New Year, No Job
Writing has always been therapeutic for me. Growing up, I realised the benefits of putting things down on paper and how much it helps with anxiety, confusion and stress. Hindsight is a great thing, though, and I’ve discovered that it’s often easier to write about your emotions and experiences in the past tense, when the sting of the struggle has faded.
The two biggest changes I decided to make in 2017 are to be more honest and to do more things that scare me. Which brings me to my laptop to talk about something that absolutely terrifies me.
It’s January 6th 2017 and I am unemployed. I feel useless, isolated and confused. Ironically, I find myself unemployed at a point in my life when I am probably the most ‘employable’ I have ever been. I just graduated from college with first class honours in a well-regarded degree which I worked hard to achieve, juggling a part time job and voluntary work at the same time.
My CV is decent as CVs go (I think). I have worked for almost as long as I can remember, gathering some of my best memories along the way. My first real job was child minding an army of rebellious toddlers in a crèche with three of the girls at an age where we could hardly look after ourselves. You name it, I’ve probably done it. In third year of school, I started accompanying singers on the piano for their junior and leaving cert exams, and once I’d received my diploma I started to teach music lessons from my front room (sorry Dad).
I spent two years working behind the counter of my Father Ted-esque local newsagent, diplomatically advising customers about the best place to find bottles of lube in the area. Then there was the time half of Glasnevin were hired by the same promotions company to travel around Ireland’s college campuses promoting a bank, and somehow I ended up alone giving a speech to half of NUI Galway on behalf of our boss. Jewellery consultant, hot dog and pickle-on-a-stick vendor, national election vote counter, restaurant hostess, seller of Chanel and Hermes Birkin – and of course that massive misunderstanding involving an advertisement for Chicago’s oldest and boldest strip club, which culminated in my best friend Aisling and I standing in the office of a well-known American events recruiter wearing matching outfits and wishing we’d read the job description in full.
Straight after finishing college in June, I found myself accepting my first adult job with an international tax law firm based in Switzerland. On paper, it was everything I wanted. In reality… Not so much.
Switzerland is a bit of a walking contradiction. It’s a place where you will receive a gruesome fine for dropping a piece of chewing gum on the path. It’s also a place where prostitution is absolutely legal, on the basis that if you pay VAT on your earnings, it’s A1 with the Swiss.
To be honest, corporate life in Europe just wasn’t for me. It’s extremely elitist, what I experienced at least, and I encountered sexism and chauvinism that I thought had been firmly confined to the pages of ‘Guidelines for Good Housewives: 1951’. I was told that I had to behave like ‘a lady’ if I wanted to command respect in the upper echelons of the business world. Being ‘a lady’ apparently involves things like waiting for men to pour your water at the dinner table and open doors for you at all times (particularly car doors, God FORBID a woman would EVER step out of a car BY HERSELF), expecting and allowing men to pay for categorically everything under the sun and above all else, always looking how ‘a lady’ should.
You can earn great money in finance and tax, but it’s just not for me. I spent my free time alone when I was in Switzerland, and it made me realise that writing is what makes me feel most alive. Eating by myself led to a lot of people watching and writing about what I saw in different cities across the continent. But at work I was bored, unmotivated and quickly found myself dreading waking up in the morning. It’s no way for anyone to live, and just before Christmas I was given two choices: move permanently to Switzerland or find a new job, leading me to where I am right now.
If you’ve managed to get this far (well done, I ramble), there’s a message to be taken from my situation.
I know that eventually, I will find a job. I know that there are so many others worse off than me, and I appreciate what I have in life now more than ever before. But it is still a harsh reality to face that after putting 18 years of your life into education, after a lifetime of support from your family, you’re still facing a world full of ‘no’.
No matter how much you plan or how hard you try, no matter how on top of everything you think you are, things may not always work out the way you imagined. Everything can change in an instant; your dreams can come true and your world can come crashing down around you in the same day – but you will be okay. Life is so many things: it’s delicate, beautiful, changeable, testing, uncertain and unbelievable all at once. I think we’re all a lot stronger than we know, and I’ve learned that the thought of a challenge is usually worse than the reality.
I never expected to have accomplished what I’ve already done in my life. I never expected to get on a plane one Monday morning, alone, and fly to a country I’d never been before to work with a man I’d met once for half an hour. I definitely never expected to be 23, fresh out of college and unemployed. I’ve applied for well over 30 positions in the last two weeks and I’ve got an interview for one. It’s scary and rejection can be disheartening, but for anyone who feels lost, unsure or dejected for any reason, know that this feeling will pass.
Do I wish I had a job right now? Yes. Am I doing everything I can to make that wish become reality? Yes. Would it be easier right now to give up, let anxiety take over and stop trying? Probably, yes. But if I’ve learned anything in the past six months, it’s that the hard thing is almost always the right thing. Earlier this week I was embarrassed, ashamed and afraid to write the words “I am unemployed”. But I am, and I can either accept what I am going through and do my best to change it, or I can bury my head in the sand and run from it.
My Dad called me Alice because he had a dream about Alice in Wonderland the night I was born. The author of that story once said that hardships prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny. So for anyone going through difficulties of their own this New Year, know that you are not alone. Challenges come to each of us for a reason, and never forget: we are not defined by our circumstances, but by our reactions.