The 54-year-old Sean Cipriani is no stranger to unemployment.
In a place where computers manage for efficiency and making money can be a blunt object, Mr. Cipriani has long done everything within his powers to stay steady. He joined and founded the Swiss Army, rose to the title of head of marketing and operation for the service and trekked for Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide.
But now he finds himself out of work again. After freelancing as an advertising salesman for seven years, he was recently laid off. “I’m in a kind of limbo,” he said.
Being laid off, he discovered, is simply another month in an already hectic place. It’s a place in which time passes at a slowness that neither you nor the people around you understand. It is a place where the challenges you faced in a year of the good, the bad and the mediocre — all around you — become inaccessible.
The life-pain of a layoff is “the chaos of life,” Mr. Cipriani said, “like no clock or schedule.”
And so for the past two years, he has emerged with a system of creativity and survival.
He and his friend and co-founder, Michael Brodeur, 46, started the year starting when both men learned in the beginning of the year that their jobs would not be renewed. At work, the job change turned out to be welcome.
“It was a down year,” said Mr. Brodeur, who was laid off in March 2015. “At the beginning it’s scary. There’s uncertainty, but this was more like a holiday. I got that feeling that life is never going to be the same again. Now here I am, through another traumatic year.”
The men found themselves glued to their coffee cups. Mr. Cipriani wrote, “I’m able to work more unproductively here on the ferry than I do at the job,” referring to the freighter in which they go for weekly coffee and workout meetings. Then he started planning.
It was almost impossible, they realized, to plan much of anything in their new chaotic world.
Mr. Cipriani ran off three weeks of material his work colleagues left behind. He put on a white lab coat and signed himself on for a stint as volunteer medic in East Africa. Mr. Brodeur returned to his high-risk equity job, moved out of his parents’ house, and sought therapy.
“You can’t do anything because this world is bigger than you and you’re left alone trying to do the best job you can,” Mr. Cipriani said.
He dug into two books, a puzzle book and a leather journal. He kept to his longtime routine, having taken a couple of weeks off every November, and checked out a deep disc J.D. Salinger had written that looked backward on his life and at all the people he had known.
“I’m having to work a lot harder to earn my keep this year,” he said.
After a year of unemployment and the move, Mr. Cipriani found himself in debt.
“I bought three really expensive suits,” he said. “I got to where I really needed to do something with my life.”
“I’m having to kind of jump into all these things I never thought I’d be doing,” he said. “The guy who’s laid off suddenly has to start at the bottom and climb back.”
He’s feeling out of his comfort zone, and “on the nerves,” he said. “It’s a battle being laid off every day. I feel like the start of a new search for myself.”