The tangled, complicated problem of unemployment

You know what the worse part about unemployment is? Everyone asking about your unemployment

And I feel rude even typing that, because I know people ask because they care. To show they are interested, to show that they are thinking of me and this state in which no one wants to hire me.

Which is considerate. It really is. I recognize that, and I appreciate everyone’s good thoughts. I say all of this to cushion what I’m about to type next; asking me about my continued lack of a job is not helpful.

In fact it makes me feel stupid and unmotivated. Because when I tell you that, yes, things are in the pipeline and I’m interviewing and yes, it’s hard, the next thing you will inevitably do is give me lots and lots of suggestions. Of things I should do, and what I should say, and how many times I should follow up, and what I should or should not have on my resume.

And instead of your suggestions all I hear is “you’re not doing it right”.

And I know that is not what you intended! I know you’re trying so hard to be helpful.

Here is what you might not realize: You are not the first person who has asked me about my job search today. In fact, there’s a good chance you’re the fourth person I’ve explained this all to. The fourth person I’ve listed my lack of interviews to, the fourth person I’ve ticked off the interviews that happened but I’m still waiting forever to hear back. And all those suggestions? I’ve heard them all, I really have, and I find them terribly not helpful because they just further kill my already very-battered self esteem.

I want so badly for someone to interview me and say “oh my goodness, I want you to join this organization”. I crave the identity that comes with my name on a business card. Even if it’s not a dream job, even if the title means nothing, I want someone who is willing to print my name next to their logo as a stamp of approval saying “we think this person is worthwhile. We think she is smart”. I never realized how important that identity was to me until I didn’t have it.

Today I was telling Selemon that I’m in a bad mood. Falling into a funk. And that led me to type this disclosure to him; that I didn’t want suggestions of what I should do. Instead I typed “If you ever want to just reassure me that I’m smart and awesome and pretty though- that’s always welcome”

Because that’s the hardest part of job searching; the crushing blow to your self esteem. It’s not all the resumes, or follow up emails. It’s the fact that after awhile you start to doubt yourself really hard. And when people tell you all the other things you should be doing, well that just re-enforces the doubt.

My brain is wired and twisted in a way that leaves it with a very strong propensity for guilt. I’m not sure how normal or not-normal this is, but I do know I spent a good year in therapy attempting to untangle this self-shaming, guilty mess. Because feeling guilty and shameful for everything you did or did not do is not helpful. In fact, it’s quite paralyzing and harmful.  I made a ton of progress turning this mindset around and by the time I had to move away from my dear therapist I had come a long way. I had learned how to set healthy barriers, how to acknowledge this part of me, work with it, and love myself anyway. I’m really proud of the progress I made. Like super duper, fucking proud of myself. But lately I find myself slipping into that self-doubting, guilty slump again.

This propensity might make me more sensitive to everyone’s recommendations, because when they say “Did you follow up enough?” I hear “you messed up, it’s your fault, you can’t even look for a job right” I know that’s not what anyone intended. Maybe that’s the messed up nature of my brain. But you know what? If we’re all totally honest with ourselves, I don’t think it’s just me. I think a lot of us have brains filled with self doubt that would veer that direction.

So, moving forward, when I talk with friends who are going through something, anything difficult, I have decided I will stop giving suggestions.  I’ve thought back to my past reactions and I have totally spewed what they “should “ do! I “should” all over people, just the way I “should” all over myself. I did this because I really, truly wanted to be helpful, and it came from a genuine, good place. Stressed? I’ll tell you to try yoga! Or try running!” Sad? I’ll tell you to find a nice community to support you (what does that even mean?!). So I’m sorry friends that I should-ed all over.

This experience has taught me that instead of suggestions about what they should do; I will look at my friend and reassure them that they are awesome. That they are smart, and charming, and loved. I will tell them exactly why I think they are a great friend and why I appreciate them in my life. I will probably even give them a hug. And I hope that is exactly what they needed.

*I feel this post does warrant a footnote, because I love my friends and family and while I trashed the notion of “suggestions” in general, I really have gotten some good ones. I also have been told to volunteer, which I think is a great recommendation because it’s something that will give me that validation that I need; to feel helpful and valued. So thank you! Just maybe also tell me I’m smart and charming  😉

**Also, assume no news is bad news so if I am not currently perched on our rooftop shouting to the city that I finally have a job, that’s because I don’t have one yet. You’ll hear once I do.

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2 thoughts on “The tangled, complicated problem of unemployment

  1. Linnae Grabner-Hegg says:

    Wow! What amazing things you are learning during this time of unemployment. It is very true what you have discovered for yourself and for others…people just want someone to hear them out. They want someone to listen and merely say something like, “That sounds like a really tough situation.” I know that it is hard to see now, but somehow this situation you are in will benefit you in the end…even if it is just to help you be more empathetic. Meanwhile, keep being the smart, articulate and beautiful young woman that you are. I think you have already accomplished amazing things. This is just a blip and there are things to glean from it.

  2. Alyssa says:

    Great post. I definitely can relate and have felt the same during my job search. It is so super tough! Hang in there! I miss seeing you around Boston!

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