a small house, but I would trade for a smaller house. Having a higher quality of life means having balance. That means being able to spend time with my family, pursuing my passion. I don't really see work as something inside an 8 to 5 box anymore. These days work is global, 24 hours. I don't want to be bound by the traditional concept of having a 'J.O.B.'"

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Christina Davidson is a writer, photographer, and book editor who specializes in national security, terrorism, and war. She also writes for the food blog Feed The Masses. More

Christina Davidson is a writer, photographer and book editor based in Washington, D.C. She specializes in editing books about national security, terrorism, and war, but writes for a broad array of publications, including the popular frugalicious foodie blog Feed The Masses. She is working on a book based on her Recession Road Trip project for TheAtlantic.com.

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