Stand-up comic Bo Guthrie reflects on what he learned during his four months of unemployment.
As I walk out of the Little Caesars across from my house after receiving a flat rejection from the store manager, I feel like my college degree would be more useful as a pizza box liner than as a means to finding employment. I’m not even sure pizza box liners are a thing, so mark that down as something else my degree doesn’t do. Afterwards, standing in the parking lot and judging the diets of people going in and getting pizzas, I think to myself, “I have now gone four months without a job. I am officially a statistic.”
There’s no self discovery like the kind you get when you’re unemployed. There’s no deeper cynicism, either. Being a young man facing employment difficulties during these tough economic times, I feel it’s appropriate to chronicle the experience.
After I quit my job as a salesman, I felt optimistic. I was young, I had work experience, I had a college degree, I was white. The world was my oyster. So, I decided to take a week or two to myself before jumping into something else. It was good at first. I had so much time to focus on all the things I never had time for when I was working. I would get in shape, I would learn how to program computers, and I would finally start to write a novel. However, about ten pushups, one java tutorial, and a paragraph in I realized that this stuff wasn’t any easier just because I didn’t have work. Plus, I needed to focus on submitting job applications anyway. Which I would do right after I beat Diablo 3.
I’m exaggerating slightly, of course. I lost some weight, read some web development books, and I did get some good writing done. But, I quickly ran into what is the most persistent difficulty of unemployment: Boredom. Productivity breeds more productivity; lack of productivity breeds me sitting on my couch depressed about how unproductive I am. It’s a vicious cycle. Once I had written and worked out, there wasn’t much else to do. The inertia slowed and the less that I did made me want to do even less. This happened in the first month.
It was during my second month of unemployment that I began to feel envy. I started to notice other people’s cars. The nice ones, first: Beamers, Ferraris, Corvettes. But, soon, I’d look covetously at the minivan owned by some beleaguered soccer dad. “Yeah. Go ahead and flaunt your money, sir, with your ample cargo space and sliding doors,” I’d think to myself as I flipped him and his children the bird. Intellectually, I’d always understood that to many people income is a matter of pride. That’s why you see those Ferraris and Corvettes. For the first time in my life, I finally felt it. That beleaguered soccer dad could buy nicer things than me. Ouch.
By the third month, I began to grow bitter. The little things in life that would normally escape notice took on disproportionate gravity. I started to take personally all the rejections I got from places I applied to work. Apparently, I wasn’t the “right fit” for Enterprise Car Rental. Sorry I don’t bleed green, you corporate stooges. Sorry I’m too much of an individual! The vet clinic down the road said I didn’t meet their qualifications for a dog walker. Please tell me, Doctor, what type of qualifications does a person need in order to watch a dog take a shit? Wells Fargo decided to go in a different direction for the position of bank teller. I bank with Wells Fargo. I literally pay them and they still wouldn’t hire me. Taking all this rejection personally was hard work – especially considering that I had submitted roughly two hundred applications – but I powered through.
And now I’m in the fourth month. A week ago, I did manage to snag a job as an outside salesman in which I was sent to businesses to sell credit card processing terminals. On my first day every single business I visited was shut down. Except for one, where the employees spoke only Spanish. It’s not an easy thing to try to sell a credit card processing terminal using hand gestures and a paltry knowledge of the Spanish language (limited to the words “si,” “taco,” and “macarena”). I quit before the second day.
I’m not sure what’s next for me. I’ll figure it out though. I always manage to land on my feet. Hey, maybe Pizza Hut needs a guy to line pizza boxes!
Illustration by Zach Jordan.