I wanted to write this a couple of months ago. I wanted to write this 6 months ago. Ok, I wanted to write this a year ago. Well in full disclosure, I wanted to start writing this 20 months ago. Twenty Months. That is how long I have been searching for a full time job in the Portland region. Of those 20 months, I spent 17 of them un- or underemployed. I spent about 19 of those months questioning my relevance, my professional worth, my ability to function as an adult, and my own spiritual beliefs about a benevolent force that exists out there. I offer this reflection as a testament for myself, but also because moving through this experience has given me a personal strength that didn’t exist before. Just making an announcement this time around didn’t seem to tell the whole story. So here is a snapshot. Perhaps it will speak to someone else in a difficult spot.
I think almost everyone understands the stress and angst of going through a job search and transition. We all know that it’s scary to put yourself out there and hope that you’ll be ‘accepted’ by another person or entity that seemingly has the power to provide you with income, benefits, stability and resources. When that process is compounded by rejection after rejection, and combined with dwindling financial resources, I can be the first to say that what ensues is painful.
When I started writing an iteration of this about 5 months ago, the words that kept coming up were confusing, lost, shame, anger, not belonging, isolating, despair, depression, exhaustion, overwhelm, irrelevance, fear. Those are hard words. Writing about them now touches on how real they have all been as feelings, and how painful this journey has been. I’m still having trouble putting this experience in narrative form. Even though I tried, I think the following list that I originally started last year may still give the best idea of the complicated nature of having your livelihood challenged.
I don’t really know where to start. I want to write about the last 15 months, going on 16 months of my life. I want to talk about:
- how confusing it’s been
- how I’ve felt lost and like I don’t belong
- how I felt spiritually abandoned and the anger I felt towards my higher power and the universe
- how telling my higher power it wasn’t big or strong enough for me if I couldn’t feel ALL the feelings including my rage about this situation was terrifying but ultimately freeing
- how isolating and alone not having a job feels
- how shitty it feels to want to be around people and absolutely hate the question of, “so WHAT are you doing these days?”
- the shame I’ve felt around not getting a job, and not being able to explain why
- the compounding pain and trauma a poorly conducted interview, rejection after rejection, and unfounded/borderline insulting feedback makes applying again and again really difficult.
- the frustration of everyone trying to problem solve when I’ve already thought of it all and nothing’s worked
- the frustration of continually telling people with clarity what you don't want and having them continue to offer that one thing, but also knowing they’re just trying to help
- the frustration of seemingly having nothing work out, the pain of simply not knowing what to do, especially when your survival depends on it
- how hard it is to operate ‘regularly’ in the world when you are struggling to survive – the silence and loneliness of being among the low income and how hard it is to be ok with that – the shame that our society places upon people of lower income – in other words, letting go of your ego
- how easy it is to have an online personality and life that is different from what’s really going on inside
- realizing that people can actually sense your hurt and fear and anger even when you think you’re doing a good job at hiding it
- how food is really expensive and SNAP is the greatest thing ever
- how public services are a blessing, and also completely frustrating
- how hard it is to explain to people why you can’t or don’t or won’t participate in extracurricular things, activism and other activities, either out of financial reasons or because you’re so emotionally exhausted that you don’t have anything to give
- how scary it is to feel like you’ll wear your friends and relationships out when things just don’t get better, and how lonely that feels
- the despair of depression
- how food stamps are not made for people who engage in endurance sports
- how it’s hard/impossible it is to try and sell yourself for so long when you think you know what you want and know what you need is stability, and at some point you just don’t care what the job is, but at the same time you really do care
- how clarity is the most beautiful gift, and you wish you had more of it
- realizing you don’t actually want a job you’ve thought you wanted for years as you walk into the interview because you’re not the same person you were back then
- feeling like the failure and black sheep of your family
- watching your city change before your eyes and wondering if it’s moving beyond you, and if you have any relevancy after living there for 17 years
- the exhaustion of survival, of being afraid that you’re not going to make next month’s rent, and the shame of taking on so much credit card debt
- the realization that freelancing is really lonely work, and it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be
- not understanding why you are really good at the thing you least enjoy doing
- watching your relationship struggle because you have no energy to give because you’re hurting so much and are too overwhelmed by the lack of structure and stability in your life. Hoping they can hang on with you.
- feeling like the universe has constructed a blockade around you
- evolving that feeling into feeling like the universe has protected you from paths that wouldn’t have been good for you
- realizing that it wasn’t all happening to you, but it was happening for you
- wanting to give up, not knowing what that would look like, and realizing that giving up means not having hope, and then realizing that if there’s anything that you can always have, it’s hope. This becomes your spiritual foundation – the well from which you can always draw.
- how much gratitude you have for the people in your life who let you be you, and who see how amazing you are when you can’t
- knowing you expect the best for yourself, but finally coming to the belief inside that you deserve the best, just simply because you’re you.
Earlier in this writing, I put the word accepted into quotes because it wasn’t until 19 months into my 20-month journey that I was able to flip the power dynamic. I realized, after talking with dear friends and coming to a point where I simply did not know what to do differently, that giving over the power to someone else made me a victim of their whims. Then, it became less about someone else having the power; and more about me having something incredible to offer, and that I had the cards to play. I needed to be my authentic self in the most unapologetic (yet professional) way that conveyed how much I loved myself and feel centered on the talents and skills I have to offer. That self-love doesn’t come as self-aggrandizing, or conceit. It comes from hard-fought, hard-earned work of recognizing my worth in this world, and believing that, for lack of better words, more ‘adult’ words, I’m pretty fucking cool. All I needed to do after that was carry it with me, and people would see it. It worked. When I went to interview for the position that I was ultimately offered, I felt confident. A friend of my mine counseled me before hand to ‘take everything you’ve been through and the strength that you’ve built into that room.’ And I did. The calm and centeredness I felt, showed. I have to believe that. My choice to advocate for myself and ask good questions that would inform MY decision to offer MY skills to them put me in the position of accepting a position, rather than taking whatever was offered to me.
I think one of the most powerful takeaways in this is that I know so much more about who I am without the identifier of what I do for work. I know that I can get by, that I can make it all work, that I’m resourceful as hell, and that I can trust in my relationships to support me. I know that I don’t need a title to define who I am, and that came especially hard once all that hubris that’s tied up in our measures of success were taken away. I also have little left of the weight of self-doubt that I used to carry on my shoulders. That feels immensely freeing.
Thanks for reading. Thanks to those who supported me. Thanks to those who listened while I cried, or yelled, or despaired. Thanks to HP (higher power) for the winding path of learning and growth that is never a straight line between point A and some distant unknown point B.