When I first graduated from university, I was deluded. After three years of
partying studying and working in a pub on the side, I was ready to become a young professional. I was ready for the big smoke, the little smoke, whatever smoke would come my way to enable me to earn my own money on a wage that wasn’t paid by the hour. I naively thought that my degree in Anthropology would give me a foot in the door of a full-time professional job, or at the very least a fingernail in the door. An unpaid internship? Forget it. Like hundreds of thousands of other people in the UK, with much more relevant degrees or experience, I was a needle in a haystack, a brick in the wall and the reality crushed me.
I remember writing application after application to every graduate scheme, every entry-level job and every internship I could find. Some of them were so questionable and jarring to my personality, but “doing something you loved” seemed like a privileged fairy-tale. Yeah right. I didn’t even know what I liked doing. It felt like I didn’t have one single passion that I could turn into a job, and it terrified me. Someone once asked me what I liked doing, and when I replied “recycling, looking after children and going on holiday” they laughed. They said I could maybe open a nursery in the area. Sure, with my giant trust fund of IOU’s. I remember every rejection email making my stomach knot, the sinking feeling that I might never be able to get a job. That everyone around me was going full steam ahead in their careers or travelling whilst I was on job-seekers allowance (which is pittance by the way). It felt like everyone I went to university with had a parent or a friends’ parent that worked in television, and was glamorously working in studios up and down the country. I was finding it difficult to get a job in a cafe in East Sussex.
I eventually found a weekend job in a shop in Brighton, with the dreamiest manager I could ask for. She was interesting, intelligent a little bit outrageous and most importantly she actually cared about the people she managed. The team I worked with was great, and I soon realised I wasn’t alone in my quest. A colleague of mine who had gone to a prestigious dance school was working lots of days for free as a wardrobe assistant in order to get her lucky break. Another colleague who studied fashion, and was very talented was also struggling to make ends meet and had to depend on her boyfriends’ income whilst she was looking for paid opportunities, for which anyone who works in fashion design knows are scarce. When I finally did get an unpaid internship in London with my income it just wasn’t realistic. There was no way I could afford to move to London. Instead I commuted, and worked at the weekends to enable me to afford the internship. I was working 7 days a week. It ended with me getting what we now call burnt-out, but which back then was called “can’t hack it” , and I got pretty sick and had to finish my internship early.
Of-course, I did find a full-time job, but it took me a long while to get there, and frequent dips into the closest thing I have ever known to depression. I still get the panic when I am “out” of a job, like when one of the companies I worked for went into administration and I was made redundant. Call me a slave to capitalism but I find it terrifying not knowing where my next pay-check will come from. I am incredibly aware that I live in a country where there is a “safety net”, where there are benefits for people who cannot find work. This topic is something I have wanted to write about for a while, because I think it’s not something people often talk about. We are ashamed to say how not having a job can make us feel, the lack of routine or purpose and we seem to forget how long it can take us to find something and how frankly depressing every rejection email is when you spend so long on each application or handing out CV’s to not hear anything.
I don’t have the answers or the step-by-step remedy to coping with unemployment. If this is something you are going through now, my biggest advice to you is to stay calm, and avoid the rabbit hole of social media. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Take breaks in-between applications, and only go for jobs you actually see yourself doing, the interest will show through on your application or interview. Reach and see what benefits are available in your country, there is no shame in leaning on a benefit scheme for a while and believe me you will have more than paid for it in taxes once you retire or finish with employment. Do some voluntary work to get you out the house. Ask people to read through your CV and take criticism constructively. Go for a walk. Treat yourself to a fancy coffee. Keep going, you’re doing great.