I will ride my bicycle this summer, not so much because I can, but because I want to.

Three years ago I became a shadow person, one of those nameless faceless people who fill up the ranks of the jobless, or even worse, who have exhausted their unemployment and must rely on odd jobs and family favors to keep things going. It was my second media layoff in as much time.

The first time I was laid off, I never really became a shadow person because I fell from unemployed status to semi-employed and then fully employed within a month. But the second layoff was followed by a full-on case of the shadows as I toiled for two years trying to get my foot in the door somewhere – anywhere.

The past three years as a shadow person have been a struggle to make ends meet working as a freelance writer/editor, landscape artist and jack of all trades. No job too big or too small. Riding a bicycle was a luxury that was reserved for people with leisure time. The sign on the door says, “shadow people not allowed.”

Many of you shared similar heart-felt sentiments when my first blog post about the shadow people was published in Yahoo’s small business section (and incorrectly attributed). The outpouring of sentiment was like nothing I’ve ever seen on any of my posts. AnnMarie McIlwain, founder and CEO of Careerfuel.net where the blog originally published, told me the “number of comments rivals that of syndicated columnists in The New York Times,” yet my post only appeared in some very niche locations on the Internet.

Shadow people, you are my peeps.

For me, much like many of you, time had become money, and any time I spent away from the keyboard or some other method of toil was time wasted on a task with little or no return. Even though I was underemployed, there was no time for wasted motion. In fact, quite the opposite, every minute was spent working or looking for work. I did allow myself time to exercise and that is a must-do for all my peeps in the shadows. Keeping your body physically prepared to work is part of the process, I just couldn’t afford the three or four hours of bike riding that I had once enjoyed.

Like many people, I had put away childish things when I became a shadow person. The price of leisure was just too high. Spending hours with my own thoughts while out on a bike ride became too troubling to confront let alone enjoy the escape.

There was a time after my first career layoff and shortly before my second when the stress of keeping a job became overwhelming. The economy was still rocky at best and all around me my co-workers were falling victim to downsizing, outsourcing and corporate reshuffling. I knew the reaper’s voice all too well.

These were dark times indeed. Where would the rent come from? How were we going to keep our house? Without the help of my family, neighbors, friends and some career and health professionals, I’m not sure how I would have sorted all this out, especially after the second layoff. I remember lying on the couch ruminating about how we were going to pay the bills. I know my wife feared for my sanity. The despair was overwhelming and hard to turn off.

But somewhere in there I turned a corner. After months of countless job interviews that seemed to be going nowhere I laughingly referred to myself as the longest-tenured unemployed person in a neighborhood that had seen its share of layoffs. Who knew that I was actually king of the shadow people?

The people who cared about me, thankfully stayed by my side, shadow person or not. We even grew sort of a household culture based around my being home when the boys got home from school, and I toiled away into the wee hours as an online editor only to wake up early to mow lawns and trim bushes. We grew an unemployment victory garden, which fed the family and all the rabbits and chipmunks in the neighborhood.

There was a time before becoming a shadow of myself when I rode my bicycle for countless hours for fitness and to relieve the stress. Heck, I even taught indoor cycling classes first for the enjoyment and then to make ends meet once the layoffs began. But the desire to spin my wheels went away and my pedals grew dusty from lack of use. Time alone to think just wasn’t something I wanted. Time away from toil of any sort was something I couldn’t afford. Worry is a gloomy partner to carry with you 24/7.

Shadow people, I think about you every day. Your confidence is shaken. The things that gave you comfort and enjoyment are often put away and replaced by the necessities of eaking out a living. Being in the shadows calls everything into question. How you live. How you laugh. How you love.

I could sense the desperation in the tone of your comments on my original blog post as person after person told their individual story, many of which started with, “I am a shadow person.”

Many of you talked about not wanting to take on part-time jobs or salaries well below what you had been making. Twice in the past few years I’ve taken on part-time work, and both times it has led to full- time employment. I count myself lucky that I have a full-time job now. I realize that I am not that far away from my days as a shadow person. I embrace each day because I’ve walked amongst the shadows and know that life doesn’t owe any of us a job. I see too many people who treat their employment this way.

My advice to my peeps in the shadows is to keep the faith, which seems rather trivial advice in these times when the job recovery is lagging, but you have to focus on the positives. People hire people with positive attitudes, not those who exude a “life owes me” mantra. Your first step out of the shadows involves letting go of being a victim. Sure, life can suck, but only you can change you.

If you’re a shadow person it means you’re not afraid of hard work. Every shadow person regardless of his or her age or political affiliation must give each shot that they get at gainful employment with a 100 percent effort. Who cares if this is job interview No.3 or 30 for you, it’s the one opening this employer has to offer, so do your homework, be ready to show them what you can do and hopefully you take that first step out of the shadows.

Emerging from the shadows should make you a better person because of the road you’ve walked. I dusted my pedals off this spring. I’m going to ride my bike again this summer. I will continue to pray for the shadow people, you are my peeps.

photo credit: jankie via photopin cc