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Monday, June 23, 2014

23

When You're Unemployed

O_OThe first thing to go is the caring. You used to care so hard about everything. You cared about what other people thought of you, and you cared about your resume, and you cared about your health and your apartment and your future. But now it feels like the person who cared about those things was some other person. You didn’t realize that caring was like gasoline, that you could empty the tank and, without the positive reinforcement something like employment provides, be unable to refill it. You are all out of caring.

You have replaced caring with a new feeling. That fuck everyone feeling. Everything is horrible. Your metaphorical morphine drip keeping the pain at bay is the mantra playing on a loop inside your head: fuck everyone.

What happens is you are called into a manager’s office to discuss your “job/future” and this is the meeting in which you are let go. You think it was sort of misleading of your higher-ups to claim this meeting was about your “job/future,” which is technically true but only insofar as you no longer have either.

You take about a week to just wallow in it. Everyone you know goes to work that first Monday and you feel so alone. Then you remember: you are not alone. You have Netflix. You become one of those people who can’t believe that no one is watching Top of the Lake. True Detective is nothing compared to Top of the Lake; can no one else see this but you? People tell you they don’t have the time. You feel superior to these dead-eyed office drones. You tell yourself: it is their lives that are empty and purposeless. Your life is filled with Netflix.

You can only wallow for so long, though. You see this now. You’re told that it’s important to have a routine. You also quickly realize that you may as well minimize laundry so long as you’re going to be down on your luck. You develop a routine: changing out of sleeping leggings and into daytime leggings.

You never know what day it is. For the first time since maybe middle school, you watch television shows on the actual nights they air, during their real timeslots, and this is the only way you can figure out the date anymore. You use TV the way early Romans used sundials.

You are surprised to find you miss the mundane aspects of office culture: mindless chatter about the weather, awkward elevator silences, the cookies you get to eat whenever someone on your floor has a birthday. You realize all things that seem permanent, the ever-reliable landscape of your life, can go away at any moment. Just like that. Like blowing out a candle. 

You apply for unemployment. The unemployment website is depressing, like the DMV of websites: just being there makes you feel like a failure. Also, it’s confusing!

Also, it appears you are ineligible for unemployment.

Social media is the enemy. Facebook keeps prompting you to “complete your profile” by asking you point-blank: “Where do you work?” And it lists all these options where “33 of your friends work,” and at the bottom of the list is the option, “I don’t have a job right now.” You mentally send Zuckerberg to hell, in a hoodiebasket.

You remember being told by HR that this situation “isn’t personal.” “It’s not personal” is to a layoff what “Mom and Dad still love you very much” is to a divorce. And it isn’t personal to anyone, that is, except you, because you are the one who wakes up every morning, stares at the ceiling, and asks yourself: “Wait, are both my sleeping leggings and my daytime leggings in the laundry?”

Everyone will say totally tone-deaf things about how “jealous” they are that you have “so much free time.” “You’re so lucky” that you can go to the grocery store when there are no lines, or work out in the middle of the day, or just make phone calls while painting your nails and reading novels like some kind of devil-may-care freedom-haver. In reality, you have never been less free, and you are developing carpel tunnel from hitting refresh over and over again on your email and your industry’s job-posting site. You remember what Jack Donaghy said about someone on LinkedIn—“He might as well be dead!”—and feel pathetic for how much it disturbs you to disappoint a person who is not real.

It doesn’t take long before someone compares your life to Girls. You can see the sentence forming in this person’s head and you want to slo-mo jump in front of them like noooooo but it is too late: “You probably hear this all the time, but you are so living Hannah Horvath’s life right now.” You want to tell them that Girls is a show about sociopaths. You want to point out that Girls hasn’t even made it clear whether or not Hannah is talented. Instead you just say, “That’s weird, no one’s ever said that to me before.”

When someone from the job-having world so much as tips a hat in your direction, you express the wild, unhinged gratitude you feel is required. If they spare you twenty minutes at a Starbucks you become Leo-left-you-the-board-so-you-could-live-while-he-drowned grateful. This is exhausting for everyone involved.

You write dozens of variations on the same cover letter. You dream of a fantasyland where no one will ever, ever tell you to “stay in touch” or “keep an ear to the ground.” You do not want to “circle back.” You wonder if people will just start saying office words at you: “stapler,” “Post-It notes,” “cubicle.”

You are sick of the compliment-caveat structure that seems to be the go-to format for rejection these days: “We think you’re so talented, but…” “You are incredibly smart, it’s just that…” “You’re amazing, except…” There is a part of you that wishes these employers would just straight-up tell you that you suck, or are worthless, or that they hate you. And then there is a part of you that clings to the tiny glimmer of encouragement in every crushing email, for lack of anything shinier to grasp.

You have forgotten how to not wear leggings. What are jeans, even? Do dresses exist?

Has everything always been this expensive? You used to eat salads. Now you know better. Salads are always the most expensive thing on the menu from a food-quantity-to-cost-ratio perspective. You could get so much more food by ordering a sandwich. The salad industry is a scam.

Speaking of scams: gym memberships, Comcast, college alumni gatherings with “open bars” for which you are charged a $15 cover.

You tell yourself unemployment is a crucial phase, because your inevitable success can only be celebrated by the masses if you walk across the fiery coals of failure first. You are J.K. Rowling on welfare. You are Beyoncé in Girls Tyme, losing on Star Search to Skeleton Crew. You are part of a grand tradition of the someday-successful. In the not-too-distant future, you will describe this time in your life in an interview, nostalgic and empathetic for your former, failing self. “I just want to go back in time and give that kid a hug,” you’ll say, a knowing, wistful smile on your face. “She was so hard on herself.”

You get a job. It seems impossible until it isn’t. You don’t stay unemployed every day until you die.

It only takes you three weeks before you start wearing leggings to work.

 

Photo via snapsi42/flickr.

Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor of ThinkProgress. She also writes for Vulture. There is a 78% chance that she is wearing leggings right now.

23 Comments / Post A Comment

kellyography

This is amazing. But wait, people actually get responses back when they're looking for a job? The most I have gotten lately is a form rejection by a robot. Most places don't send anything, much less a "You're so great, but..." email. I'd probably be just as psyched to get confirmation that anyone actually looked at my (painstakingly crafted) cover letter and/or resume as I would if I got an actual job offer.

Danzig!

@kellyography That's where I'm at - I got through the first round of interviews, didn't hear back, inquired as to the status of my application and was told the second round of interviews was to start shortly, didn't hear back. Can't tell if this is one of those "prove you want it" things or they just don't want to tell me I'm out of the running.

Yellojkt@twitter

Congrats on the new gig. Sorry about your old job but they must have been Old Media SOBs.

Desperica

This was not my experience. Granted, I live in Portland, and Things are Different Here (tm), but upon finding myself unemployed, I entered a period I like to think of as my early-thwenties, in which sent all of my time testing the limits of my liver, floating down a river, floating down a river while drinking, using my food stamps to throw vegetarian BBQs, and generally pretending that I was 21 instead of 31. It was the best 9 months of my life, and I would give anything to become a lady of leisure once more.

Anna Gabrielle@facebook

Great job weathering this desolate vastness of unemployment and coming out with a job! That's like walking through the Sahara only to get an awesome tan and highlights. Your piece is very, painfully familiar. I'm in the middle of my fourth layoff induced round of unemployment. I'm pretty sure I must have pissed off a gypsy. When the panic creeps in, my mantra is, "It has to get better." My new rule is only job search every other day and never at night. Exhausted and panicked job searches lead to poor decisions.

bonymaroni

I've been unemployed for about half a year now, and I didn't even get a form rejection to my job applications. :/ In fact, I didn't even get any response or interview at all until earlier this month! So it was really great to read this.

Truth: I am all about the Netflix right now. And so tired of hearing "you're so lucky!" Yes, I love going out with my friends and ordering tap water because I cannot afford alcohol. I wake up more hydrated than I was the night before!

Lily Rowan

@bonymaroni Seriously, who the fuck are these people saying you're lucky?? I'm assuming they've never been let go from a job.

bonymaroni

@Lily Rowan I've never been let go, but if that happened and people still said I was lucky, NO. Just, no.

Kira-Lynn@twitter

I got fired in January. I am switching between sleep shorts and day shorts. They are the same but different colours. I feel the sundial/TV thing hard.

Amber

This couldn't have come at a better time. How much worse is it when you accidentally overhear the conversation about the thing you did that's about to most likely get you fired? Even more so, how do you spin it when you're out there on the job hunt so you don't look like an unemployable loser? Plz halp.

Lily Rowan

@Amber It might be worth spending some money on an employment counselor and/or therapist -- that's the kind of shit that I need to say out loud to a professional before I can really get past it.

Good luck.

mockingbird

Seriously, what are these nirvanas you're applying to who send rejections? I consider applying for jobs akin to buying a lottery ticket, it's just about as likely to lead to anything good and no one will tell me if I've lost. The best I get is an autoreply email telling me I wasn't hired for a job I'd forgotten I'd applied to anyway.

I had some unemployment way back pre-Netflix, hence my vast L&O and Friends knowledge. Then long time underemployment, never quite getting back on the horse and teaching it it can't buck me off like that, damn it. I have too much experience to look green enough to be taken advantage of cheaply, but not enough to be worth something. So I work my low paid, part-time job, and pretend hard to anyone who asks that I'm learning Useful Skills, and plan to go back to grad school if I can relearn math enough to get decent GRE scores.

Eyre Apparent

@mockingbird That math stuff is hard! I regret my liberal arts degree whenever I go back to the GRE study guide, but then I'm so grateful for it whenever I can explain the importance of adverbs.

BattyRabbit

But Top of the Lake IS better. And I'm not even unemployed yet. Student job about to run out though, so soon, probably!

eizverson22

If I lose my job, I think I will try to enrich themselves, to re-learn some new things.

causedbycomma

These are the worst spam comments I have ever read.

23355180@twitter

Reminds me a lot of the feelings I went through while unemployed. The whole thing can be a real soul destroyer. I tried to write a similar article myself, but all I ended up with was this: http://the-toast.net/2014/04/24/cover-letter-template/

Koko Goldstein

I love you and I love this. I am about to be unemployed (last day: Monday) and while I am finally feeling very zen about it after two months of misery, I can attest to the truth of the constant "fuck everyone" mantra.

I signed up with a temp agency today and I was so overqualified the lady practically signed my forms for me. After 9 failed interviews and 50 job apps it felt real good to impress someone with my experience.

glomlet

@Koko Goldstein Ugh, signing up for temp agencies! I always found that so humiliating, the testing and all. After the first few times doing that, I think I had the typing test paragraph memorized. Except for at one agency, it was always the same.

or Elsa!

I'm just going to lie face-down on the dusty floor while I consider my options.

That was the intended take-away from this article, right? Because WELL DONE.

Ken Watson@facebook

Yep, that's pretty much the way it is though for leggings you can swap out cargo shorts.

NQT
NQT

In the beginning, the worst part for me was that people would always ask me what I was up to, and I'd always says I was "in between things" and I said it so many times I began to feel that way and I went and got a full-time job. Really though looking back, it was my most creative period: I read loads, learned a lot, made things and saw people. Now I'm working, I miss having that free time so much I'm saving up so I can afford to be unemployed again...

glomlet

Does that 'fuck everyone' feeling ever go away? It stayed with me long after unemployment.

I have to say: Thank you for this piece. It's spot on and has a dark humor to it, but it's not (at least I think it isn't) a "humor piece". That is, it's not like the humor pieces on McSweeneys, which strike me as trying to be mordantly funny but in my eyes come off as just sad.

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