While there can be many reasons for long bouts of unemployment, one of them is an unwillingness to change course. I’m sure that almost everyone, like me, has had the experience of taking a public bus or another confusing mode of transportation and not being sure where to go but nonetheless stubbornly insisting on staying the course, hoping to see a familiar landmark, rather than getting off at the next stop to regroup or asking the driver or a fellow passenger for help. This is an extended metaphor for the prideful unemployed man (stereotypically speaking), who would rather drive off a cliff than admit he’s lost his way.
I am grateful to my friend and esteemed career coach David J. Smith for teaching me that there are a number of ways to approach a career. Not only is it very difficult to find a nine-to-five that pays well, has good benefits, and fulfills one’s purpose in life, this is not the reality of most working people. Most working people—depending on their age, location, and skill set—are forced to sacrifice one career need for the other, volunteer on weekends to do the work they really want to do, work multiple jobs, or all of the above. The days of working at the same automotive plant or corporate office for 30 years are effectively over.
As someone who likes to try new things and gets bored easily, I doubt I would have fared any better in the 1960s than the job-hopping quest for a stable career I find myself in today. The difference then was there were half as many people on the planet, so an applicant wasn’t competing with the same flood of resumes and cover letters. E-mail didn’t exist, which meant that employers would actually have to call not only to welcome a new hire to the company but also to announce that they hired someone else. Imagine that. Nowadays when I get turned down by an employer, I get ghosted like a bad date that just won’t take a hint.
Also my Master’s degree in those days would have been a symbol of elite status. Now it’s just another semi-important document I keep tucked away in a cheap sheet protector: no framing necessary. I think we as 30-plus-somethings with little hope for the future lie to young people when we still pretend as if a degree of any kind is worth a damn. We have already learned the extent to which they can be bought and sold, and it doesn’t take a (legitimate) college student to understand that as the percentage of people with degrees increases, the percentage of people who give a sh*t about degrees decreases.
A degree is to a career what a passport is to traveling: you need one just to have a shot at going anywhere far from home. And what I mean by “home” in the context of careers is the safe, low-paying semi-career that you could jump into right after high school. I say: f— that.
The point is you should be no more limited (or seduced) by the false promises of nine-to-five as by your degree. If you don’t have the right degree, either get another (if you can afford it), wait until the employers start caring even less about them, or build up your skills and experience in order to make yourself stand out without one. Likewise, if you can’t seem to land a nine-to-five, expand your definition of career. Maybe you can cobble together some part-time and freelance work to make ends meet while furthering your big-picture goals—or maybe you can’t. I’m not one of those who believe that believing something is sufficient to make it so, but I am convinced that in order to get where you want to be in life, you must deviate from the beaten path.
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