At first, unemployment feels like some much-needed time-off from the stress and numbing routine of the workplace. No alarm clock. No rush hour. No performance reviews. It’s actually quite pleasant. Liberating, even.
But beware—this first phase is usually short-lived. Depending on your financial situation, it may not even be lived at all.
Accompanying the realization that it’s taking just two or three minutes to peruse the job listings is a vague unease. This soon turns to mild panic as the resumes and applications you submit are met with a stony, impenetrable silence.
Extended periods of silence intensify and heighten the panic.
The good news is that this eventually congeals into a thick, lard-like resignation, unless preceded by internal organ failure.
Beyond the buoyant joy one receives from listing name, address, education and work history over and over and over again are the unusual questions you encounter on the job application.
Answering these questions soon becomes an exercise in the opening of Pandora’s Box as your inner cynic soon supplies surly and unprofessional responses to even the most benign questions.
For example, an innocent query such as What’s your biggest weakness? will provoke the sarcasm of “Differentiating late-period Etruscan pottery from early-Hellenic pottery is sometimes an issue for me.”
Another potential land mine is Why do you want to work for the _______________ company? Care must be taken to avoid being “smart”.
Who among us hasn’t wanted to respond that “It is my considered opinion that employment with the ______________ company is preferable to a painful, lingering death by starvation, exposure or some combination of both.”
Now who, exactly, has this helped? That’s right—no one.
The Career Counselor
At least that’s what the counselor at the job center tells you when you arrive with just a couple hundred dollars in your bank account and half a tub of very yellow margarine in the fridge.
Being gainfully employed, the counselor has no idea of the deep well of resentment that lurks within you, or of the eye-rolling disgust you feel when you’re told “the most-important thing is to stay positive.”
It briefly lifts their spirits when you remark that “I’m positive I feel like a bird when I’m job-hunting, because nearly all of the available jobs are beneath me.”
But when your thinly-veiled insouciance becomes apparent, their face hardens like plaster of Paris.
“You shouldn’t take this personally. This isn’t anything against you.”
You try telling your landlord the same thing when the rent is late, but for reasons that remain unclear to you, he doesn't see it that way.
Which is the funny thing about unemployment. It is an ironic state-of-being fraught with contradictions. While no one is legally obligated to hire you, you remain liable to your creditors.
Unemployment requires a kind of magic. Alchemy. Even without rain, you must keep the cash stream flowing. Or, depending on one’s landlord, utility, department of motor vehicles and telecommunications provider, even increase its flow.
And while you shouldn’t take impending bankruptcy, homelessness and starvation personally, business will consign your credit rating (and you) to sub-prime hell if you can’t pay a thirty-dollar phone bill.
It’s only fair.