I’ve been unemployed for over seven months now. During that time, I have been actively networking, volunteering, and applying for new careers and jobs. In addition to learning how excruciating the job market is right now, I have realized that everyone has their two cents about my unemployment and job search process. As difficult as it is to continuously apply and interview for jobs, it is equally or potentially more exhausting to hear and respond to everyone’s questions, reactions, and perceptions. I understand that people are most likely asking because they care about how I’m feeling or want the most up to date news. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are. Instead of thinking of the information you want or the advice you want to impart, think about how you are only one of many people who are asking or contributing unsolicited input. Below is a list of questions or statements that I have heard the most frequently and how they aren’t helpful to me or others in this process.
How goes the job hunt?
Almost every person, regardless of how well we know each other or how often we communicate, believes that this is an appropriate question to ask within the first 5-10 minutes of a conversation. There are a few problems with asking any variation of this question. First, it is similar to asking “how are you?” in that people never want the real answer. They want something akin to “fine” or to be told about an amazing job opportunity I recently applied or interviewed for. Here’s the thing, applying for jobs day in and day out is tedious, demoralizing, soul-crushing, and exhausting. It isn’t fun and after scanning 50-100 jobs in a day, I cannot tell you what positions I recently applied for. If you’re not actually willing to listen to and validate the real response to this question, then don’t ask it.
Another problem with this question is that it assumes I have the energy, interest, and obligation to update every person who asks, when, in fact, I don’t. As I mentioned, it is an incredibly exhausting process and sometimes difficult to maintain a positive outlook each day. On top of that, I spend the bulk of my time alone or nannying tiny babies who don’t actually provide stimulating conversation. I miss having co-workers and seeing friends during the day. There is always a degree of loneliness though the intensity ebbs and flows. Most days I am incredibly productive but other days the best I can do is get out of bed and go for a run. If we are hanging out or having a brief conversation, know that I am elated to have adult company and would prefer to talk about ANYTHING other than my job hunt. Seriously, I would much rather tell you about the time I tried to have some cavities filled without Novocain than talk about job applications.
There are a small group of friends who are more informed than most about job things and, for the most part, I update them by choice rather than because they asked. If you aren’t in this group of people, then don’t ask unless that door is opened.
Do you have any interviews lined up?
Seriously, someone really needs to explain to me why it’s important for others to know whether or not I have upcoming interviews, am in a final round, or am in a lull at the moment. If you have a job prospect or connection, then please do pass it along. If I know of connections, networks, or assistance that people can offer, then I will and have tapped them. As much as I don’t want to talk about the application process, I don’t want to talk about the interview process even more. If I share about every upcoming interview then it also means I need to share about every rejection as well. It’s hard enough to deal with the rejections on my own without also needing to send updates to everyone else as well. Trust me, once I get a job, you will know. Hell, everyone will know. If I update my Facebook status about the challenges of bringing toddlers to a museum then I will certainly update my status about securing a new job or career.
You just need to be patient.
Being in this process means that I need to relinquish control, knowledge, and the power to influence anything at all. I send applications out into the world and do not hear back from the vast majority of them. I bring my best to job interviews and when I leave the room I am not able to have any further influence on the process. The fact that I continuously engage in these actions and expect different results is the very definition of patience.
Perhaps people are saying this because they don’t believe I am being patient. Perhaps they think I am not being patient enough. Or perhaps they just think it will be a helpful reminder. I guarantee you that all three of these thoughts are wrong and just plain infuriating.
Very often people will say this after I dodge a question or outright refuse to engage in conversation about the job process. Just because I have no interest in outlining my situation and feelings for you does not mean that I’m impatient. It also doesn’t mean that I’m avoiding talking about this process to everyone. It means that I don’t feel a need to explain it to every person who crosses my path and that I have the right to choose when I go more in depth. I’ve also found that if I respond calmly and say “oh you know, it’ll happen when it happens,” then people frequently tell me that I am not taking this process seriously enough and that I need to be more proactive. Quite honestly, there is no right way to satisfy people.
Additionally, sometimes I don’t want to be patient. I want to be angry, sad, frustrated, emotional and all of these are appropriate reactions to what I’m experiencing. I should be able to expect people to validate how I’m feeling. Just because you happen to catch me on a day when I’m experiencing one of these emotions doesn’t mean that I am not patient and collected most of the time. This relates back to the fact that people don’t want an accurate portrayal of how difficult this process is both in terms of logistics and emotions. Instead they want to impart their own unhelpful thoughts, reactions, and advice.
You have plenty of time during the day now! Why don’t you…
While it may be hard to comprehend, I have very little free time. It’s true that some days I have all the time in the world. However, these are also the days that I am depressed, feeling burnt out from the application process or having 2 interviews a day for a week (yes that’s happened), or lacking motivation to do anything. These are not going to be the days where I will learn a new skill, write the next great novel, or check out whatever else it is that you want me to do. I’m going to binge watch Netflix, eat some ice cream, and wait for my partner to come home so we can snuggle and he can make me dinner.
Most of my days are busier than when I was employed. I’m active in several community groups and frequently helping to plan events, create materials, or recruit new members. I am preparing or going to interviews. I am spending time outdoors to alleviate the depression and so that I don’t feel completely isolated. I’m taking care of the apartment, cooking, and doing other errands so that I’m able to spend quality time with my partner or friends after the work day ends. I’m working odd jobs and nannying so that I can actually afford bills, rent, and other expenses. Oh, and I’m applying for jobs and writing an individualized resume, cover letter, and supporting materials for each one.
Are you loving the unemployment life?
No, not at all.
I’ve been unemployed for a long time and I quit a job where I was working 55-65 hours in a week if not more. When I initially quit, I loved having time to myself, to relax, and to kick back and have fun for a bit. I was wound incredibly tight and needed time to work through the stress that had built up for years. I’ve appreciated the many fun moments over the past seven months: long runs in the middle of the day, working from JP Licks and eating ice cream, hanging out with friends who take days off, staying out at Queeraoke until 2am, and being outside for much of the spring and summer. There have been countless amazing and positive times and personal growth that certainly would not have happened without being unemployed. But don’t confuse self-care and critical socialization with carefree fun. Unemployment life is drastically different than free time coupled with financial security. I do not enjoy the intense stress about affording monthly expenses, being unsure of when I will be employed, or the self-doubt, criticism, and downswings that accompany a job rejection or the need to start over.
Do you regret quitting your job?
There hasn’t been a day in the past seven months when I regretted this decision. There have been moments of insecurity but I have amazing friends and a partner who are quick to remind me that I made the best possible choice for myself. I’m thankful for the privilege that allowed me to quit and take this time. I’ve had countless depressive episodes, panic attacks, and downward spirals when the stress builds or when I am rejected from a job I was really interested in. However, I am able to keep in mind that these reactions are temporary and that I am so much stronger than what I’m experiencing. I look back at everything that has happened and know that, if given the chance, I would make all the same choices over again.