Being unemployed use to be the worst nightmare I could imagine. In fact, twenty-five years ago I wrote it down at a self-development workshop as the one thing that worried me most in life. This is a brief story about a two-year long nightmare that I finally made it through. At 55, armed with a Ph.D. in psychology, exposure to top-class business and professional training and 30 years of management experience in three different career fields, I couldn’t even get an entry level job at a temporary employment agency.
To say this was demeaning was just the beginning to a horror story that wouldn’t seem to go away.
This nightmare went on for nearly two years. It was a state of frustration and desperation that was pushing me past any limits I thought I had. Every empty day spent waiting for a phone call or a letter that never came stretched my patience so thin that I could see through it. I felt like I was being ordered to idle my engine when all I wanted to do was screech my tires. I did a count of all the letters, resumes and applications I sent off. I was supporting Wal-Mart and the U.S. Post office in supplies and postage with money I didn’t have.
I had a six-inch thick file of rejection letters, and they only constituted one third of all that I sent out.
Yet I continued and had to wonder why?
There is not much I didn’t try and that made things seem even worse. I networked, surfed the Internet daily, read all the want ads and called friends. I visited job fairs, scanned professional magazines, and sent impressive letters to target companies. I sought employment counseling services, made the rounds with all the veteran’s organizations and pestered private employment agencies. I even hired a headhunter. Zero results. I got angry and wondered why I was being singled out with punishment that gouged my soul.
It is not that I was being too selective or that I kept trying the same thing over and over again expecting different results. I changed my resume a couple of hundred times, I customized it and my letters each time I sent them out and I was totally flexible about what I could do, where I could go and how much money I needed to make.
I asked for feedback and looked for skeletons in my closet to remove. If I was any more flexible and adaptable I would be a pool of blubbering jelly.
I guess we all have our invincible brick walls that keep getting higher and higher in response to our increased effort to tear them down. This situation I was in was maddening. The more I tried, the worse it got. I know I did this all to myself but
that self-revelation didn’t make things better at all, only worse. And sitting back and accepting this sorry state of affairs was not something that was part of my nature. This vicious circle was making me dizzy.
Let’s be honest here about how all this started. Not long ago I had what most people would be pleased to have an all-American family, a great job, nice house in a scenic part of the country, plenty of friends and even money in the bank. But I was missing the one thing I thought I wanted and needed most- to be with my true love.
Thus began my journey to hell, which left me homeless, jobless and broke. But that is a story in itself.
I have at least made it back to the surface. I finally found my true love and I finally figured out how to eat a little of my cake and still have some left over to enjoy. The key was in closing the gap in my expectations as to what I deserved and what I could live with. The irony is that, after two years of getting nowhere, I finally got three great job offers all in one week, in three different occupations.
I couldn’t have asked for a better closing scenario.
In looking back, at least there has been a silver lining in my dark cloud. These last few years in darkness have lit some candles for me. I have always known that we usually learn more from mistakes. I made plenty of mistakes to help get myself to the state of joblessness I was in. And, the frustration of getting nowhere despite my perseverance has actually begun to teach me some important lessons. These
lessons haven’t come easy and although I have never given birth, I sort of have an idea of what that process feels like.
The first lesson I am still trying to learn is the importance of humility. No matter how much education, training, experience or skills I have, I am never too good to work as a security guard. That is if they would have hired me! Being over-educated and over-qualified was an excuse I quickly got tired of hearing.
I felt that was my loss and their gain, but that rationalization didn’t help either. Becoming humble is requiring me to shed my expectations and preferences- almost completely, and this isn’t coming easy. Pride is a difficult thing to swallow.
The second lesson I am learning is becoming aware of the connection of things I did in the past that helped shape this miserable present state of unemployment in which I was stuck. These were the bad choices and irresponsible behavior I willfully participated in earlier without regard for the possible consequences. I had a good life.
I just wanted more. I also had plenty of good jobs in my life but didn’t respect employers well enough to give my full attention and effort to them. I took those jobs for granted. Now I will “worship” the job I was lucky enough to get. Karma is a hard thing to avoid or accept.
The third lesson I am trying to learn is to want what I have fully without gazing enviously over at greener pastures. I have good health, true love, a meaningful job and a nice home. I even have an older daughter whom I walked out on when she was only six, to visit now. I secretly knew I wouldn’t ever get a job so long as I couldn’t be content without one. That was a tough paradox to figure out, but well worth the effort in the end.
The final lesson I am learning is more of a reality. We are all alone with our brick walls. This is a very private test that no one else can understand or help with. On the other hand, we all have our own brick walls. My unemployment frustration was just someone else’s physical handicap and that handicap is someone else’s loss of a loved one and so on. Maybe this critical life experience is a way we can all
connect on common ground. At least we should start talking about our own brick walls and asking others about theirs. My two year tribulation had some other important lessons:
1. To defeat your brick wall, you must adopt a competitive strategy to win or die and never give up. The worse it gets, the more you try.
2. You have to be brutally honest with yourself as to the reasons behind your brick wall. You have done something wrong and it needs to be changed. You can’t lie or rationalize your way out of this type of conflict.
3. You have to be completely open to what the solution can be, without putting any qualifications on it. You have to learn to take what you get, willfully and happily.
Submitted by William S. Cottringer, Ph.D.