I’ve realised that I’m really not good at not working. Some people thrive on it. Welfare, the Dole, Employment Insurance. These are great safety nets. That first little while seems like such a great holiday! You promise yourself you’ll do all those projects you’ve been meaning to do for months! [you never get round to them, by the way]. You’ll take time out to figure out what you really want! [this part is highly recommended, but intensely frustrating when you know what it is you want but still can’t find a job]. The problem with safety nets, though, is that they can imbue a certain false sense of security. Especially once they run out!

The absolute worst part of not working, though, is most often not the financial concerns (though these are highly stressful, particularly in the current economic climate). I know many people can attest to the fact that the worst thing is rather the ravaging of your self esteem. And this is no surprise. So much of how people view you in the world is defined by what you do. (In Cape Town ‘What do you do?’ is usually preceded by ‘What school did you go to?’ but it amounts to the same thing). It helps people create a certain image around who they think you are and it makes them feel comfortable to be able to make certain assumptions about you. It is also, equally as powerfully, a way in which people define themselves and how they move in the world. So when you don’t have a job – Who are you? How do you define yourself? How do people define you?

I have a friend who is a doctor. It was very interesting to hear her say she doesn’t like telling people she is a doctor, and when I asked why, she said she was embarrassed by it. I was fascinated. I think usually we assume people will be embarrassed about being, oh I don’t know, a toilet cleaner or a lawyer (I joke, some of my best friends are lawyers :)), but a doctor?? We didn’t have time to really discuss this further, but (and I make no assumptions about the good doctor) perhaps she just doesn’t want to be typecast? I think the stereotypes about certain professions or ‘kinds’ of people are helpful to a certain extent (anyone who has studied Psychology will know the human brain needs to lump information together to be able to process it better), but how do we break out of those stereotypes? Perhaps we need to take a careful look at how we define ourselves and what part our job plays in this.

In Carol Eikleberry’s The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People (which I have mentioned in a previous post and have written a review of), she says that “The adventure begins when you set out to develop your own unique potential instead of following conventional expectations to become like someone else.” I firmly believe we need to do what we love. Or at least create a life that allows us to do what we love. I am not of the generation that sees value in working for the same company for 50 years just to receive the gold watch. I am realistic enough to know you won’t love what you do 100% of the time, but why not aim for 90%? If you love that company and what you do, 50 years will seem like a blink of an eye, but if you are working just to be able to retire?? Where is the joy in life? The thrill of doing/creating/being something that fulfills you? We all have something that makes us tick, and I believe we are all here to fulfil some kind of function, sometimes it just takes a little longer to figure out what that is, and then to convince others they should hire you!

In the mean time, be kind to yourself. And be kind to those who are unemployed. Because it is very hard not to define yourself as a loser when you aren’t working, but even harder to define yourself as being more than what you do.