So, in case you haven’t heard, the job market is still really bad. No, really bad. You haven’t heard? Or, CNN or Fox News or MSNBC have been telling you otherwise? “The American economy is growing!” “Jobs are being created!” “The American Dream is alive and well, again!”
Forgive my impertinence, but I don’t believe these people have looked for a job lately.
I haven’t felt this unpopular since I was a sweet, shy tweener, holding up the wall panels at a middle school dance. Standing in the shadows, listening to the music and wanting to break out of my corduroy jumper and mess up my smooth, straight hair – pull that stuff right out from behind my ears where it was tucked, and party. That urge worked out a couple years later, as the brainy wallflower bloomed, and most of high school was a rousing good time.
What was I talking about again? Oh, right. The job market.
In my continuing quest to recast my mid-career life, I’ve sent in applications for no less than 50 jobs in the last month. Some are pie-in-the-sky, and some are “give me something to do, and then give me some money.” Their functions range from English professor to groundskeeper, newspaper editor to rehab center worker. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker. Beyond one five hour a week gig that I am enjoying very much, I haven’t had a single nibble. There was one mass email response three weeks after I sent my stuff, saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” At least they had the courtesy to send the brush-off.
Strangely enough, the inherent coldness of this process isn’t as difficult as it may seem. The more it happens, the better I feel about it. No, really. Let me explain.
I was telling a friend at lunch yesterday that an online job search starts to feel like playing make-believe after a while. The jobs and the contacts, the descriptions and qualifications, they all FEEL real as you’re reading them and readying your responses. But after a while, you begin to wonder if the Wizard of Oz isn’t behind that curtain. He’s just a man, a GOOD man, but a very bad wizard. So, you spend hours and days searching, combing, applying, wishing and hoping, and … waiting. The waiting. Anyone out there who’s done this knows exactly what that can feel like. You keep yourself busy, living the good life in the ways you enjoy, and just KNOW that something good is waiting for you, right around the next corner.
And then, in your spare time, you begin to wonder if you really want that something good – if you’re doing it just for money, because you think you’re supposed to, or if it’s REALLY the kind of thing you want to spend your time doing.
You start looking around you for something to do. Time spent online or networking or whatever feels a bit like spinning wheels, and that part of you that wants to accomplish cool things isn’t yet satisfied.
And there’s the ever-irritating, ever-present inner monologue: I’ve put in my time looking for jobs, exhausted all current avenues, and now I’m playing the waiting game. I’ll go searching again tomorrow.
But for now, do I: (1) watch TV? (2) call somebody? (3) take a nap? (4) go outside?
Say what you will about the supposed joys of underemployment, but guiltlessly occupying oneself while playing a waiting game can be confusing and exhausting.
Today, instead of staying confused, I did something I’ve been wanting to spend some time doing for weeks. And it was fantastic.
I put on some music, and dug in. Got my hands into some spray paint, glitter, and photos, and went nuts. I’m really happy with the results.
I have this daydream that someday soon, I can start up a table at a local artisan’s market. I’ve been doing some research lately (if strolling around Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown on a Sunday afternoon, and eating at Zingerman’s Deli counts as research). It doesn’t cost much to get started, and it looks like a lot of fun. Some people sell homemade breads or jams, some make jewelry, others showcase their fine art photography or woodworking. The weekly market is a lovely, friendly place where time slows down and people just enjoy some old-fashioned pleasures. A place where online skills assessments and tiny, contingent, part-time crappy job offerings do not exist.
The more I apply for “real” jobs with unreal un-results, the more I daydream about playing with glitter and paint and actually getting something done that feels real.
As pleasurable as this prospect seems, it comes along with its own set of important questions. If I become a market artisan, am I guaranteed to be popular, and make enough money to pay the bills?
But I AM guaranteed to be mindlessly, blissfully happy during those two hours with paint and glitter smeared all over my hands and arms, and Beethoven operas and piano sonatas in my ears.
Is it a bit like fiddling while Rome burns, to be crafty while also out on the job market?
But instead of just standing there, wouldn’t you rather be making some music?