Leaving the world of finance might have been a good idea at the time, but as Brigit Wilkinson writes in her account of white collar unemployment, you’ll need to be prepared for some “stress tests”.
The day Lehman Bros went down, I was working in London. It was pure chaos, with even senior managers in panic stations. We ran around trying to ascertain what our risk was, what open positions we had with them and how much loss was to follow.
We didn’t really understand why or how at that time, we just had to work to mitigate the risk. Over the next year there were ongoing redundancies. You never knew if it was going to be you, but I survived.
By the time the true reality of the GFC had become clear and the offer of redundancy came up, I was exhausted, possibly burnt out. My brain was frazzled. I just felt one thing: bring on the pay out! Freedom!
Unemployment had never been a real consideration for me. I associated it with people who didn’t have drive, or the desire. I had no idea how difficult it would be.
Redundancy creates a form of “emotional” economics.
There is a lot of feeling, polluted thinking, budgets worries and contrary waves of calmness and despair. Yet there is no magic formula to control the wave, no rational process to make a decision to ease my anxiety.
Ironically, the complex feeling that redundancy creates is a bit like the financial crisis itself, the very one which created joblessness for so many in the first place, including me.
I have enjoyed some paid time off to enjoy the summer and do some much desired travel. But now I’m starting to feel anxious. Am I good enough? Will I find that job which I actually want? Or will I have to just take something and keep looking?
Having lived overseas for so long, I lack contacts in Australia, I lack a network. I’ve got to rely on my resume being good enough to open doors, but there are no doors opening.
I took the guilt free option of not looking for work between November and the end of January when I knew no one was hiring. As of today, I’ve been looking for nearly 2 months.
Sure it’s not long compared to some, and I set myself an expectation of May to have a role secured.
But between now and then how do I manage my agenda, or control the cycle of varying emotions and answer the obvious question from friends and family: “How’s the job hunting going?”
Expectation management becomes draining. My favourite answer, using direct eye contact, is: “slowly”.
To be frank, I miss the day-to-day interaction of full-time work, the banter, the corridor conversations, the sense that however menial what you do, you have achieved something. Being alone, I put more emphasis on a career because I don’t have someone meaningful to come home too.
In the context of redundancy, I call it the “boredom barrier”.
I looked for casual work but didn’t fit any of the requirements. It didn’t feel good to be over qualified to answer phones, or to not be a university student who had flexible hours and wasn’t just going to leave the moment they found ‘real’ work.
It’s become not so much a journey about finding myself, but a reflection on past achievements, wants for the future, and mostly about how long you’ve got to secure a job that you want, one that sounds interesting and with potential.
Or if not that lucky, to get something that reimburses well enough so you can continue to look for something more appealing, or better paying. It’s about putting your pride aside, embracing vulnerability and putting on a brave voice when talking to agents about jobs.
Some nights are spent staring at the ceiling hoping for a cunning plan to bring itself forth.
I imagine packing up and travelling, new adventures, avoidance of responsibilities, forgetting about mortgage commitments and escaping to something new and amazing. Unfortunately the ceiling remains white and the circles under my eyes become darker.
On sleepless nights I feel defenceless towards the nagging thoughts that tread through my mind. Exposed to their repetitive silliness, which my waking mind regards as a waste of energy, my hopelessness is nourished by exhaustion.
What can I do?
Sure, the advice keeps coming. “Find yourself, take time out, enjoy yourself, relax, travel,” my friends say.
Yet what’s the thing I most think about? To be honest, how long can my payout money last?
But beyond my appreciation of their advice I’ve had deeper, more disturbing questions, ones which complicate the process even more.
What do I really want to do? What do I really enjoy? Where do I want to be in 3 to 5 years? I sense it’s going to be a long slow ride.
I even start to reflect on choices I’ve made that have made it harder to be in this unemployed situation, like buying a house and then regretting it because it ties me to a salary and a certain type of role.
I look around and see my things, my possessions, books, photo albums, pictures and paintings. They are the things I love and treasure.
So I realise that I need to get my esteem bolstered and I hope for myself, and others, that the transformation period comes sooner rather than later.
I will wake up tomorrow and go through the process, perhaps even throw myself some curve balls to shake the job search up.
“Oh, is that the phone? Is it about that job I applied for? Oh no. It’s just Mum, checking up on me.”
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