2016 started with much excitement and hope. I had made my vow public by having a wedding celebration, and I had left my teaching job, which was making my life pretty miserable.
I thought that my unemployment period would be relaxing and fun; I thought that I would find a job in 3-6 months. But the “funemployment” period turned into something else entirely, and I learned a few things. Here are my top 3:
1. People don’t care
This isn’t necessarily because they are mean or unkind people, but everyone is too busy (especially in NYC area) and other people’s problems aren’t really at the top of their list. And this is totally okay. But I was amazed to discover how extremely optimistic everyone was about my job search even though I couldn’t find the right lead for almost a whole year. Friends and family would say things like, “Oh, but you’re so smart. You’ll find something.” The funny thing is, now that I am working, this is usually my first response to those who are job hunting as well. I guess it’s human nature to minimize others’ hardships, and I am not much different than an average person. But this particularly crappy time helped me see my own carelessness when approaching those who are looking for work. And my goal is to try to give practical help as much possible. If I can’t, I try to shut up about it unless the person wants to discuss it, which leads to my next point…
2. Most don’t offer help
Those who offered to help were amazing and lovely, and I will remember each one of them, but I was surprised by how many more did not offer to help right away when I shared my situation. At first I thought that it was because my resume wasn’t impressive enough. Then I thought that people assumed that I was doing fine on my own (I wasn’t). My final conclusion was this: most people do not know how to help.
Now that I am not bitter at the entire world, I totally understand why people didn’t help. Many did not know what kind of job I was looking for, and they had no idea how to help me in the process of searching. Many were happy to send my resume to someone as long as I pointed directly and said, “Hey, could you connect me with a person who knows about this position?” But I had to start that first step. The problem is, when you’ve been unemployed for so long, you lose confidence and failing in front of a friend or an acquaintance can be difficult, making that first step even harder to take.
3. Job searching all day is soul-sucking
Never ask someone who is looking for a job this question: What do you do all day? My husband asked me this question exactly twice, and it took everything in me to not start a fight.
After about 2-3 months of only getting one interview, I started to feel anxious. After about 4 months, the anxiety turned into something I had not felt in a long time — an utter sense of failure. I struggled to get out of bed. Sometimes I started my day crying. When two places that seemed promising invited me to the last round of interview and ultimately rejected me (one place had a budget issue that made the position disappear before they made an official offer), I began to question if I had made the right decision leaving teaching.
The point is, job searching all day, every day is extremely depressing and difficult. I learned that even with the support of my loving spouse, I felt lost and hopeless more times than I would like to admit.
Perhaps the most important lesson this unemployment taught me was the state of my heart that depended too much of my job as an identity marker. And when I looked at others, I probably assessed their value based on their career, more than I was aware of. Was 9 months of agony worth these lessons? I want to say yes and justify the long months of painful rejection after rejection after rejection. But the truth is, I am still trying to figure out what the result of my time of unemployment is. It did not lead to an amazing career path. I don’t have a story of redemption. All I can say is that I made it through the other end. And It did not last forever, and it did not kill me. And that gives me hope to make it through another big change of my life that might be ahead of me.
Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.
– Augustine of Hippo