Transcending Planet Jobless

Seven days before my birthday, my day job handed me a pink slip. I submitted an unemployment claim and started collecting my benefits.  Some people consume alcohol when faced with the unemployment dilemma. I philosophize: “What is this activity we call work? Beyond money, what is its purpose?” For my visit to Planet Dilbert only demonstrated that cubicle dwellers spend far more time shopping on, or perusing Facebook, then creating something productive. In my experience “work” today looks like this: show up, sit at computer & look busy, complain about the weather and the commute, go home, rinse, repeat. We are willing to recycle this tired routine because we see work as a source of financial security — but the continuing economic turmoil  offers no greater proof for the axiom “This life has no guarantees”.

What if we began to see work as more than a means to attain money? For it is far more than that. This blog will attempt to define work (money, too) and chronicle both my adventures and misadventures on Planet Jobless and the adventures and misadventures of others. I hope to offer myself — and others who read, comment and share their stories — the hope that we can perhaps view this cultural phenomenon called unemployment through a new lens; a lens that will help us to take our recent and unexpected life change and make silk from a sow’s ear. Maybe this jobless generation can leave behind a tired cycle and create, instead, a daily existence fueled by purpose and meaning, a daily existence which centers around creating and contributing to a society in great need of hope and vision. For life is an experiment in investment and loss, and I don’t mean to sound like a cliché, but I do believe that within every lose lies ample opportunity to begin anew and maybe, just maybe, create something better.

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If you didn’t have to work, would you?

Over the last 3 months, I’ve randomly asked this question of many complete strangers. Very few people said no. In a culture where millions spend millions on lottery tickets, one might think that we’re a nation who wants to lull, play, travel, read good books, watch movies – anything but work. Not true; most want to work regardless of whether or not they need to; why? Here are the top 2 responses:

1) “I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”

2) “I’d go crazy at home alone.”

As a gal who is never at a loss for things to do, I was surprised at how many folks couldn’t fathom the idea of life not structured by a job. Do most people need imposed structure? As for the second response, many a day I have feared mid-afternoon madness for having to endure my own crazy brain without interruption; based on that, I believe most humans need to connect to other humans and a bigger purpose.


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What is money? Access.

The other day  at Starbucks, I randomly asked a young woman what she did for work and would she work if she didn’t have to. As it turned out she is an investment banker. She told me that she loves her work and that she would definitely continue to work regardless of her circumstances.

I then asked, “How would you define money?”

She responded, “If you ask an economist what money is, they will answer a means of exchange. But if you ask me, I would say money is access.”

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A friend and fellow job seeker sent me his “ramblings” to post, or not; up to me, he said .  We share a friendship, the label “unemployed”, and  a desire to expand and grow as humans, in a world that increasingly demands that job hunters narrow into a label-able commodity.

There are those who live for, and cling to, the label (as discussed in previous post and interview, The American Dream Falls Down). Then there are those who never could squeeze ourselves into one. If you fall into the latter category, it’s likely my friend’s “ramblings” provide a voice that will will ring true for you:

When Did Privilege Become Prerequisite

The question, “What do you do?” has always bothered me.  I do a lot of things.  Now that I’m unemployed, “What do you do?” makes me avoid meeting new people.  Keeps me away from parties.

The question bugging me today is: “What do you WANT to do?”  I want to do lots of things.  I CAN do lots of things.  I’m a dreamer, a visionary!  In job-hunting, that kind of open-mindedness will guarantee your resume a one-way ticket to the trash bin.

I hired a career coach to tell me why I can’t land a job.  She tells me in no uncertain terms that I need focus.  We review my Myers-Briggs results, I do some soul-searching and begin resume revision #875,233.  My thoughts stray to the Great Depression – a world I know only from documentary films.

It’s 1920-something and a truck pulls into Hooverville amid a cloud of dust.  Men gather around, hoping to be selected.  They need work.  The man in charge says, “I need five men,” then points, “You, you, you, you and… you.”  He doesn’t asking for resume.  The work will be some kind of manual labor.  They don’t care what kind.  Any work will do.  Before the crash, these men weren’t all farmers.  They were bankers, barkeeps, tradesmen, entrepreneurs, whatever.

On a basic level, I feel like Depression-era men:  “Please hire me.  I have skills.  I’m smart, willing and able to work.”  That won’t get you hired today.  You need focus, or at least the appearance of focus.  My career coach pushes the issue against my steely resistance, and she’s right.  If I want a job, this is how to get it.  This morning, I received an email confirming this necessity.  A certain industry professional graciously gave her feedback on my resume, suggesting that resume will be discarded by most Human Resources staffers unless it has focus and shows “what sort of career [you] are seeking.”

I’ve always thought the ability to define your own career path was a position of privilege.  Now, I am finding out that choice has gone beyond privilege.  It is a prerequisite!

That’s comical, isn’t it?  Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, and the U.S., are born into their career field.  They go into the family business.  They live in a fishing town, so they fish.  In my world, you choose, and stick with your choice.  Skills, education, experience, and interest are starting points.  They are the basics.  There’s a new deal-breaker in town, and it’s spelled F-O-C-U-S.  If I can’t specify exactly what kind of job I want, then apparently, I am not hirable.  Makes me shudder.  They say focus.  I hear limit.

We may have skirted another Great Depression, but nearly one of every ten Americans is unemployed.  Most of us aren’t too concerned about defining our deepest ambitions.  We need income so we can eat, keep a roof over our heads.  We’ll hop on the truck no matter where it’s going.  At the same time, folks in my age range grew up in the optimistic eighties, and still like to think that the world is our oyster.  If I want to get an interview, I have to close the oyster.  Tuck it in my shirt pocket. I get back to work on my resume and start rewriting the SUMMARY.  It might go something like this:

“Master categorian with over thirty years experience filing, labeling and boxing.  Expertise in suppressing his own potential.  A narrow-thinker and imagination-killer, dedicated to describing and declaring things.  Specializing in singular, permanent and easily-labeled desires.  Adept at crushing curiosity, destroying the desire to learn, explore and dream.”

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What is money? Not everything – the only thing.

Yesterday I had lunch with a dear friend and colleague. We share the dubious honor of having a certain software company named “Snowbound” release us. I always thought the name both oppressive and amusing.

But Nance’s situation is oppressive and not amusing: This seasoned sales professional, and single mom, has been pounding the pavement for over a year and is still pounding to no avail. Yesterday at lunch she said, “Esther, this might sound terrible, but my Dad used to say to me ‘Money isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.’ ” She went on to explain why: People with money have choices; they can do other things; they have quality of life; they have a certain amount of power and autonomy that people without money don’t;  They have options.

With her unemployment benefits about to dry up, and a 19-year old daughter about to start college at Northeastern, she crossed her fingers  in hopes that our illustrious Senate would pass an extension of unemployment benefits. The Senate rejected the bill 58 to 38, with only 2 Republicans voting in support of it.

I didn’t want this blog to be a political rant, but I cannot seem to help myself. I look at this development and think to myself, “If Republicans sweep the midterm elections, life for those already struggling will only get harder. They seem to like to kick you when you’re down.”

Is that true, or are my Democratic roots coloring my vision? You tell me. As an unemployed person, I would like to see proof that Republicans have some sense of the uncertainty that we feel. I would like to see proof that they are for me and not against  Obama — to ensure that he “fails” as Rush Limbaugh so unapologetically promoted. I would like to see that this party has some concept of what it means to have no income and no prospects of an income. I would like some proof that there are Republican lawmakers out there who realize that many of the jobless are folks like Nance, who have always worked; who truly want to work and are watching their options seep away and dry up.

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My New Title: From Enumerator to Dirt Terminator (aka Cleaning Lady)

I have a college friend named Kathy, who is now an HR director. It seems that her human resource genius extends beyond the office, as recently she sent me this message:

“Ok, I had this dream about you last night. You were driving a big white utility-looking vehicle and I wondered, ‘what the heck is Esther doing in that thing.’ I looked at the side of the truck and the logo/lettering on it indicated that it belonged to a cleaning company – yes, you no longer worked as an Enumerator, but as a Dirt Terminator (i.e. Cleaning Lady!) You had a white uniform with your name embroidered on one side and the name of the company on the other. Now I know you’re asking yourself, “What the hell?” It must have been something I ate last night . . . or not! Is it Friday yet?

It just keeps gettin’ better out here in Planet Jobless.

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Broken Foot Ends Illustrious Census Enumerator Career

Hiking the Rocky Mountains seemed like a great idea until the top of my foot met a log . The log looked solid, so I leaned on it and it crashed down on my foot. My husband had to piggyback and drag me through the remainder of the trail and park rangers had to drive us back to our rental car.

Now if you break your left foot, you can’t work a clutch, which means you can’t drive a stick shift car.  If you have a stick shift car — say a lime green ’01 VW Beetle — you can’t get to the census-avoider or census-forgetter containing neighborhoods. And even if you could drive, if you are on crutches, you can’t hobble up to multiple front doors to ring multiple doorbells while juggling the following:

  • #2 Pencils and plastic pencil sharpeners (No number or acronym)
  • Enumerator Questionnaire Forms (EQs or Form D1- E)
  • Enumerator Continuation Questionnaire Forms (Form D-1(E) SUPP)
  • Information Sheet (D-1(F) )
  • Information Sheet-Spanish (D-1(F)(S) )
  • Info Comm (D225)
  • Daily Pay and Work Record (otherwise known as a timesheet, or D-308)

I must face the inevitable: my census tenure is over. No more type written messages on yellow sticky notes from census-avoiding residents (maybe a more experienced Enumerator will drag that mole out of his/her hole).  But not this one — the opportunity only comes around every ten years.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. on Economics

I am reading Martin Luther King’s autobiography right now — which is a collection of his writings that Clayborne Carson compiled into a book. So much of the struggle he waged for African Americans was a fight against economic oppression. I was fascinated to read this fine little snippet — written in 1965 — and so applicable today:

“When all is finally entered into the annals of sociology; when philosophers, politicians, and preachers have all had their say, we must return to the fact that a person participates in this society primarily as an economic entity. At rock bottom we are neither poets, athletes, nor artists; our existence is centered in the fact that we are consumers, because we first must eat and have shelter to live. This is a difficult confession for a preacher to make, and it is a phenomenon against which I will continue to rebel, but it remains a fact that ‘consumption’ of goods and services is the raison d’etre of the vast majority of Americans. When persons are for some reason or other excluded from the consumer circle, there is discontent and unrest.”

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