Unemployment is something no one really talks about where I live, in Singapore. It’s somewhat a taboo subject. Your friends are overly positive about your prospects, because they want to encourage you and keep your spirits up. Your parents don’t know what to do with you around the house, acting like they are walking on egg shells. Everyone else who knows you otherwise assume that you are employed elsewhere, even if you aren’t with the previous company. You have to be working for another, right?
People here think of it as a fleeting moment. Just a simple unfortunate incident that can easily be remedied.
I mean, just get another one, right?
I have been debating about writing more personal things on this site. Simply because no one really cares about personal experiences from someone they don’t even know. The futility of it makes this whole thing seem like a waste of time and effort. Everyone projects the false image of a perfect life, be it through conversations or social media. No one wants to talk about the horrible and real things that are going on. It’s uncomfortable and painful, so everyone, myself included, tends to avoid it.
Part of the reason, I think, is because the unemployment rates in Singapore are one of the lowest in the world. It’s at 2.1% currently. So to classify yourself under that small percentage means that you are not the norm, a failure.
Getting it Together
Having a job and career are all wonderful things. But not when it completely defines you as a person. Humans are multi layered creatures. It’s impossible to sum someone up in just one word, their occupation. There is this mentality that growing up and being an adult means that we have to have it together all the time. We need to be walking towards a direction or goal. If, like me, you have lost sight of that goal, you need to start working towards another one quick. Wandering around aimlessly, getting your bearings is not an adult thing to do, apparently.
Even if it is subconsciously done, the people around you will start pitying you, thinking that you’re losing it. Whatever “it” may be.
A tough concept that people can’t grasp is that confiding your problems with someone doesn’t automatically mean you are soliciting sympathy. Most times, it’s just stating the current fact of the matter. There are times, when I had to tell white lies, to avoid the standard looks of concern and pity on people when they learn about my state of joblessness. Then comes the onslaught of suggestions and advice. It comes from a good place yet it feels like salt to a gaping wound. Unless mentioned specifically, most people who are unemployed do not want their unemployment to be the discussion topic for the day.
We aren’t mentally unstable. It is okay to take some time off. We will get back on the horse when we are ready. To be honest, just a simple, “You okay?” is all we need. Not a discussion on what we are doing to land a new job ASAP.
Because god forbid that we are idle for a week or two. Adults don’t do that.
Job application is a job in itself. Sifting through Linkedin and Jobstreet, looking for something that would fit you and your abilities, but still aspirational. It’s tough. Not to mention the incredible competition you face. Typing out cover letter after cover letter, hoping to stand out from the other 500 applicants vying for the same position. It’s exhausting and demoralising, especially when you don’t hear back from the companies for a while. The whole thing is a merry-go-round of waiting, hoping and searching.
The helplessness settles in. You have to stretch that dollar, everything is suddenly a financial burden. Every time your friends ask you to hang out, you think “How much is this going to cost me?”. When they offer to pay, the weight on your chest doubles. It’s hard enough that you are a financial burden to yourself, now you are one to others as well. You just can’t enjoy moments 100% because there is always something nagging at the back of your head. You miss outings and parties to scrimp on cab rides and possible shopping. You end up barely meeting anyone and you feel everyone drifting away. When, in reality, it is you that’s drifting.
What we all need to realise is that this process takes time. This is a concept that I took a while to really understand. You can get a job overnight. But will it be the right one for you? That dream job feels like it is right around the corner, yet there seems to be a giant clock ticking away plus the uncertainty of the future. In addition to the tightening of the purse strings, so much so that it’s almost strangling you. You feel as if time is running out. There is a constant battle in your head whether you should settle. Or wait?
It takes time. And you shouldn’t feel bad for taking time. It’s something I struggle with as well because I always feel guilty for not applying and rushing into any job that pops up. Especially after the crushing defeat of not hearing from the initial one I was pining for. Patience is never my virtue but it has to be. Making a timeline is a good idea. Being open to part time jobs to help tide over this rough patch is something to consider. Settling, however, is not an option. So long as you are still alive, there is time.
Finally, your entire personhood and level of maturity is not defined by your occupation or whether or not you are currently have one. It plays a big part, especially if you are passionate about what you do. But your job does not define you. It isn’t your only reason to live.
I would beat myself up for not being productive, for not being a busy worker bee. I am presented with all the time in the world and for some reason, I feel guilty. All of a sudden, I am transported back in time and I feel like a child again. What I needed to realise was that actively searching for a job is part of being a mature adult. I am adulting. Even if there is no swanky office or cubicle involved, I am an adult.
Either way, being jobless does not mean that you are a failure. It isn’t shameful or something that deserves pitying looks and sorry pats on the back. It doesn’t warrant talks about “how to get you on your feet”. You don’t owe anyone explanations. You don’t have to validate your efforts. There is nothing to prove. In fact, people take time off all the time. It is normal, as crazy as that sounds. And it is important for your sanity that you internalise that. I say this to myself as much as I am saying this to you guys.
You might be in the 2% right now, but that spot is in constant rotation, just like the Earth always is. It’s temporary and it’s just another chapter in this thing called Life.
Photos by Josh Magbanua