A year ago I wrote an article here, On Unemployment. It detailed my situation at the time: I was unemployed and frustrated with that fact, along with all that surrounded it – people’s attitudes to work and the social welfare system being chief among those frustrations.
I have since found a job which is stable, pays well enough for me to live well and has a great group of many friendly, outgoing staff whom I am glad to call friends. It’s taken a year of working in that job, while observing the situations others find themselves in, for me to find out what I learned from unemployment.
Not working leaves a gaping hole in your day
During the first month or so after I lost my job, I dived into things. “Oh look, now that I don’t have to work anymore – I can just play games all day! I can spend the day lying in bed, eating noodles and hitting Random Article on Wikipedia! This is incredible!”
After a while, though, I realised that days are longer than I thought. The time from waving my partner off at breakfast to making my lunch stretched out before me. I tried to fill it. I’d go online and search for ‘good hobbies for the unemployed’, ‘hobbies for men’ or (later on) ‘hobbies that can make you happier’. This led to me trying many different things, not all of them completely worthless. For example: my bookshelf has language courses for Mandarin, Russian, French, Arabic and Japanese on it. Every few weeks I’d become infatuated with a new language, either through consuming media in that language or through my rationale of the language in question being useful to my job hunt.
None of them were. I usually dropped each language after a few weeks (although I still have the odd phrase from all of them – and that’s not really a bad thing.) Although doing this wasn’t necessarily ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, I can see now that it was a clear sign of my lack of focus. I wasn’t really interested in learning these languages – if I was, I would have stuck with them once they got hard. I was just grasping for something to boost my self confidence, to make myself feel useful again.
People, not things, are what’s important to me
The months went on and this pattern continued, with my mood getting worse. It was only in the last month of my unemployment that I started to make contact with a few friends. We went for coffee or just rambled around town – what we did wasn’t important.
I’m an extrovert – so for me to be cut off from human contact for eight hours a day just wasn’t good. It was only once I started meeting people again that I remembered who I was and what made me tick. I’d like to think this re-discovery of my own natural confidence played a part in finding employment, too.
This realisation rang particularly true at Christmas. I’m considering asking relatives to not buy me physical gifts anymore – I think I’d rather just spend time with them. I’ve taken a look at my own day-to-day life and changed a lot of the things I do to focus on contributing more – adding value (term de jour though it may be) is the main focus for me now.
‘Get-Up-And-Go’ is completely relative
In the aforementioned post, On Unemployment, I spoke about the things people often said to me when I was unemployed, and how they made me feel. Perhaps the most galling comment to hear was that I should ‘pick myself up, put myself out there and everything would eventually be grand.’ In lieu of being able to actually give someone guidance, people often just feel like giving reassurance. It’s a completely human reaction to someone being in trouble, so I’m not bitter about it. But sometimes people veer into judgmental tones when talking to (or about) the unemployed. ‘Scrounger’, ‘dosser’ and ‘doler’ are all terms I hear too often.
You really can’t judge the situation someone else is in. Having been unemployed, I understand that it’s not just a matter of handing in CVs to shops and jazzing up your LinkedIn profile.Still, everyone is different. My experience will have been completely different to someone else’s. There are huge structural barriers to obtaining gainful, stable employment in Ireland today – whether they are young people, refugees or Travellers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so there’s no point preaching to (or about) people – you only end up patronising them.