I have often said that everyone should engage in two professions/activities in their lifetimes, at least for a brief time. Based on my life the last year or so, I will now add two more, for a total of four.
These professions should be tried for at least 6 months to a year. More time added to the activities might do one of two things. They might make you a stronger person (hopefully), or they might wear you down to a small nub of a human being, barely able to drag one’s sorry butt to work everyday. But a year or less shouldn’t have any lasting scars. Mental callouses yes, but nothing too awful.
That being said a caveat: I could also argue for even more potentially fulfilling jobs like the military, the peace corps, volunteer firefighting, or charities. But truthfully, that is something that has been brought up many times by many people. And doing those activities are heroic, and probably ennobling, perhaps sometimes downright dangerous. For those of us that are a little more sedate mentally and physically, and are ready to grow in more safe and perhaps less dramatic ways, I suggest these activities:
The first profession I would recommend is a year of working retail at a busy store. This experience will provide one with high volume experience of moving quickly, usually providing one with breathless activity and sore feet fro standing on merciless concrete floors. You are expected to be professional, act kindly even when people aren’t being kind to you, deal with computer outages, stopping people from stealing, stocking shelves, and making sure your register is balanced to the cent, and work like a dervish on crack. All for just above minimum wage. Good times.
The 2nd activity is work at a restaurant. Restaurants are great for dealing with rushes of people that come in, dealing with cleaning up messes in bathrooms (people can be animals!), vomit, and mean customers. Co-workers are extremely important in the restaurant biz. One person isn’t performing correctly, and it’s almost better they didn’t show up (which can happen a lot too). You will also be expected to work for low wages, all the while smelling vaguely like half-burnt hamburger or pancakes and syrup. Don’t forget your nametag, as this will identify you as a human being rather than a prosimian pack mule. Btw, this is from a guy who was consistently employee of the month as well as a manager. On the job, I was always good at keeping things positive. Only in the dark middle space of the pre-dawn in my bed would the screams start surfacing in my mind…. 😉
As the above jobs are things I did for a while but a long time ago, my memory is a bit fuzzy on the details and are thus appended in the body of this text. But the feeling of such jobs, the zeitgeist of my soul, I remember well.
I also now must add two others activities. These two of course are in my present memory, so they will be much more detailed.
The 3rd activity is cold call and cold prospect sales, especially when the job you work at is entirely commission based. Nothing feels quite so stomach churning as running/calling around, trying to sell something that people may or may not want (at least in a store they are looking for something you most likely have). And doing it and failing again, and again and again. If you are good, you get a couple sales a day. If you aren’t (or you just don’t meet the right people that day), well, you don’t get paid. There is a reason why sales people get paid well. One is that the skill set and psychological beating to the un-initiated is quite daunting. There is a certain amount of mental armor one has to build up to persevere. One has to start thinking less in terms of perceived personal integrity and more in terms of numbers. There is a saying in sales that you have to embrace ad get through the no’s to get to the yeses. Embrace the no’s so you can learn and grow. And it’s also a game of numbers. All things being equal, the more no’s you get, the more yeses you also will receive at the end of the day. I’ve learned of late to apply that directly into other aspects of my life.
There is small light in the tunnel in this. As a generality, I have found that most people politely decline sales advances (unless you stay too aggressive for too long), and they usually forget about you quickly either way. Thank goodness for cultural attention deficit disorder! I have already spoken at length on the benefits of doing this kind of work. Also, nothing strips away the last vestiges of shyness like knocking door to door on someone’s house!
The 4th and last activity (yes, for me it is a verb!) is I will mention is being unemployed. I have never been unemployed in my adult life for more than a few weeks. Moving out here has been an eye-opener. I have applied for every kind of job from sales to graphic design to restaurants to department stores to manual labor. Anyone who has read this blog knows I have ranted on this subject the last few months, scheming and trying to puzzle out the trials and pitfalls, and how to counteract them.
But this is what I have learned these last few months. Being unemployed is like trying to stave off a disease while running a marathon . One has to keep moving, keep doing, keep trying to do something, anything to get yourself noticed, to be available for any opportunity. And even then, things still may not work. You have to scheme, counter-scheme, and counter-counter scheme for ways to stay afloat. And still, things may not work out.
One has to look in the mirror hard each day, and try to find out what is right and good about yourself instead of falling into self-loathing and pity. This problem is the disease I spoke of earlier. If one does fall into self pity and loathing, you must above all costs try to find a way to break out of that funk! Do something constructive. Go for a walk. Or learn something. Most importantly, just keep applying for jobs, anything you think someone will hire you for. When you aren’t sure, apply for it anyway! I have actually had a few interviews that way. Mostly for sales jobs. Sales positions cater to people who are hungry for success or desperate (or both!)
This may sound a little counter-productive, but someimes it is best to leave the house and go somewhere. Go for a walk at a park. Visit friends. Call somebody. Break the grey cycle. See that life is good, and people are good. Not all is bleak and grey. One of my big problems is constantly thinking about my situation. I am pro-active to the point of obsession. My wife looks at me sometimes like I have worms crawling out of my ears, because I talk about the plan to get our lives going over. and over. and over again. So I sometimes force myself out into the greater world, so I’m not always sitting by the phone or email in expectation for something to happen.
When one is looking for a job, time slows down. Every minute is waiting in anticipation. Employers on the other hand operate in days, sometimes weeks. They are so busy, that time flies by. I have had to force myself to be patient with the process. For me at least it’s not easy.
Obsessiveness aside, pro-activity does help. My day is 6-8 hours of job searching, cover letter writing. And then trying to make artwork. Or trying to prep for interviews. Or reading about companies I am applying for. Or reading about the people who are interviewing me. Or taking tests, learning new skills (Life Insurance license, updating software knowledge, etc). I probably spend a good 11-14 hours a day looking for a job, self-training, planning out my finances, getting sales training,updating my website, anything I can do to make this work.
My friends and family say that I am the busiest unemployed man alive. I say that too, but I like to also add that I try to think of myself as employed without pay.
Finally there is the “Little Lie”, which helps to stave off the disease. The little lie is that this will all work out. That our efforts will be redeemed. One has to believe that lie. Because if you don’t, you will fall into a deep, dark depressive hole and will have a heck of a time coming out. I have skimmed through that dark place over the last few months. Usually for only a few hours. But man, I don’t like it. So I lie to myself, try to make my reality brighter as a result. It works, at least long enough to keep plugging away. I have to tell myself every resume applied for, will lead to something good in the end. That someone will see me for the Superstar that I am. (Hey, it’s my lie, I can frame it like I want!). I suppose that “Lie” is a little harsh. It should be framed as a dream, but I sometimes enjoy being blunt. When I make the Lie a reality, then it becomes a Truth. But I must lie to myself at first to make it so.
What do all these activities have in common? They can humble you. They take your ego and threaten to crush you with mind-numbing activities, or irate people that view you as an obstacle. At the very worst, they threaten to deflate the walls of ego that we have to place around us so we don’t ball up in a fetal position every time we wake up or face resistance.
My message is that being humbled can be a life-enriching experience if you let it. For instance, my recent experience in the unemployment world has shown me that the hundreds upon hundreds (perhaps now into the thousands) of hours that I have spent in pursuit of this new life has not yet borne fruit. I am going through guns blazing. And if I, an able bodied, pretty intelligent white guy with an over achievement complex can’t find anything…..then people that may be disadvantaged through education, circumstance of birth or racial or sexual discrimination, or bad credit, or minor criminal records, what kind of chance do they have except through nepotism or connections? Those people that do make it through the gauntlet with much worse circumstances than I have now I will view as heroes. I will always look at the unemployed with a second glance now. Perhaps they aren’t lazy after all. Perhaps they are swinging every day and feel like their heart is going to explode from the effort. Just like me.