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The Audacity of Hopelessness

“Jobs must be our focus in 2010,” President Obama said last night to thunderous applause during his State of the Union address. “We can put Americans to work today to build the America of tomorrow.” Hope oozed out of his … Read More

By / January 28, 2010

“Jobs must be our focus in 2010,” President Obama said last night to thunderous applause during his State of the Union address. “We can put Americans to work today to build the America of tomorrow.”

Hope oozed out of his eloquent speech. But I had spent my morning at the local Unemployment Office in the office of a pasty Career Counselor whose doughy hands gripped my resume. “So what do you do?” With ten years’ worth of work experience, I’ve run successful political campaigns, helped get innocent people out of prison, helped stop gun traffickers and written scathing white papers on the pharmaceutical industry. Yet right before Rosh Hashanah, after winning a successful campaign helping people who were injured by defective products, I came into work to find my office cleaned out and a “I’m sorry, we have no more money to pay you” speech. My office had been near Wall Street so after all the months of seeing the six-figure investment bankers doing the walk of shame with their boxes filled with their personal items after being handed their walking papers, I was the one going home at 10:00am with a tiny severance package and my personal effects in a box of my own. “People are out of work and they are hurting. I want a jobs bill on my desk right away.” I spent the afternoon job hunting. I sent out my resume to job postings, emailed friends and acquaintances asking them for their help. And then I waited. Waited for the phone call, that interview, that job offer. But the later did not come, and still I waited. I networked. I hoped. At least I try. But looking for a job is a vicious cycle. You have to constantly be at your best, but you get rejection at every turn. That job you would be perfect for, that you’ve labored over the cover letter, contacted everyone you know who knows people who can help you get that job, and maybe you even had an interview. But the job goes to someone else. I am one of 25 interviewees out of a pool of 250 candidates, but someone else will start working and I will be back to sending out resumes. It starts to wear you down, all that rejection, the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. When you are job-hunting people ask you, “What do you want to do? What are your dreams?” I don’t know. My dream job would be to cook for people. Shop at the farmer’s market, bring home the freshest and best produce and cook up healthy and delicious meals for someone who will pay me a living wage and give me health care. But who is going to hire me as their personal chef? I may love cooking, but I never went to culinary school and people with the money to hire chefs probably want more credentials. And my credentials say that I should be a community organizer, an advocate for good causes, someone fighting for tikkun olam. A couple of years ago when I was employed, I had decided I wanted to advance my career (the organization I was working for did not have any room for advancement). I decided that I wanted to be a Jewish professional, in part because I saw some really great organizations doing amazing social justice work. But I didn’t grow up Jewish, so I didn’t have the summer camp connections or the Hillel friends to network with. So I started getting involved, volunteering and through grit and determination my resume began to fill up with things that said, “she’s really involved with the Jewish community.” But the economy tanked, and the non-profit world didn’t have a lot of room for career moves. I would get interviews, but the people they were hiring had a lot more experience than I did. Then my job disappeared and the hope I was feeling that I was making my career going somewhere faded. The civil servant assigned by the Department of Labor to give me career advice continued to be baffled by my resume. “How did you get these jobs before?” I smiled. Dumb luck really. A friend of mine ran into an old friend of his on a subway platform. While catching up the old acquaintance talked about his new job and my friend said, “I’ve got the perfect girl for you, she just finished winning a campaign and is looking for work.” Another time a friend of mine asked me, “Have you ever considered being a private investigator?” Yes, I know how I got those jobs, being at the right place at the right time. It wasn’t a great epiphany that I needed to network myself into the right situation. That is where job hunting is so much like dating. You might be the prettiest girl with the most charming stories, but the guy sitting across the table from you is looking to settle down with a girl who reminds him of his mother and have a lot of babies. You might both be terrific people, but just looking for different things. I had a phone interview for a job I was completely perfect for the other day. But the Executive Director on the other side of the line, who clearly didn’t have the time to be doing interviews asked me, “so what is organizing exactly?” I tried my best to explain what I do and how great I would be for his organization, but I didn’t get a call back. I didn’t give him the answers he was looking for, even though I know I would have done a really kick-ass job at their organization. So I wait for my phone to ring. I jump on every opportunity I can find even when it annoys friends and acquaintances. On Martin Luther King Day I was in the bodega near my house. I overheard a delivery guy saying to the clerk, "MLK? Only people that get today off are white. I’ve still got to work." Looking around the tiny shop at who was shopping and who was working he might have had a point, but I wanted to turn to him and say, "but at least you have a job!" Some days I don’t want to get out of bed and spend the day in duckie pajamas watching Hulu overcome with depression and embarrassment that I still don’t have a job. Obama’s speech last night didn’t give me a lot of hope. It might be said to a room full of applause that jobs are a high priority, but my email box is still empty, my phone isn’t ringing and my only hope from Congress is that they will extend my Unemployment benefits to give me more time to keep looking, keep hoping someone will realize that out of the pool of candidates they have in front of them, I am the best and that they should hire me.

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