Thought Catalog

Being Unemployed is a Hard Job

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I don’t know why everyone is up my generation’s ass for being unemployed. Calling it “funemployment” is completely inaccurate. I should know; I was unemployed for an entire year.

After graduating from Eugene Lang College with a degree in Creative Writing—the equivalent of a smiley face scribbled on a cocktail napkin— I started an internship immediately at Jezebel (as in I graduated Friday and started on Monday). I found the immediate segue to be of major good fortune. While all my friends were going home for Christmas in a post-grad fugue, I was going to be working for my favorite blog from a coffee shop in Los Angeles. Yay! Take that cynics! I’m going to be getting a stipend. Jealous?

So I did that for a few months and it was great, fabulous, obsessed. From there I interned at a major magazine which I mistakenly thought would mean major things for my soon-to-be-major career! Except it didn’t. Even after I befriended everyone in the office, got published on the blog, and was bestowed the special nickname “Rye” by my employers, I was still an unpaid nothing. You see, I missed the giant memo that magazines had no money and were essentially run by interns. In fact on my first day while I was getting a tour of the office by an editor, someone came up to her and said, “We need a magazine rack!” To which my superior responded, “We can’t afford a magazine rack.” Um, what? What happened to glamorous town cars, lunches at Pastis, and Soho lofts?! Now you bitches can’t even afford a magazine rack?! #DARK

By the end of the summer, I was so over the whole “working for free” thing and also completely terrified about my future. I was staring at a seemingly endless road of unemployment with no prospects. I spent the last four years writing short stories about orange groves and boys. WHAT HAVE I DONE?!

I was completely unemployed from September to January. For those months, I woke up with an overwhelming sense of dread, and my days were mapped out like this:

9:30 a.m- Wake up. Realize my wish of “sleeping forever” had not been granted and I will have to face another day.

10:30 a.m.- Go to a coffee shop and send out cover letters to jobs I wasn’t even sure I could do. “I can be a marketing assistant! I love to go to the market and buy hummus…wait….what’s this job?” My cover letters would be the right amount of quirky (ex: “I think I could be the peanut butter to your jelly!”) with a solid dose of professionalism (ex: “The way your company has branded itself and dominated the new media is….”)

12:00 p.m.– This is around the time I would feel like such a cliched failure. In my writing classes at school, everyone would bitch and moan about never being able to find work, but I was always the optimist. “I WILL work as a writer. I WON’T struggle at some soul-crushing job and drink whiskey!” But here I was, putting away with the rest of my defeated chums. I never drank whiskey though. Only Skinny Girl margaritas.

2:00 p.m.- Something would happen that would be both life-afirming and devastating. For example, I was turned down for a paid internship with The Huffington Post, but a week later, they published a blog post of mine. “Yay! Wait, what? Can you just give me a job? No, seriously. I don’t even want this clip. Give the piece back! Help!”

4:00 p.m.- I would think about the divide that exists between my unemployed friends and the ones who actually had jobs. Having nothing to do was no longer something people were envious of. This wasn’t like summer between junior and senior year of college. You couldn’t call up a friend on a Tuesday afternoon to go swimming because they would be working, and you would feel too guilty. That’s one of the major bummers of being unemployed. You feel like you’re not entitled to happiness. It’s the opposite of “funemployment.” Any fun activities are soured by the fact that you should be working, you should have a job. Until you do, you are only allowed to suffer and feel badly about yourself. Those are the implicit rules. I don’t know anyone who’s unemployed right now and loving it. Living in America and especially New York, a large amount of our self-worth rests upon what we do for a living. That’s why when you meet people, it’s the first thing they care to know about you. “Why are you here? What do you do? Who do you know? Oh, here’s my card. Bye!”

5:00 p.m.- I would send emails to any and all editors, asking them to please consider my piece. These emails would border on harassment. It was like I was ringing doorbells over and over again and being like, “Peek a boo! Is anyone home?!” It made me feel so pathetic and lame, but it also inspired me to write that much more and work that much harder.

6:00 p.m.– I would stop “work”, and experience one hopeful moment, which was brought on by a promising email or lead. Mostly though I would feel dejected and fatigued. Whenever I would get exhausted, I’d be reminded that being unemployed is its own job. The ultimate fuck you is that you don’t get paid to feel like shit. Some people might have a job and hate it, but at least they get money. Unemployed folks get a cover letter and a computer screen.

So please stop telling me and my friends that it’s fun to feel like you’re nothing. Please stop telling us that it’s fun to apply for 8,000 jobs a day, jobs we don’t even want, and probably still can’t get. It’s the antithesis of fun. It’s “nofuneverohmygodihatemylifeemployment.” TC mark

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    • Saratee

      Oh God. I relate to this all too well. My stomach hurts.

    • Comic Insult

      You feel like you’re not entitled to happiness. It’s the opposite of “funemployment.” Any fun activities are soured by the fact that you should be working, you should have a job. Until you do, you are only allowed to suffer and feel badly about yourself. Those are the implicit rules.

      This puts into words exactly how I felt while I was unemployed.

      Also what really sucks about being unemployed, aside from the self-loathing, is the basic fact that you aren't making ANY money. All my friends would be like, Travel! Go here! Go there! Let's go out! And…I couldn't. It fucking sucked.

    • Adanihels

      Coming from an un-paid intern at a major local magazine…I feel your past pain! Sometimes you feel hopeful at your internship like WOW they need me…until I check my bank statement…

    • NEAL MACKEY

      I KNOW ALL ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT I SHOULD HAVE WROTE THIS POST!!! JK LOVE U BRO.

    • funeducated

      how many stories like this will it take before people realize that if you want to get a job after you graduate, it might help if you go to school to learn how to do something employable…?

      • PERFECTCIRCLES

        I think two or three more might do it.

      • http://twitter.com/iamtully evil empire

        what we really need to do is simply abolish the liberal arts altogether and just have pre-med, engineering, and science programs. also, we should abolish unions, cut taxes, deregulate, and establish a Great Concavity in the Nevada desert near nuclear test sites where we can mass-dump poor people, homosexuals, minorities, and liberal arts majors. For a better America, and a better future!

        • http://twitter.com/iamtully stephen

          infertile or “unreasonable” women will also be mass-dumped in the Great Concavity

        • http://www.facebook.com/caitier Caitie Rolls

          Hahaha. Finally somebody starts making sense around here…

        • internetinternet

          You would think all the liberal arts people who like this comment would at least be able to recognize a false dichotomy.

      • JohnsReates

        If you got your degree in interpretive dance or an equally arbitrary subject you don't get to bitch about “this economy.”

      • Nora

        im an unemployed chemist and i know several unemployed engineers. it hits us all and it sucks.

    • niki

      Good stuff, Ryan. Can't help but to think my e-mail was a muse of some sort, haha.

    • PERFECTCIRCLES

      Sometimes the period of unemployment runs for so long that even when you get a job, the mindset never truly leaves you. It's like the people who grew up during the Depression hiding their money under the bed instead of putting it in a bank.

    • SKWriter

      It's amazing how many people don't have jobs and can live in fantastic apartments in New York City because mommy and daddy gave them the black card for graduation, whereas I, as a writer also, actually get a paycheck and live in an apartment that both looks and feels like a closet. People who bask in unemployment make me want to slap them with my sad, sad, paycheck.

      • Dan

        And if the poor african kids listen to what you say, they may want to slap you with their big famine-induced bellys .

        • trim doug's millionhairs

          difference is skwriter isn't complaining about being hungry,he's complaining about people complaining about being unemployed… cuz, come on, its not thaaat bad right?

    • NoahTourjee

      How much fun can not having rent be…lets do a study – it will involve equal portions anxiety and depression. I might add however the 2-5 day period between your last day at your last crappy job after you gave notice for your next less (hopefully) crappy and unfulfilling mindless medial labor job is pure ecstasy of unemployment. Of course, you don't have the burden of really being unemployed there.

    • Trish

      Maybe it would help you get a job if you fixed your typos and stopped ending sentences with prepositions. You call yourself a writer?

      • Ryan O'Connell

        I GOT A JOB GURL.

        • :)

          Hahahaha. Yes.

      • NoahTourjee

        Ew TRISH!

      • Comic Insult

        “This is the kind of thing up with which I will not put!”

    • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Former Mag Intern.

      I had to move from NYC after being an intern/freelancer for a major magazine. It depressed the shit out of me. All those little debutantes running around not caring about the fact that we were essentially work horses (because their parents paid their rent), made me think much less of the magazine industry in general. And I've never bought that particular magazine again. The editor and chief didn't do much for me either. I always sensed a bit of a flakiness, but I truly had no idea. I have to give said editor some credit though. He/she may not have been the sharpest crayon in the box but he/she was great at picking highly intelligent staff to cover up this fact.

      • JohnsReates

        That's not the magazine industry that's life.

        • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Former Mag Intern.

          How sad your outlook is.

        • Jorats234

          Life in NYC at least. Some float others sink.

        • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Former Mag Intern.

          Float with Mommy and Daddy's cash, that is.

    • erin pea

      Fuck, this is amazing and so me. I know publishing is like, a dead end of unpaid work 4 life, but why do I want it so bad? Is it because I am Sagittarius? Why can't I like normal things like accounting and ad sales?

      I love to complain about how nobody our age is on the right track. See my “interview” with a NYT article about twixters to understand my frustration –> http://toorudemag.blogspot.com

      • Glenn

        casual self promotion

        • erin pea

          gotta hustle, baby.

      • http://www.facebook.com/cannbleck Christie Bleck

        I wonder that myself. Why wasn’t my DNA encoded to like being an investment banker?

    • Trevor

      That's what happens when you go to a joke college for a joke degree.

      • BRO BRO BRO BRO BRO

        yeah because a degree in supply chain management is not a 'joke'

        • Demian

          Let's say it is… So?

        • http://notthisamericanlife.tumblr.com Briana

          these jokes are not too funny if you ask me

          :(
          :(
          :(

    • http://twitter.com/iamtully stephen

      Solidarity

    • Tim

      I was only unemployed for a few weeks once I left college, but I'd just moved to a new city in a new country where I knew literally no-one. Unemployment was horribly depressing and scary. I think it explains why a lot of people stay in shitty jobs for the rest of their life. It certainly helped keep me in mine!

    • http://brianmcelmurry.blogspot.com/ Brian McElmurry

      The title of this almost sounds like a porn title.

    • http://twitter.com/dogheart Nick Medlin

      Don't let the Employed shame you. We are a jealous, bitter group. And these motherfuckers got us fighting traffic both ways only to spend 8 hours busy-working in cubicle farms, saturated with fluorescent cancer. That, or it's retail or food service which equals working with the public. And we obviously can't expect kindness or sympathy from those poor souls. Really, you're ahead of the curve. None of these jobs are even necessary. Eventually, the whole of humanity will look upon this period of time with great bewilderment. Be proud…hell, galvanized that you're ahead-of-the-curve. Next step is to run up as much credit card debt as you can and then refuse to pay if. Bankrupt this system of economic indentured servitude and expose how utterly counterproductive it is if your goal is human flourishing and prosperity.

    • College Drop Out Making Bank

      I hope you didn't put “segueway” on any resumes.. The word is “segue.” I would think that someone with a degree in WRITING would at least know that..

      • Another drop-out

        Careful, you wouldn't want to make him feel 'badly'.

        • ZaneEatsWorld

          A GRAMMATICAL ERROR ON THE INTERNET?!?!?

          RAGE FOREVER!!!

    • beachsloth

      I love this piece Ryan. This is how so many of my friends feel whenever someone mocks them for their lack of employment. Thank you.

    • Jody Fossler

      You nailed it. Being unemployed is entirely stressful. All I do is make coffee and worry my phone won't ring.

    • ...

      SEGUE, NOT SEGUWAY!!!!!!

      • Nane

        segway would also have been acceptable.

    • Lou

      move to alice springs

    • anonnnn

      *segue

    • http://notthisamericanlife.tumblr.com Briana

      something i really want to say about the whole unemployment/funemployment/whatever you call it.

      although i recognize that being unemployed and scrounging around for jobs, even for things you're not sure you're interested in, is a tough time, i'm predisposed to read articles like this with an attitude of indignation. i have lots of friends who worked their ASSES off trying to find jobs, erstwhile spending months and even years unemployed. this is sad. HOWEVER. a lot of those people are able to maintain residence in new york (or la, or other big cities with high rents) because mommie and daddie know that their son/daughter is TRYING so hard and that the ECONOMY is tough especially for a WRITER.

      as a person who has had to have at least one job every second of every day ever since i arrived in nyc five years ago, i have a lot of anger/jealousy/disgust toward those who actually CAN keep living with a $500+/month rent, even if they are unemployed. if i was ever to be out of a job, even for a few weeks, i'd have to move back in with my parents. no safety net for me and people like me. i'm just bitter, i guess, but does anyone understand where i'm coming from?

      • http://somuchtocome.blogspot.com Former Mag Intern.

        YES. YES I DO UNDERSTAND.

      • Carlywho

        Try to let go of some of that resentment. It's not healthy, and there's nothing you can do about it anyway.

    • ZaneEatsWorld

      Not sure why some of your posts attract 10000x haterz, 'Rye.'

      Also, I will probably steal this line and never credit you:

      “Wake up. Realize my wish of “sleeping forever” had not been granted and I will have to face another day.”

      Try to take that as a compliment.

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