Last year I had to make a decision I’d been struggling with for a few years and walk away from a retail job, the job I’d sacrificed most of my 20s and 30s to, the job I had dreamed of excelling in since my graduation.
To say this was a difficult choice would be a massive understatement but it was what was right for me, or the situation or so I believed. I wanted a good life, a regular 9 to 5 with weekends off and a regular ‘worthy’ paycheque. For too long I had felt like someone who was tied to this retail industry, who was constantly overworked, overstressed but I’d lost track of who I was outside this industry. I have held several supervisory positions with little to no growth options, and it was my life for a long time. But it’s clearly not an industry that leaves me with an obvious place to transition.
Another factor was my age. If I was leaving this job behind then I also wanted to leave the industry behind, start afresh entirely and, at 40, I was aware that not only was I getting ancient in terms of entry-level positions but that if I was going to make a success of myself in my new field then I was better off getting started, yesterday. Unfortunately, it has now been over six months since I started in earnest to apply for jobs in different fields, seeking to be reborn on a new career path. With the exception of one interview, I haven’t made it past the checkpoint.
There are a lot of factors at play in this, and in some way, I even have sympathy with the countless employers who have rejected me without even meeting me; unemployment is high in Alberta, particularly in the southern region where I now live. I have no experience that counts, and that I was in retail for so long does negatively affect the quality of my references. But sympathizing with all the reasons that people don’t want to hire me doesn’t actually make the task of job hunting any easier. If anything it makes it worse. I can see why people don’t want to hire a now 40-year-old with no relevant experience, as time passes, I increasingly fail to see why they would.
I imagine this loss of faith in oneself and the growing belief that the ongoing rejections are never going to turn around is common among the unemployed. I just never thought I’d be one of them. Going into this, my biggest concern was that I would have to start at the bottom of the ladder and work my way up. It never occurred to me that I would be unable to get a leg on the first rung. I would now give almost anything for the opportunity to prove my worth in almost any position and at any level. This time last year I was still in the process of leaving the job. It was stressful but it was something I got through by reminding myself how much easier it would be when it was through. I knew, not with cockiness but simply because of the faith I had in myself, that I would find another arena in which to excel. The thought that I may be unemployed and on the cliff of giving up entirely never occurred to me. Among the things I knew about myself is that I am intelligent and hardworking, with many transferable skills that would make me an asset in any number of industries – but I no longer know these things…for sure.
When I think about my unemployed status today these are the things I know: that I may never find anyone willing to hire me; that with every passing day I get a little older and a little less employable and the majority of my intelligent, articulate and sometimes witty cover letters are not even being read. Or perhaps they’re not that witty after all.
I do not feel this every day but there are days where a previously unfamiliar feeling of uselessness and hopelessness do creep over me, and they are demons that I find myself increasingly unable to keep at bay. I never thought this would happen to me. I imagined having to take a job I didn’t necessarily want but no job at all wasn’t anywhere on my radar. I think it’s probably this way for a lot of unemployed individuals. And this is probably the greatest lesson that has come out of this experience: that the idea that people don’t want to work, that the unemployed are somehow lazy or unmotivated, is a ridiculous myth. And yet I still haven’t learned it completely.
I still lie to acquaintances and even family about my employment; make out that I’m doing some casual work to tide me over or make jokes about it because I’m ashamed. I judge myself every day and I’m determined not to let others judge me. There is a stigma attached to unemployment that can be dangerous because I don’t think it would take much for it to create a potentially irreversible self-hatred. I fill my days with routines that involve cooking, walking, cleaning, job applications and strictly try not to watch television during work hours; I’m trying…hard. I am not what the unemployed stereotype looks like but I am unquestionably unemployed and I’m struggling mentally, emotionally and financially every day. I often barely recognize myself.
This is not a story of self-pity, although it has elements of that I’m sure. I feel I’m sacrificing my pride in writing about this. But then very few read my blog :). It’s a lesson to think before you judge because unemployment is hard. If we could just come out and speak about our own struggles with unemployment freely and without shame and stigma, it may just get a little bit easier.