There is a strong stigma around being unemployed and being on unemployment.
The above graphic was shown and I felt that it perfectly summed up my experience the past couple of years. Being laid off and unemployed is something I have become comfortable having conversations around because there’s a strong stigma around what it means to not have a job and not have control of how you leave a job. Especially for individuals who look like me. And not laid off as in you lose a couple hours a month, but laid off, laid off as in zero hours of work.
I attended a Mappy Hour themed ‘What’s a recent failure?’ a few weeks ago. Going into Mappy Hour, I wasn’t really sure what recent failure I would talk about. And not because I have never failed at anything, but because there have been quite a few significant moments of learning in my past.
Not having control of how you leave your job is a big blow.
Getting laid off in 2020 had a huge impact on my life and career trajectory. In so many ways I felt like I had failed myself because I had fallen off the predetermined path I, and society, had created for myself. This path looked like getting a job out of grad school, working my way up the ladder at one of two organizations, staying with one organization for 40 years, then retiring at 65. I don’t know if this was what I really wanted or what I’d been programmed to want. And for so many people, this is the path that they want and that they achieve. But what happens when you’re crossing your fist zip-line and fall into a pit of rocks? And honestly, maybe I should have been more preparing because I’ve made a lot of changes to my path throughout the years. But in the past, I’ve had complete control over my changing path. Not having control of how you lose or leave a job is not as easily navigable as people think. And maybe this is one of the origins of unemployment stigma.
Our paths aren’t linear. Our paths aren’t smooth. Our paths end up looking like that extreme roller coaster you built as a kid in Roller Coaster Tycoon. Ups, downs, upside downs, spirals, sharp turns, nausea, fear of falling out. Uggh I hate roller coasters… But I digress.
Reflecting back on the lay off, the pandemic, and the domino effect of other events that followed, I’ve come out the other end with a new perspective. And yes, that sounds super cliche. “When one door closes, another door opens.” “Every end is a new beginning.”
Allowing someone else’s expectation of success define your path will only hold you back.
I know we’re not supposed to want to be on unemployment or think it’s ever a good thing, but I think that’s a stigma that needs to be broken. I don’t want to get into the politics of unemployment in this short blog post, but there are many studies that show how the unemployed face serious disadvantages in the labor market due to the social stigma of unemployment; I’ll let you do your own research.
Falling into this pit of rocks broke some bones, but I was finally able to see the ladder at the end of the canyon that would lead me out of some really crappy situations. Being on unemployment gave me the perspective I needed to understand that the way I had been living my life and pursuing my career was not what I wanted. How many times have you heard of someone who’s in an unhealthy job but doesn’t know how to take the next step? Well, I found my next step by being kicked into this metaphoric pit of rocks I’ve mentioned a few times. And now I own my own business, have multiple streams of income, spend my free time doing things I actually enjoy (and also get paid to do the things I enjoy), and am pursuing extracurricular activities, social interactions, and professional engagements that are actually fulfilling.
I never imagined owning a business was on my path. And like many others, I started my own business as a way to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now I can very confidently say that I continue to be a business owner as a way to live out my career and life the way I want. And not the way that it ‘should’ look like or the way others want it to look like. Allowing someone else’s expectation of success define your path will only hold you back. And I’m glad that I’m not being held back anymore.
Advice I can give anyone else who is going through any type of unemployment, whether it’s COVID-19 pandemic related or not, is know your value. The stigma around unemployment is meant to keep you down and keep you from succeeding. And wherever laid you off, fired you, or didn’t hire you, either wasn’t willing to acknowledge your worth and/or they weren’t a space where you could reach your potential. This short video by Yellopain, an artist famous for creating songs with overt social and political messages about voter disenfranchisement in the Black community, says it well.
Mappy Hour was such a great space to connect with others with similar experiences and to continue reflecting on if failures are really failures. In a lot of ways, it comes down to a change in mindset and giving yourself the grace and flexibility to know your value. Because if you don’t, no one else will. Pursue what you want and not what others expect from you.