Work: The Unpaid Efforts of the Unemployed



In two weeks I will have been unemployed for seventeen months. Without a job but not in fact “out of work”. I have likely worked harder in the past seventeen months than I have at most times in my life; there is the constant online searches, networking with friends and strangers, juggling financial obligations with no income and trying to maintain a positive attitude. The effort does not begin at 9 am or end at 5 pm. A job search is harder than being a student ever was, the tests are all about you and the syllabus lacks the important dates, like when will I be quizzed next and when can it all be over?

One summer during college I landscaped with a friend. It was hard physical labor. I would be at the bus stop at 6:15 in the morning; hair in a ponytail, work boots on, shorts and a tank top. I carried a cooler with beverages and a lunch. I wore headphones attached to a Walkman that I didn’t turn on. This way I could hear the crude and often sexual remarks of the businessman (about me) but was not forced to interact with them. My boss would pick me up at the end of the line and he and I would spend the day mowing and trimming at a Lake Minnetonka estate or sodding a lawn, building retention walls, planting shrubs, hauling rock. It was hot, dirty and enjoyable work that left me exhausted and shuffling after the return bus ride which was usually twelve hours later. That was probably the hardest I ever worked. However, when the day ended, it was over and when I slept I was never haunted by dreams of dirt and sod, rather I slept a deep and dreamless sleep.

Being unemployed is a 24-hour a day job. It consumes your days, your social life, your interaction with family and friends. It is the last thought you think of before you doze off and it is the first thought you have in the morning when your realize you aren’t going to work today. It imbeds itself into your dreams whether it be about people you have worked with, interviews or financial woes, your sleep is not your own.

There are classes to take to “brand” you, develop skills, build your confidence, show you where to look and how to look. You can practice interviewing, write your resume and engage with other people who are on the hunt. When I first attended a class I was told about another class that was being held in six weeks and my immediate reaction was “I can’t afford to be out of work in six weeks.” With each class I had reassurances “You are not going to have any problems with your skills and positive energy.” The reality is that I have had a problem finding a job. I also began limiting my exposure to too many unemployed people in one place after I attended a class in Brooklyn Park where multiple people broke down. I’m looking for work not a support group of unstable job seekers.

There have been discouraging situations along the way, like the numerous articles regarding how much harder it is to find a job the greater time you are out of work. Obviously this is a discouraging bit of research when coupled with the other popular topic which is that those over age fifty are terribly unlikely to ever find a job again (well maybe that wasn’t the exact message but it was close).

During my job search I have helped point others in the right direction. One close friend is now working for an organization I have been following and when a job I was not suited for (but she was) came up I passed it along to her and of the 350 applicants she landed the job. More recently I offered someone an idea of looking into a specific company moving to our area and she attended a job fair and thinks it looks promising. Additionally I have provided references to former employees, family friends and even neighborhood kids who are seeking work.

In addition to nearly thirty job search related classes I have also taken an online class in Social Media, which resulted with me starting this blog. As a double communications major I was hoping that engaging in gaining new knowledge in a familiar area would keep me sharp and offer up some new skills to make my resume more palatable. The struggle for me has not been locating jobs I am interested in but in narrowing the search and refining the scope.

I know I need a job where I interact with people, I like to engage with others, identify their strengths and growth potential and mentor them. I enjoy talking, writing, listening and solving problems. I like variety in my work. I appreciate the opportunity to utilize my creativity. Whether it’s training or an event, I like planning and organizing. I make a personal investment in the places I work and the people I work with.

I am just as aware of what I don’t like; repetition, inflexibility, busywork and most administrative tasks or things involving math. I am capable of doing these things and have but know that is not where my energy is best used and that there are others who are more organized and enjoy the routine tasks that I find mundane.

I think that I was perhaps blessed and cursed in the past to have had jobs and positions that I really loved. It’s nice to like your work but I was given the opportunity to build and develop something and refine it and I liked not only what my job was but how it impacted those whom I had the opportunity to supervise. Instilling values and work ethics in college students as they prepare for their careers was the foundation of over twenty years of what I have done. Perhaps the most rewarding part of experiencing unemployment when the most recent program I worked with was abruptly dismantled was hearing from those who had worked for me over the years and the impact that experience had made upon them. It is possible that my future efforts will not have the lasting impact of my past work.

I have had a lot of time to reflect upon the past while exploring the opportunities for the future and it is evident to me that I want to work as a liaison for an organization, business, neighborhood, city or nonprofit and represent them to the larger community that they serve or are a part of. Many of my volunteer experiences over the years allowed me to engage with representatives from diverse groups as they tried to collaborate on joint ventures or resolve issues. I found these challenges to be gratifying and have applied to everything from small businesses to colleges, alumni organizations and civic groups. Because the job type is known but the title is not specific, it has been difficult at times to articulate “what are you looking for?”.

Being unemployed has been a humbling experience, not in the way one might expect but as the result of the outpouring of help from people. There are those who have taken me to lunch or happy hour, others who have met me for breakfast, suggested businesses, introduced me to people, forwarded my resume or called to see how I was holding up. There have been people who set me up on informational interviews and let me know about potential opportunities. All of it has been appreciated and ultimately, since the start I have felt that my next position would result from the efforts of someone I know.

Though my nature tends to be upbeat, my whit sharp and my sarcasm biting, I have to say that being unemployed is among the least fun experiences of my life. I am able to keep that in perspective as well. During these seventeen months I have watched illnesses wreak havoc in some lives, divorce end marriages and on the reverse side of that new babies be born and this week specifically the inspiration of people who lost their legs last year at the Boston Marathon learn to walk again. Knowing I am “just” out of a job keeps things in perspective but on the flip side there is that annoying voice inside my head “seriously. this person taught themselves to walk again faster than you could find a job?!”. Self-deprecating sarcasm can be harsh at times.

So a big thanks to those who have helped me, have listened to me or have simply read this.  I will get through this, I know I have never been alone in this, I have been and will continue to be working hard at finding a job. However, the pay sucks!


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