Lots of people suffering out there, I hear, because the jobs they thought they could depend on collapsed out from under them and they don’t know how to get out of that comfy box that suddenly ain’t so comfy anymore.

I sympathize with the situation, if not necessarily with the individuals trapped in it, because oh, how I’ve been there. This lady’s been unemployed for over 99 weeks and can’t find any job? It’s tempting to get all self-righteous and say she can’t be looking very hard. But I’ve been there, and it’s possible she was looking desperately – just not in the right places.

I spent much of last decade, starting around 2000, in an increasingly desperate state of chronic and apparently incurable underemployment or unemployment. This while living in one of the most expensive places on the planet. My living arrangements went from a cheap apartment to a cheaper apartment to a converted garage to a rented room in a pensioner’s house. Frequently it was only my landlord’s patience that kept any sort of roof over my head. I finally had to face up to the deeply unpleasant fact that my old career had left and wasn’t coming back. Root, Hog, or Die.

The only way I could find out was to go around. If I can’t work in my old field anymore, what can I do? It was time to go back to core competencies, and resolve that Mr. Respectable Suburban Man wasn’t ever again gonna admire the furnishings of his respectable home in a respectable neighborhood. But I didn’t have to starve or live behind a bus stop bench if I faced the new reality and made the adjustments that needed to be made.

Those adjustments are jarring – I remember them well. But putting it off, living on unemployment (and dreading the day when it inevitably ends) only makes a bad situation worse. We’re conditioned to be picky about where we live and what we do for a living, but that pickiness is a terrible trap. It’s a thousand times worse if you’ve got a family to maintain, which the lady in the linked article doesn’t. Except for all that useless debt she took on she’s actually in a pretty good position to start over fresh, though I don’t expect her to do what’s needed to take advantage of it. She’ll do what I suspect most people will – She’ll keep going further and further downhill till she finally latches onto enough of an eight-to-fiver to resume some parody of her former lifestyle. And she’ll spend the rest of her life whining about it.

Truth is I kinda got to liking that path less traveled, and decided to take it to extremes. There’s great comfort in simplicity, if you can become the sort of person to first seek it and embrace it, and then relax and enjoy it. But it requires a restructuring of a helluva lot of old and ingrained habits and assumptions. A lot of people aren’t going to be willing to take that trip.

The first and most important of those adjustments: You are not what you do for a living. When people ask, “What do you do?” they’re really asking “Who/what are you?” Me, I’m not about what I do for money. Cut wood, shovel shit, tend weekenders’ gardens, haul trash – hell, I don’t care. That’s not who I am, it’s just how I keep the pantry stocked.

And I’m not here to pat myself on the back for my rugged individualism. Without the kindness of friends I wouldn’t be in anything like as good a position. I’ve been living in somebody else’s RV on somebody else’s land for going on four years. Now I’m building on a patch of land provided by another friend. It’s not pure sponging – I do try to give value for value received. But there’s no denying I started out as a charity case. There’s not that much charity left in this overtaxed world.

So, like TJIC I sympathize with the situation this lady’s in, if not with all the choices she made that helped her get into it. I hope she finds her way out – but I’m not at all confident she will.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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4 Responses to Unemployment

  1. peregrin says:

    This is similar to where I am right now–newly divorced, no former “career” to fall back on, no income except for child support, no idea how I’m going to make it if child support isn’t enough…but I do have a good support system of church, family, and friends, and my ex is on the hook for paying off the mortgage. I’ll own my home free and clear (except for taxes, of course) within two years. And I have no consumer debt. That’s huge for me.

    I’d really like to be able to develop and use my God-given talents (proofreading and editing, mostly), but I’m coming to the realization that I might have to just take whatever comes, regardless of whether it’s my “dream job” or not. I may even have to swallow my pride and go back to work at, say, McDonald’s (which I hated at 16, and would hate even more now). I just have to remember that “that’s not who I am, it’s just how I keep the pantry stocked.”

  2. I think you are right Joel, I think it is even more true the More “educated” A body is.

    About eight years ago the high tech industry in our area fell to the bottom. The cattleman and I had just gone thru five years of scrimping and saving, debt making so he could go to Uni to get a computer engineer’s degree. He graduated in May bottom fell out of the industry in September or so. What a frickin depressing thing to happen to a family who all worked so hard to make something happen to better their future prospects..

    Heh…20,000 folks over the next two years competing for the same jobs he did. He never used that degree not one day. Meanwhile he delivered pizza’s, painted houses rewrote his pipe fitting and gas licenses(both jobs he hated with a passion) became an apprentice for electrician, (starting over for the fourth frickin time….. 🙁 He did what he needed because his manhood, or to coin the current psycho babble terminology “His self esteem was wrapped up PROVIDING for his family not the method, not in our square footage or what car he was driving. We made further adjustments. Money was a worry but it was always just enough regardless of our needs, not to be confused with our wants. Funny how many things change from the neeeed column to the merely want column when your counting the number of eggs, bottles of milk and loaves of bread you can buy till the next $$$ comes your way. There was no room for “wants” period.

    This was not the case for other folks we knew in the same situation. Many High-tech workers sat on their by-out packages, took a year off, went on trips, up graded their houses, praying for things to turn around. When it didn’t they were caught with their panties down, so surprised, angry and bitter that this could happen to them.

    End game difference between us and them? Now the cattleman is raking in the cashola, we are almost debt free and the High tech lottery prayers? Some never made the transition, delivering pizza or becoming a plumber would have been too much of a come down sadly.

  3. I got so busy talking about myself…again that I forgot to mention the important stuff.

    About charity Joel, there are just some folks that you know if you help them it will NOT be wasted, some folks that if you help them they will help you just as much, if not more then you ever helped them. There are just some folks Joel that you know that help will not go unnoticed or taken advantage of. That’s not charity Joel that is being part of something, a community, a real friend and that is never a bad thing is it?

  4. Joel says:

    No, GL. It is never a bad thing.

    I have been blessed.

To the stake with the heretic!