Updated: Aug 5, 2020
Much like a large chunk of the world’s population, I am contributing to the rising unemployment rate. Initially, I rather enjoyed being at home. During peak isolation with the kids, unemployment afforded me the luxury of day drinking and sleeping in. I sunk my teeth into my very long "one-day" to-do list. I was gardening, cooking elaborate meals, de-cluttering and spending a lot of time rearranging furniture. After two months (sixteen months in Rona years), the novelty of unemployment wore off.
As soon as the kids returned to school, I kicked off Operation Job Hunt. I was in overdrive, redesigning my CV, writing cover letters, composing selection criteria, researching organisations, cold-calling HR managers, writing (old-school tangible) letters to prospective employers and showcasing examples of my brilliance on every possible platform. It was a lot of work and emotionally exhausting.
At no point was I under any illusion that job offers would be rolling in. An avid news spectator, I’m hyper-aware of the desperation of these current times.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the silence. I can only imagine that organisations with any capacity to employ people would be inundated with job seekers frantically trying to stand out from the crowd.
It’s been a long time since I had to look for work, but even during these unprecedented times (a term not used often enough), it’s unnerving not to hear from employers. No rejection emails, no insincere best wishes, not even a confirmation of application. Perhaps the situation was so grim; there was no time for niceties.
The Decimation of the Arts
Well before this pandemic, the Arts were suffering. For as long as I can remember, no sector of this industry has been revered in this country. The industry has seldom been recognised for the huge contributions to the community, the economy and cultural landscape.
Over many decades, the Arts have been gently ushered to the back of the line. This is made apparent in the wake of tragedies resulting in environmental or economic disasters, where the arts are almost always left out of government assistance packages. Artists, writers, musicians, actors and so many other professionals, either don’t have their vocation recognised or are not deemed important enough to validate assistance.
This was taken a step further when, for the first time in our history, a federal government imposed a financial deterrent to discourage tertiary studies of the Arts. As well as minimising hundreds of professionals and their contributions, it’s sending a very dangerous message of the place of arts in our culture and modern society.
We were officially deemed non-essential by the highest order, due to the reduced likelihood of gaining employment. This did not bode well for a job seeker in the Arts. Not only were job vacancies very limited, but the likelihood of new jobs being created would soon be extinguished.
Media organisations across the country were shutting down just as sure as the pandemic was spreading. Free thinking, creative expression and the courage to speak up, are sought after traits in the Arts, I’m not sure that they are transferable skills to many other professional industries.
All of this played a considerable part in the waning of my confidence and hope, on my quest to find work.
The Meeting that Broke Me
While my self-worth was taking a beating, and I was seriously questioning my life choices, I wasn’t ready to concede. I’m a fighter and I had some spirit left in me. My persistence paid off, and I had a meeting with a very large organisation with two people bearing equally large job titles.
Once the meeting was confirmed, I got to work on the proposal they had requested. I identified a gap in the market and outlined a project in which my expertise, drive and passion would make me the perfect candidate. I ironed a new dress that had been sitting in my wardrobe for months, polished my boots and de pilled my huge winter coat with a razor blade.
I hadn’t been in a professional environment for five months, so it was to be expected that I was nervous and apprehensive about the meeting. Despite the nerves, I was very excited. I felt confident and self- assured in my ability and work ethic.
I was signed in, handed a visitors tag and led to a waiting room. I sat, smiling looking at the group of people waiting to be seen for meetings of their own. One by one, people were greeted and taken behind the big doors. Still, I waited. The lovely receptionist was so apologetic as she continued to call the people I was waiting to meet. After about thirty minutes, I was asked to go to a small room to receive a phone call. It was one half of my meeting on the phone. She apologised for not being in the office. She had forgotten to confirm the meeting in her calendar and subsequently didn’t invite the other person, resulting in neither of them attending the meeting.
Nonetheless, she asked me to go through the proposal. After my big spiel, she agreed that it sounded like a tremendous project; shortly followed by a list of reasons why the project would never come into fruition.
I did my best to hold it together, all the while thinking don’t cry on the phone, don’t cry on the phone. I took some deep breaths, thanked her for her time and hung up. I took a moment to compose myself, took another deep breath and got up to leave the building, internally chanting, don’t cry in the building, don’t cry in the building.
I finally made it to my car and sobbed the whole way home. I continued to cry for three days. I didn’t get out of bed; I turned my phone off and couldn’t eat. I felt so foolish, so astonishingly unremarkable, that I wasn’t even worth showing up to the office for. That feeling fuelled the fire of helplessness, unworthiness and complete lack of confidence of ever gaining employment.
Months of uncertainty, world events, rejections and industrial turmoil finally caught up with me and I wasn’t coping. The years that it had taken to shake off imposter syndrome were undone in one fateful afternoon.
Enter the Bikie Romance
In a bid to steer me back to a brighter place, my beloved suggested we go back to watching our show. We had started bingeing Sons of Anarchy. A brilliant show that follows a biker gang in the fictitious town of Charming, California. I wasn’t expecting to like the show however, the depth of the stories that unfolded pleasantly surprised me.
One particular storyline was that of a biker Tig, a seasoned criminal that is the embodiment of heterosexuality, with some undertones of homophobia. He later meets, and remarkably falls in love with, a transgender prostitute named Venus.
In the last season, during an appropriately titled episode Faith & Despondency, their affair comes to a head. During a beautifully scripted scene, Tig explains to Venus, how open he is with her, accepting that he can’t deny his feelings for her any longer. The scene explores the cognitive dissonance that weighed so heavily on his character, resulting in doing what makes him happy, despite what that happiness looked like.
At that moment, I thought about what success in my career looks like. The reason I felt like I had failed, was based on an idea of what my career trajectory looked like when I was at university, twenty years ago.
In two decades, the landscape of the world has changed exponentially. At no point in my early twenties did I anticipate that even half the events we’ve been through would occur. I had no contingency plan, just a neat, linear pathway that would see me at the peak of my career by the time I was forty years old.
It’s impossible to carry over the same level of expectation and normalcy to a pandemic, particularly in the Arts industry. I dragged my beaten spirit out of the darkness and mustered what little strength I had left to keep going.
I’d love to say that I have since gained employment with a great company and I’m flourishing in my career. Wouldn’t it be nice to end this with such a neat bow? That’s not the case. I’m still looking for work, but my expectations have changed, I’m in a much better headspace and I am kinder to myself. I have stopped watching the news, (ok, I watch less news), I’m voraciously reading again, writing and being creative for the sake of being creative. It gives me a sense of delight and accomplishment, whether I get paid for it or not. And I have accepted that this is who I am, and probably always will be. A deep thinker, perpetually searching for answers and an out of work writer that will probably die broke. And that's ok with me.
If you or someone you know is having a tough time with it all, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. You’ve got this.