Unemployment – a word familiar to many people in their 20s. Times are hard and the job market is slow. According to the Office for National Statistics, 3.3 million 20 to 34-year-olds lived with their parents in 2013. This isn’t solely down to unemployment, but I bet some of it is. There’s also the issue of underemployment – young people with degrees doing jobs they are overqualified for. I have many friends in this position, myself included.
I graduated from university in 2013 and have had three uneventful, short-lived jobs since July. Periods of unemployment have taught me a lot.
1. A degree doesn’t guarantee a job
A lie we are fed from the moment we begin our GCSES is that university will instantly make you employable. This is simply not true. University expands the mind and teaches you new and exciting things. It doesn’t guarantee a job because employment isn’t the purpose of university. Education is incredible, but degrees are two-a-penny these days, so their workplace value has diminished. Of course, some degrees lead to specific careers, however, the majority of degrees don’t.
2. Unemployment builds character
Advice that people love to give the unemployed is: ‘Use all that free time to do something you really want to do.’ On the surface, this sounds like great advice. However, the reality of unemployment is very different. Firstly, fun things cost money – something that isn’t available without a job. You can’t afford to travel the world, sign up to that language class or start tap dancing lessons.
If you’re serious about getting a ‘career’, all of your ‘free time’ will be spent trawling job sites, updating CVs, filling in ridiculous numbers of application forms, and waking up the next day to a long list of rejections. Unemployment is miserable, lonely, and isolating as others don’t understand why you can’t just get a job. However, unemployment helps develop a thick skin. After my first job rejection I stayed in pyjamas all day and cried down the phone to mummy. Pathetic! Now, rejection is simply a part of life, something to move on from quickly. Learning to deal with rejection will either make or break you, and the unemployed understand this in a way that others never could.
3. Unemployment can’t define you
When meeting someone new, you are often asked: ‘So what do you do?’ As someone who is unemployed or underemployed, this question is a minefield. Unemployment taught me that my career (or lack thereof) must not define me. We are taught that success means having the dream job, the dream house, or the highest paycheque. However, creating an identity out of any of these is risky, as they can crumble at any time. Anyone who attended Sunday School knows the parable about the man building his house on the sand – when the storms came it just fell down. During the last six months, I have begun redefining what defines me. I haven’t got it totally sorted, but I know that who I am does not directly correlate to what I do.
4. You learn contentment
Learning to be content is something I’m working on. When the dream career does not materialise, learning to be content with your situation is the only thing that brings happiness. I’ve got a little closer to understanding what Paul meant when he said: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12). Don’t get me wrong, I definitely haven’t got it sorted, but I’m working on being content with my situation, because it’s the only situation I have.