Thursday, 21 June 2012

Not Waving, Drowning

I became unemployed a few weeks ago. When I told my friends, the most common reaction was ‘Oh, you’ll find another job. Until then, enjoy it! Buy a box set of a TV series! Sit at home on the internet all day! Take a break!’. More recently, I’ve been told by my sister that she is ‘jealous’ of my being able to get ‘in touch with [my] inner sloth’.

Is that really how those with jobs view the unemployed; As a group of people who spend their days luxuriating at home, laughing at all the poor schmucks who have to get out of bed every morning and go to work?

Let me tell right now, that is not how I feel at all.

Becoming unemployed (and my subsequent difficulty in finding employment) hasn’t set me free. It has reinforced latent fears of my own uselessness. It has set me on a long, slow slide of inertia and every day saps away at my hope of ever becoming valued or useful. It has taken away my concept of my own future. In just a few short weeks of rejection notices and days on the couch scrolling endlessly through ads on, I have been un-made.

The process of applying for jobs – in which you write out a list of your skills and experiences, provide the contact numbers of the few people you can think of who might vouch for those skills and experiences, and sit back and wait for an automated reply telling you to give up if you don’t get another automated reply in 14 days – exposes you to the most thorough form of rejection you can experience in life. Someone out there, in HR or management – someone who has been lucky enough to be found valuable – looks through your competencies and your plea for the chance to present yourself for judgement in person and decides whether you are good enough for consideration.

Because of the high level of competition for jobs, these people are not looking for reasons to hire you. They are looking for reasons not to hire you. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. This means that they search for your vulnerabilities in a list of your strengths. They will take the smallest omission (perhaps made because of their insistence that your CV be no longer than one page) and they will disregard your application on that basis. They have to; it’s the only way they can get their job done.

Meanwhile, you are ‘living it up’ at home, every day feeling less and less worthy of the attention of these valued souls with their steady income and their purpose for living. Until, finally, it gets to the point that you no longer have the self-esteem to represent yourself positively to these people. They have jobs. Someone relies on them to be somewhere every day. Someone even pays them to do it! The only responsibility you have is maintaining the veneer of the happily unemployed. Your job is to laugh along with the jokes which lost their humour when you realised that you wake up every morning calculating how long you can do this before your superannuation is severely set back, destroying your distant future as well. Your job is to cheerfully tell family members and friends that you feel hopeful that you’ll find work soon, when really, you’re fairly sure you’re not only going to be unemployed forever, you actually believe you’re not – and never were – employable at all.

So you slog through, trying to find some meaning to your life when you are constantly rejected from the realms of the truly living. You exist in a different sphere – one where the world passes by, but you can’t reach out and touch it. You watch your friends buy new clothes and even put deposits on houses, understanding that your chance to do the same has passed and may never return.

Oh, yeah, and you manage a blog, as though, somehow, someone important will read it and honestly believe you have something worthwhile to contribute to the world.

Unfortunately, even if that happens, it’ll be a long time before you can believe such a thing of yourself again.


  1. Being unemployed really sucks, and I believe most people really enjoy the feeling of being productive and economic freedom (to a certain extent). And yeah, the process of applying to jobs definitely wears you down mentally.

    I was extremely lucky to have family support when I was unemployed, but what I found helpful was volunteering which I think really overcame those feelings of uselessness. I wasn't getting paid for any of it, but (especially since I was volunteering in my profession) it made me feel valued and productive, which really helped with my confidence in interviews that I COULD do a job.

    1. I have some financial support from my family (I live at home in return for services, rather than cash), so I am very lucky in that regard, but my long-term financial outlook is very bad.

      So far I've had no luck in volunteering/interning in my chosen profession, but I'm now applying to volunteer in other fields. Any activity is good activity! Anything to escape the feeling of uselessness!

  2. My sympathies on the situation. (I came to your blog because someone linked to your piece on pockets in women's clothing.)

    A bit of internet-based volunteering that you might enjoy: editing Wikipedia. Check out in case you've never done.

    Good luck.

    1. Saw this and thought of you, since you're in Melbourne:

    2. Hi! Thank you so much for your suggestions! I must be a bit of a cynic, but it's always a lovely surprise to find that strangers are so helpful and sympathetic. Thanks for putting a smile on my face!

  3. Thanks for sharing about Not Waving, Drowning...............