When it is all over,
will God look at your CV?
Associate and Board member
Comments directly to
April 9, 2008
This article is written with a view to addressing some of the challenges faced by persons experiencing mid-term to long-term unemployment. It is an attempt to understand the emotional and mental repercussions of this kind of experience – with a particular emphasis on the notion of self-worth. It is the author’s intention to transfigure the perceived negativity of unemployment through a consideration of the potential for self-development inherent in its more transcendental purpose.
Who am I? What is my worth?
The question, “What is the meaning of life” goes hand in hand with the question, “Who am I?” In modern day Western society, this latter question is often answered with a reference to a person’s professional activity. What’s more, in Western society we have created a hierarchy of professions which we consider to be more or less “valuable” – and therefore the person practising that profession is more or less “valuable” – according largely to the amount of money a person earns.
However, where is the truth in the concept that a prime minister is more valuable than a street cleaner? Perhaps that prime minister is motivated solely by the desire to promote his/her personal stature no matter what the expense to others or to the environs; perhaps, on the other hand, the street cleaner takes the time each day to greet and smile at people who go by, wishing them the best that the day can bring to them.
Which then of these two is more “valuable”?
And what if a person has no opportunity to practise a profession because the openings are too few or rather because life seems intent on ensuring that that individual remains in a state of unemployment? Is that person considered “value-less” because one of the main criterion according to which we judge a person’s worth is totally absent?
The unemployed person not only faces a struggle with his/her own self worth, he/she will also be confronted by the stereotypical opinion held by other members of society that an unemployed person is a lazy person, a bad person, a person who expects others to support them. All of this will make it particularly challenging for the unemployed individual to maintain a sense of self confidence; from here the spiral can easily move downwards – less and less self confidence, a less and less vibrant personal energy field, less and less chance that the person will “shine” above the other candidates when the opportunity for a job interview finally arises.
The emotional and mental challenges of the experience of unemployment
In life we are supposed to work, are we not? We are educated to find work. The idea goes that the more successful you are at school, the better job you will get when you join the work force; however, what if the reality is not that straight forward? What if qualifications do not guarantee employment?
The World Health Organisation, WHO, clearly states that employment and “opportunities for self-actualisation” are essential for mental health.
Mental health is much more than the absence of a diagnosable mental illness. It is a state of emotional and psychological well-being allowing for the realization of a person’s potential and optimal functioning in daily life. It is a capacity to interact with others and the environment with a sense of well-being.
Key determinants of mental health include physical security, social support networks, employment, access to education and healthcare and to opportunities for self-actualisation.
WHO World Health Report 2001
The fact of the matter is that persons who experience long-term unemployment experience a whole range of emotional and mental hurdles, which can make it extremely challenging to maintain a stable emotional state and/or a positive frame of mind. Emotions will include:
- Shame at supposedly not being good enough to enter the job market and at being constantly rejected or ignored;
- Embarrassment at being excluded and at other people’s reactions – and changes in attitude – when they learn that the person is not currently practising a profession and is, therefore, less valuable than had initially been thought;
- Guilt at not having lived up to one’s own expectations and other people’s expectations;
- Sense of social exclusion given that unemployment also comes with lack of pay and therefore difficulties to share the same lifestyle as others or to provide for a family;
- Confusion – no longer knowing which avenues to take in the search for work, having seemingly exhausted all possibilities;
- Desperation – considering options that one would not normally contemplate in the midst of apparent hopelessness.
In direct relation to the array of emotions an unemployed person might experience – a small number of which were mentioned above - there are innumerable restricting mental thought patterns, which can circulate in the mind, reinforcing themselves as time goes on. For example:
- “People will soon tire of hearing my woeful stories, of me not having money, of having no direction in life” – ideas which arise from a fear of loss and alienation;
- “I have wasted my life and I am getting nowhere” – ideas arising from a fear that time is running out, that only young people have opportunities.
All of these negative emotions and constricting thought patterns lead to a loss of self-confidence, which can then result in worsening interactions with those nearest and dearest, risking a breakdown in relationships and friendships, compounding the whole unemployment experience.
Putting an end to limiting myths
What is the path out of this quagmire? Can spiritual beliefs redeem a person in the midst of such challenging circumstances?
As is often the case in difficult situations, the first step is to succeed in turning the details upside down, inside out so that what looked like a negative situation is now perceived as something that has a purpose, that will bring us something positive.
One of the myths that, once expelled, will greatly liberate the unemployed person and if understood by the wider society will bring a transformation in the stigma normally associated with unemployment, is the one that “you shouldn’t have holes in your CV.” In fact, when these holes are related to periods of unsolicited unemployment with its accompanying emotional and mental strain, they can often signify a very deep learning experience. “Holes” in this case need to be respected rather than abhorred.
Seen in a positive light, “holes” often mean the opportunity to learn more about oneself and as a consequence about others. Those persons who have never experienced unemployment will likely have never had to face themselves naked i.e. without the mantle of a profession that normally clothes them and gives them their identity. In contrast, when unemployment persists, the individual affected will be obliged to continue looking directly at him/herself, at his/her thoughts, reactions and motivations in what might appear to be a never-ending tunnel from which there is no escape.
Does an unemployed person somehow become a better person the day he/she finally finds gainful employment? [I stress the word “gainful” since it would seem that voluntary work is placed only slightly above the unemployment bracket in our present hierarchy of Western social values.] The answer to this question is of course, “no”. That person remains the same.
Moreover, if the individual takes the opportunity of unemployment to find a way to work constructively with his/her emotions and thought patterns, then he/she might in fact feel they have become a better person precisely because of the widespread difficulties of the experience of unemployment. At the end of the day, how much time do those who are rushing around in the workplace have to get in touch with themselves, to consider who they are and what life means to them?
Of course, having no time is simply an excuse. After all, what is life about if it is not about our relationship with ourselves and our relationship with those around us? Whether in or out of employment, each day we have the choice of how we interact with others, what thoughts we allow to circulate in our minds and what moods we radiate in our surroundings.
Unemployment can be the school par excellence for this kind of self-development work. It follows that it will be important that the results achieved in terms of personal self-development during a period of prolonged unemployment are then taken into the workplace when employment is resumed.
Perhaps this is what “God” would look for when considering a person’s CV? After all, it is thanks to Providence that we are born where we are born, that we have the family we have, that we have the talents and opportunities we have. “God” will surely not be so interested in those things since they are pre-ordained. What is much more interesting is how an individual puts all his/her talents together and to what extent he/she shows courage and persistence when the circumstances are challenging, for example in the case of prolonged unemployment.
Acceptance by embracing Life
For any unemployed person, who is going through the necessary procedures for the purpose of finding gainful and meaningful work, and who continues to find the way onto the job market barred to them, it is essential to come to the point where, in spite of the stresses and the challenges, he/she accepts what Life is offering. Stop struggling. Do not only accept but rejoice.
The Buddhists talk about “abiding in the moment”, basically, acknowledging that one would like the situation to change, knowing that it will change when the process has run its course and so practising detached, positive expectancy, namely, accepting what is presently happening in one’s life whilst remaining in a positive and open state of being.
When the struggle stops, the body’s energies – mental, emotional and physical – come once again in balance. Then a person can choose to put his/her energy into staying fully conscious in the moment, away from memories of the past and wishes for the future. He/she will then have the power and the will to refrain from negative moods because it is clear to the rational mind that those moods do absolutely nothing to improve or change a challenging situation.
Think for example about fear and worry. They drain an individual of strength and energy. What a relief to know that we don’t need them any more. That relief is usually felt in the physical body as a sudden relaxation and/or a sigh accompanying the outward breathe. That doesn’t mean a person should repress emotions like fear and worry when they arise – as they would merely surface in another guise or manifest as some physical ailment later on; rather, by acknowledging fear and worry, recognising the feeling of vulnerability that has created them and then - using the rational, logical mind – understanding that these emotions merely drain the body of energy and strength, a person can choose instead to embrace Life.
We can embrace Life through the physical act of breathing. In times of stress, our breathing often becomes very short and irregular, depriving the body of essential oxygen needed for healthy functioning. It is almost as if we are scared to breath in what Life is offering us. By embracing Life, we concentrate on the breathe instead of on the idle and self-negating thoughts that might be circulating in our minds. As we breath in, we tell ourselves that we are breathing in Life – this makes us want to breath in more deeply and more fully; as we breath out, we tell ourselves we are letting go of all negative emotions, constricting thoughts, physical ailments, excess weight, etc. It is important to know and to remember that our physical bodies will reflect our internal emotional and mental state. Therefore, if the body is sick, in pain or gaining/losing weight, it is important to look beyond the symptoms and to ask ourselves what our body is mirroring and communicating to us.
This breathing exercise and the concept of embracing Life might seem simplistic; however, many of the most effective techniques are simple and straightforward. Returning to the specific experience of unemployment, the moment a person accepts that the experience they are having is a gift that Life is offering them – namely, the chance and the time to really get to know themselves and the inner constitution of a human being -that moment, their change in attitude will immediately free them from the mental and emotional prison in which they have locked themselves. The person will no longer have an expectation of what life should be like and as such the individual will experience a greater sense of trust.
This change in attitude – being fully immersed in the flow of Life – will be felt as a deep sense of relaxation in the body, which in turn might well be the cause that creates the effect of a change in physical circumstances, namely, the return to gainful and meaningful employment.
It is helpful to be reminded that all human beings share the same emotions and the same desire to be happy and fulfilled. Furthermore, most people experience confidence and well-being because of the way they are perceived by other persons in their workplace and in their homes. The sense of worth and the feeling of having a place in society that comes with a profession contribute greatly to a person’s pride, to their mental well-being. It is important for any unemployed individual to know that their bank manager, their doctor, their teacher would experience the same sense of vulnerability and confusion if they no longer had the opportunity or the ability to practise their profession. All human beings are essentially the same.
In conclusion "bad times" may be offers of opportunities...
Unemployment offers the opportunity to develop the strength of character to love even in challenging circumstances; to choose compassion and joy over envy and depression; to develop the understanding and skills to become a better human being. It is easy to love oneself and to love others when times are good; what is more interesting is to see a person’s faith, courage, persistence and innovation when times are “bad” i.e. when Life is offering us something we would perhaps not normally go for.
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