Role reversal

July 29, 2011

Unemployment is finally starting to break my spirit.

I’ve been unemployed for seven months now with no real prospects for a job in my career field. I’m starting to think I’m never again going to have a real career, make real money and be able to provide for myself. I’m starting to think I’ll never own my own home, buy a new car or have simple things like medical insurance. I’m starting to think I’m going to always be just “barely getting by.”

When I look around at all my friends, it’s even more heartbreaking. In my circle is a manager of a very successful bar, an owner of a dinner theater, a software instructor for a large company, a couple who just started their own business and a stylist who rakes in more than $100,000 a year. And they’re all my age.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so proud of each and every one of them my heart could burst. I don’t want them to fail. I want all of them to prosper. On the other hand, I’ve started being jealous and feeling inadequate around them, two qualities that I have never possessed until now.

To make matters worse, I feel as if I’m slipping away from my friends because I can’t even afford to go out and “grab a beer” anymore. I see all the pictures on Facebook or Twitter about the great times they’re having and it makes me want to bawl my eyes out. I used to be right there in every picture having the time of my life.


(Courtesy of Marianne Steffey)

I was the one with the good job while they were still bartending, waiting tables or working at Wal-Mart. I was the one telling them to “keep working hard at it and it will happen.” Now it seems my words are coming back to haunt me. I constantly hear that same phrase, but this time it’s addressed to me.

As an example, I belong to the Young Professionals of the Tri-Cities, and when I first joined I was so excited. I tried my hardest to help with each of our fundraisers any way I could. I volunteered for every committee, every event. But that’s when I had a job and had money to spend at the outing with gas to get me there. I’m asking myself why I belong in this organization in the first place now that I no longer can be considered a working professional. I find myself skipping the monthly meetings because, not to mention being broke, I’m too embarrassed to strike up a conversation with someone who will eventually ask me where I work or what I do. I just can’t utter “I’m unemployed” one more time and see the look of pity or judgment in their eyes. I simply cannot bear to hear “keep your chin up” ever again. Besides, what’s keeping my chin up really gonna do for me? Will a great job land in my lap simply because I don’t look down? It’s nonsense that I cannot believe I ever said to someone else. 

This has to be the hardest thing about unemployment. The stress of job hunting doesn’t even compare to the feeling of losing friends because you’ve slipped into a lower tax bracket.

I know that in reality, my true friends will never abandon me simply because I’m unemployed. I know that this might just be me being too hard on myself, but I can’t help but feel it. I also know that when I do find a job, they’ll be right there rejoicing with me because, believe me, with the way I’m feeling about all of this right now, it’ll definitely be cause for giant celebration!

Marianne Steffey, a 32-year-old former journalist from Erwin, Tenn., has been unemployed for seven months. Read more about her here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

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