I recently posted this to a couple of places on social media:
a tip for dealing with the long-term unemployed or underemployed for this holiday season: Don’t ask me what the status of my job search is. If there was anything to report, you’d have heard. Instead, ask me about what I AM actually doing. I know you mean well, so trust me – I’m having to answer those same questions every time I see someone I haven’t seen for more than a week, and it’s making me very unhappy. Ask me about what I’m doing, not what I hope to do.
This isn’t meant as a passive-aggressive shot at anyone with whom I’ve had this conversation of late (and I have it a lot at this time of year). Consider it a plea from me, someone who’s been unemployed or underemployed since graduating a year and a half ago.
No, I can’t explain why I’m still not in a full-time job at a university or similar established institution.
And quite frankly, I don’t really want to talk about it. I apologize if that sounds rude.
I know you mean well. I know you ask because you care. I get that, I really do.
But take a moment to think about it from my perspective. This isn’t what I had planned for my twenties. I didn’t plan to be living with my parents at 28. I didn’t plan to be a year and a half into a job search with over 150 applications submitted and less than six interviews to show for it.
The conversation about my job search always goes the same way. The person asks how it’s going, I say it’s not really going anywhere. They ask me some question that boils down to where am I looking/have I considered looking outside California. I tell them I’m looking all over the country. They then ask about the volume of jobs posted, and I reply with my practiced speech about the supply-and-demand problem in the library and archives job world right now. It always ends there. They don’t ever ask about what I’m doing in the meantime.
I know you care. But asking me about this, especially in social situations that are meant to be celebratory, is not particularly kind. It makes me very upset. You can continue to enjoy the gathering as it ebbs and flows, but I’m stuck trying to quash the voices inside my head that whisper about self-doubt, insecurity, failure, and all the ways in which I’m not following the path I’m “supposed” to follow. I’m confused and struggling with a lot of things right now. Please help me rebuild my self-confidence by asking about other aspects of my professional life.
The thing is, I may not be employed full-time at an established institution, but I am working. Ask me about it – it’s interesting and different, and I’m starting to consider ways of following this path for a while, because it’s bearing a little fruit and the other isn’t.
Help me to enjoy the holidays – and help you enjoy yours more – by asking about positive things, not the things that make me want to hide in a corner and worry.
Please, ask me about my work. That conversation will leave both of us happier than the other one will.