There's no question about it: being un- and under-employed for more than 2½ years teaches you things about life. I was pondering this in between applying for jobs (I've been extra busy with these recently) and wanted to write about it. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw that my "lessons learned" were sorting themselves naturally into positives and negatives.
So instead of writing a perky piece about all the great things I've discovered while being jobless, or a depressing one about all the bad stuff I've come to realize while out of work, I'll be accurate and combine them.
I will start with the positive, though. Long-term involuntary unemployment has taught me:
- Taking care of one's personal health is important and, in fact, should be a priority.
- Life is short and unemployment gives you more time to attend to your loved ones.
- Volunteer activities for causes that are important to you help you keep your skills sharp. In addition, doing good for others is good for them and for you.
- Exploring a variety of freelance opportunities helps you gain useful experience.
- Some things are outside of your control, no matter what you do and no matter how much you wish it were different. So you may as well accept those things.
- Networking activities enable you to meet many nice, interesting people whom you may never have met otherwise.
Gee, I really feel like I'm reaching now. I mean, if I were at a job, I would have met a whole different set of "nice, interesting people" too.
Let me take a stab at some of the negative things I've learned while being out of work.
- There's a stigma attached to being jobless, especially the longer it lasts. Unfortunately for us, it's a stigma often held by our potential employers.
- Employers aren't willing to "take a chance" on you. They'll hire you if you meet every single requirement they want; but the days of "on-the-job training" are over.
- There really are no "quick fixes" or "magic solutions" to unemployment, despite all the hopeful things you read and hear on the Internet and elsewhere. Once you've corrected the obvious things (bad resume, clothes, attitude), there's not much more you can do, other than being the right fit in the right place at the right time.
- Despite the fact that it's illegal, I have no doubt that there's age discrimination in hiring. For some reason, though, this seems to be the only form of discrimination in the U.S. today that's acceptable. Anyone heard from the ACLU?
- Millions of people have suffered needlessly because of our government's ineffective economic policies. I'm convinced that many more of us would have jobs today if policies that led to vigorous economic growth after past recessions had been put into place this time around.
- Prolonged unemployment can adversely affect your mental and physical health.
Looking at these on paper, I think that all the positives are things I already knew. All the negatives are things I didn't know and would have been perfectly happy never to learn.
No. On second thought, I don't mean that. Although I've had to learn some of them the hard way, I've gained wisdom as a result of all these lessons. Perhaps I've gained a little more empathy too.
I'm feeling philosophical now, but I think this is really the whole point of life: to grow -- I'm avoiding the word, but yes, to mature -- into better human beings, ones who can use our experiences to help make life a little better, maybe a little easier, for others. I think that's hard to do unless you've known some tougher times yourself.
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