I’m slow, I know. But I just stumbled upon the website Unemployable.com which claims to be for people who COULD get a job but CHOOSE not to take one! The graphic at the top of this page is purloined from their homepage.
Unemployable has always been one of those concepts, like ‘tax audit’ or ‘the unforgivable sin’ that I’ve dreaded. Avoided like the plague might be more accurate. Yet, like those other concepts it has haunted my subconscious for many years. The mere mention of the word used to drive a cold stake through my heart.
A few years ago I went through a long and lonely patch of unemployment and underemployment. I was made redundant by a large privately owned engineering firm for which I ran a subsidiary company. The three plus years I spent in the corporate world (having been a non-profit hippy type up to that stage) represented the pinnacle of my career to that point. Pinnacle being defined almost exclusively by the ridiculous salary I was pulling in each month. After a year or so I was offered shares and the promise of even greater financial rewards.
I didn’t have just a great paying job I had achieved the final phase of my working life. I would never need to return to the job market again. Wealth and status were assured until I retired. Or so the story went until that early autumn day when the curtain suddenly fell across the stage.
Once I got over the initial shock I looked out across the Melbourne job market with some sense of excitement. I had grown tired of the corporate world and of certain people within my former company. The idea of starting fresh in a new place backed up with formidable and accomplished CV didn’t just make me employable. It made me solid gold. I expected to be swatting away suitors like so many blue bottle flies within a couple of weeks.
What actually happened was the suitors stayed well away. Not only did they not seek my hand in marriage they refused to receive my sweetly drafted love letters. Not a single one deigned to meet me face to face. The response stumped me. I had never, in nearly 25 years of job hunting, been given the silent treatment. In 18 months I had exactly one interview.
At the two year mark a suitor appeared unexpectedly out of the crowd. An Aboriginal corporation made it be known that I was the only person suitable and qualified to lead their historic organization. I resisted and played hard to get. After all, it meant moving to a very remote part of the world (Northeast Arnhem Land) and entering the politically toxic arena of indigenous development. But the suitor was very horny indeed. They wouldn’t let it be. Calling me too often and whispering sweet nothings in my ear. They even flew the entire family up to Arnhem Land for a familiarization visit.
In the end, I succumbed to the beauty and signed up for the CEO role. In a move that can only be called a Twist of Fate, and before the ink had barely dried on the signed contract, my darling called to say the wedding was off. So sorry but things have changed. Good luck and piss off.
That dreadful word loomed gigantic in my consciousness. You are well and truly UNEMPLOYABLE mate, that dark nasty voice kept telling me. You’ll never work for another company again. You are a loser.
Of course, I did manage to find work eventually but that experience quickened me to the bone. It reinforced every message I had ever received as a lad and young man about jobs, work and never letting them go. Although I had had a gutful of my profession by this point, my burning flesh still smelled. Life, I concluded, was not an adventure after all. It was a grind. And here I was at the age of 56 looking at 20 more years of keeping my nose firmly appended to the grindstone. Working like a zombie in an office was the Fate before which I now bowed.
What a surprise it has been to discover a whole new meaning of the word unemployable as well as a vast community of unemployables spread all around the world who are living a life of their own choosing. And doing it in style. With not a cubicle or watercooler in sight.
The notion of ‘I could get a job but choose not to take one’ is one I’ve secretly wanted to enact for many years, but like the average person of my generation (late Boomer) life without a job, no matter how uninspiring, was unfathomable. It stretched the limits of my creativity to imagine how such a thing could exist.
But choosing to be unemployed and embracing that choice as a positive, indeed, a necessary decision is something I have done. Whereas several years ago it would have scared the blue blistering bejesus out of me, today I feel as if the wool has at last been pulled away from my eyes. I can see clearly now, the song goes, the rain is gone.
How that ‘U turn’ has been navigated is the next focus of this story. We are here, after all, to talk about life AFTER aid.