On Friday morning, I officially gave up on the job market which long ago, gave up on me. Having done so feels both freeing and slightly terrifying. At this point though, the only thing I regret, is not having given up sooner. Before you you write me off as a quitter or a complete failure, please allow me to explain.
I picked up a booklet of recipes last week at one of the local discount markets. Unlike the usual glossy, advertisement-filled versions you find at the supermarkets, this one was simple, four sheets of stock paper stapled down the center and with a crudely colored drawing just below its title; “Feed your family for $3 (per person) a day!”. THIS is indicative of the economic environment, of how and where we are living. With the unemployment rate locally hovering around 17% for nearly three years now, the job market is glutted with desperate job seekers and precious few positions to fill. As businesses lay off employees in response to lowered demand, it becomes a vicious circle, with more and more people having less and less to spend. They say that the recession is over. The stock market has recovered. The money makers are making money again. Meanwhile, out here in the real world, we continue to struggle, trying to come to terms with the fact that many of our jobs have disappeared and are not coming back.
For nearly three years now, I have been without a job. I am what they refer to as a 99er or “the long-term unemployed”. According to June’s U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 6.3 million of us nationwide and we now account for 44% of the total unemployed. While that is a staggering statistic, numbers alone cannot convey the mental, emotional and financial devastation we have endured. After filling out hundreds of applications, mailing off thousands of resumes and sitting through dozens of interviews with nothing to show for it, I realize now that I wasted so much energy and time, and moreover, surrendered my power and future to a job market that simply isn’t there any more. As so many people have figured out, some before me, and others, perhaps alongside me, I can no longer wait for a job to save me. I am going to have to invent one for myself.
“Do what you love.” It is a lofty goal and a lovely ideal. It is something we might achieve if we’re lucky but I have always considered it little more than that. In reality, we live in a much more pragmatic world, one which teaches us that it is all well and good to have talents, but you’re still going to need a Real Job. Better to settle for the security of drudgery than starve for sake of an art or some craft. I have watched people I know, people I love, waste extraordinary talents while engaging in menial jobs because that is simply what what we do. My Pops is surprisingly brilliant with interior design, but spent his entire work life tending to other people’s grounds-keeping. My sister, an organizational genius and the most passionate researcher I’ve ever known has spent the last 12 years being grossly underpaid as a secretary. And my son, a natural artist, counts himself lucky to get a part-time job shelving video games when he should be tucked away in some artists colony, spilling his soul onto canvas. But that is not how we were raised. “Do what you love” was for other people. Our people work hard at jobs we don’t particularly care for. We pay the bills and stay the course and hopefully, if we can manage it, we carve out a little time and a little energy to pursue what we love, to engage our talents and passions in our spare time.
Except that now, even the security of the Real Job is tenuous at best. The bond between honest hard work and modest financial security has been broken. Oh you can still hang it out there and pretend that nothing’s changed, unless the plant where you work closes, or your company lays-off ¼ of its workforce, or you find yourself replaced at 50 by a 20-year-old who promises to do twice the work for half the pay. You can tell yourself that 6.3 million of your fellow Americans woke up one morning and decided that they were too lazy, too drug-addled and too unmotivated to show up and work as they had always done, but soon enough, even you won’t be able to believe it any more.
And so, I reject the old construct as heartily as it has rejected me. As of last week, I have removed myself from the traditional job market and have dedicated myself to writing full-time. I will no longer fill out applications for jobs I could have done at 16. I will no longer pen desperate cover letters and tailor my resume to part-time receptionist positions, leaving out my prior wages and University education, in hopes that I won’t be dismissed as overqualified. I will no longer wait for some HR Department’s terse “Thanks, but no thanks.” e-mail to land in my inbox. I will write articles, blog posts and tailored web content for those who need such things. I will take the jobs I want and decline the ones, which don’t suit me. When there is no work, I will search it out, not as a groveling, unemployed lackey, but as writer with drive, determination and some modicum of talent. And if there is STILL no work to be had, I will write anyway, because I am doing what I love. I will no longer count myself among the long-term unemployed, though I WILL continue to advocate and fight for them to be heard. I am now a full-time Freelance Writer and I am once again, in control of my future. And if I go down, at least I will not go quietly.
[cross-posted at The Daily Kos]