I’m currently ‘in between jobs’ which is the optimistic Mary Poppins way of saying ‘unemployed’.
It’s not so bad – I mean the pay is lousy but I get to choose my own breaks. Plus I like my uniform of pyjama pants and yesterday’s t-shirt. And what’s not to like when your office is your couch?
But there’s one place that isn’t so kind to the unemployed. This place is called ‘Outside the House’. You may have heard of it; it’s just like inside except colder and with less Foxtel. And it’s inhabited by people with Jobs and Incomes and Clothing that has been Ironed. And attached to lots of these job-doin’, suit-wearin’ people like a great big sucky octopus are Judgments and Opinions. And nothing irritates this cephalopod more than hearing the phrase ‘I’m unemployed’.
Whenever this part of the conversation comes up I can literally see my standing drop in people’s eyes. (Literally. I’m a very visual person and the eyes are oh so expressive.)
I find myself backpedalling, trying to explain that it’s not because I’m UNEMPLOYABLE or LAZY or WEIRD and it got to the stage where I started lying and making up jobs just to see what reaction I’d get. For instance:
Result: Lots of appreciative ‘ah, that explains it’ head nodding and respect because ‘student’ is a promise for future employability.
Result: Lots of pitiful ‘ah, that explains it’ head shaking and offers to buy me a hot meal, followed by the question ‘would I have read you anywhere?’
Tax Accountant(not that true)
Result: Bombed when they then asked me what exactly I did and I said ‘fix your tax problems so you don’t have to!’
Deep Sea Explorer (blatant lie)
Result: This was called out straight away when they asked me ‘which seas?’ and I, ever the pro, said ‘…the deep ones?’ Clearly I should have said ‘improv specialist.’
Result: Worked until the follow up question of how old my kids were and I gave an age that implied I had given birth before I started menstruating. They don’t call me the Math-o-saurus for nothing…
But the truth is that I looked for work but work is really good at hiding. So after spending a while feeling like Rocky when he needs to take a break from being relentlessly pummeled in the face by the ‘thanks but no thanks’ Apollo Creed rejection email, I gave up, dropped out and went travelling. And I’m not alone.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics have just released figures showing that in the past 18 months a growing number of Australians, 222 000, have joined the sidelines; not in work and not looking for it. And while I can’t speak for everyone I know some of these people, like me, are reacting to an inability to find work.
It’s not fun. We seem to link employment directly to worth; if you’re not formally employed either you’re not contributing, not trying hard enough or not right because how hard can it be to find a job, right?!
But unemployment is tough. There is the perception that unemployment means wearing flannel and watching Jerry Springer all day whilst eating microwavable meals. (Clearly you employed people don’t understand that you can do this AND job hunt simultaneously. In fact, watching the people who appear on Jerry Springer is a supreme incentive to become employed again. Centrelink should make this mandatory.)
Not only is unemployment tough but it’s demoralising. The other week my 13 year-old cousin bought me a chocolate bar because her pocket money is more than my income. Do you know how humiliating this is? And to top it off, it was a Curly Wurly and because it was cold it did that thing where it was all brittle and snapped instead of being deliciously chewy. Haven’t we unemployed suffered enough? It’s not like I could afford to buy another and wait until I was inside to eat it.
So be kind to us unemployed. Sure, some of us are deadbeats but most of us are drowning beneath a sea of resumes, selection criteria, cover letters and the continual ego punch that comes with not getting an interview. Is it any wonder people are dropping out?
So you can call me belligerent. You can call me lazy. You can call me Al. But from my experience dropping out happens when it’s too hard to drop in.
Incidentally, if anyone wants to give me a job I’d be up for it. My skills are word searches, napping and pub trivia, and I finger knit at a slow Grade 2 level. I prefer work with flexible starting/finishing hours and free cake regardless of if there is a staff birthday or not. I work better following an inverse working week (two days on, five days off) and I generally prefer to work for money but would also accept high-to-mid level verbal praise. References available upon request, though I’m not 100% confident of getting one from the guy who used to run the café I worked in because I think he’s in Mexico or North Korea or one of those non-extradition countries…
Claire Varley is a writer and community development worker. Check out her blog here
Have you ever struggled to get a job? How would you describe what you are doing now?