Many of the middle-class “millennial” generation have been brought up with the idea to pursue their passions, which is a refreshing departure from more traditional views to accumulate as much money as possible and to become mind-numbed consumers with these earnings. Yet often, these dreams are bluntly unattainable, especially as a debt-ridden graduate without serious financial backing from parents, who simply can’t afford a 6-month unpaid internship in the most expensive parts of a big city. When you set out to “do what you love” and are unsuccessful, it inflicts both acute pain and long-enduring general feelings of malaise and unease upon you which penetrate all aspects of your self-worth with regards to familiar faces and strangers alike.
To be 25 and unemployed for about a year does uncontrollable damage to one’s psyche and his own idea of self-worth in relation to the rest of society. Imagine being reminded on a daily basis, job rejection after rejection, that your skills are not useful and that you cannot contribute to society or the work place in a way in which you see fit. Thoughts like these inevitably lead to feelings of alienation from society’s ideals and at the lowest points, sentiments of worthlessness. In a vicious cycle, these emotions become self-fulfilling prophecies, even if not true originally – you actually do lose confidence and some of your interpersonal skills because you internalize these feelings of alienation and diminishing self-worth day after day.
People look at you differently when you’re unemployed. Try to remember the last time you’ve met someone out at a bar, and the small talk you’ve engaged with others in. “What do you do?” is one of the first things that comes up, and I’ve even been guilty of this myself. While this bad habit in society of closely intertwining one’s personality and job is inaccurate and quite harmful to anyone who is unsatisfied with his/her current job situation, it is the worst for someone who is unemployed. It immediately makes a conversation awkward, has connotations that you are a failure, and leaves you scrambling to defend yourself and justify the reasons for why you don’t have a job.
Unemployment similarly affects your existing relationships. Your sensitivity is heightened, and you face a double-edged sword in your interactions with family and friends. If they don’t ask about leads on the job front, it leads you to believe that they’ve given up on you or simply don’t care anymore. If they do, it leads to an awkward situation not so different from that outlined above.
You’re no longer “college-aged,” and many close to you leave you behind as they interest themselves in flyer miles, happy hours, and upward promotions. People who not so long ago kept you as a central and indispensable part of their lives unintentionally forget you exist, except only in passing every few months or so. Part of this is probably due to the societal problem of morphing of job and personality which was earlier mentioned, so you appear boring, monolithic, and even immature in contrast with their rapidly changing lives. However, another reason for this is that, well, you have, in fact, become a bit boring because of the inactivity in your own life and the feelings of worthlessness associated with it.
The two ills of unemployment and social isolation work symbiotically in keeping you down. Even in this phone and communication obsessed world, you can survive after misplacing for phone for days at a time, because you are so insignificant that no one had even bothered to contact you. You wake up to (not from) a nightmare on a daily basis, and you lay in bed for an hour each morning, searching for ways to inject trivial meaning into your aimless life, with nothing to do and no one to interact with outside immediate family members.
You’re left with two unfavorable choices: do you ride it out and hope for a glimpse of light in the seemingly endless and dreary tunnel, or do you submit to society’s expectations and abandon your ideals in order to re-instill some sort of normality in your personal and professional lives, while ultimately abandoning all hopes of self-fulfillment?