Archives for posts with tag: Unemployment

Because transitioners at some point have to face the grim reality that in order to achieve our dreams we’re going to need some cash flow, I’ve returned to the daunting task of jobhunting. I’ve managed to avoid this activity, and the full spectrum of emotions associated with it – from hope to hopelessness, courage to fear, anticipation to anxiety – for a few months. In fact, towards the end of last year I made the decision – consciously and willingly – to let go of this feeling that I must find some job, any job. I decided to pursue other creative interests and projects which perhaps wouldn’t help my finances but would help my soul.

I was lucky, and I remain forever grateful, that there was no rent to pay; that my parents whose roof I live under would allow me the space and offer support in whichever way they could. And through having the space to explore, and understand, and let go, I am finding my ‘true north’ – the spirit within me which is happy, joyful, driven and creative; and this has given me the confidence that this transitioner is heading in the right direction, and all is well.

I am now faced with the significant challenge of integrating my spiritual practice into the everyday external realities we are confronted with – in this case, high unemployment and a very competitive job market.  The last few weeks have been a real test for that glorious feeling of power and clarity that arises when we connect to our inner truth.I’m sure many jobhunters can relate to my personal experience. Here is a brief overview:

Three weeks ago, I applied for a job which, when I first heard about it, seemed ideal for me. When I went about filling in the application form, I felt on a real high – excited by this opportunity, empowered because I felt I was shaping my new reality according to my dreams and desires, and therefore confident that everything was going to work out as it should.

Each day, as I’ve waited to hear the outcome of the job application, I’ve lurched from quiet optimism to self-doubt to all-out rage. The society we live in, and the current economic climate, apparently dictates that there will be stiff competition for any job, and that you are likely to be left dangling – hoping for a positive response, but in the end perhaps not getting any at all. Take the example of this job: after submitting it, I was told interviews would be held on Friday the following week and that they’d let me know if I was shortlisted. Friday came and went, and I heard nothing. In came the rage and despair. Over the weekend I heard that there were 250 applications for the position I’d applied for, and that shortlisting hadn’t yet been completed. Hope once more triumphed over the pessimism which had temporarily taken over. On Wednesday I received a call from the organisation I’d applied to; without warning, they asked me some questions related to the required knowledge for the job. Caught unawares, I felt I stumbled over my answers. I was not told at this point whether I had in fact been shortlisted. The phone call was followed by feelings of hopelessness and anger that I’d been asked these questions without time to prepare for them. Then on Friday I was told that I’d been invited for interview, and that it would take place the following day – on a Saturday. This sent me into a panic – it seemed such short notice, and odd to be holding an interview on a weekend day. I was then told a mistake had been made and that in fact interviews would be held the following Monday.

So yesterday I had an interview, by phone. The e-mail inviting me for interview had actually indicated that I was to go to the organisation’s office, but this turned out also to be a mistake on their part. After the interview I was told that the next round of interviews would take place within the week, after further shortlisting. And so once again I’m in the place of not knowing, a place where self-doubt and fear thrive.

For me, the process of jobhunting has been a reminder of the challenges one faces when applying all one’s inner strength and resources gained through meditation and spiritual practice to everyday external realities. It has been a major test on my ability to stay calm, to embrace uncertainty, to show gratitude for even the most agonising or painful situations. Although I am a different, and stronger, person than the one who was jobhunting a year ago, whilst I’ve been left hanging waiting for a response to my job application, all those familiar feelings of doubt have returned. My negative voice has crept in: Why is even the ideal job such a struggle to attain? I’ve spent hours on this application and why this punishment in return? Is this going to be disappointment, and rejection, again? What’s wrong with me? Am I going to return to that dark place of despair and fear I was in last year?

A place of not knowing is one of the most challenging places to be in. I’ve lived in that place for well over a year now, and have managed to embrace it, even enjoy it at times. But when a new challenge comes along in that place of not knowing, it can feel agonising, disorientating, excruciating. It feels like one extra provocation just when things seemed stable and safe.

But if these things are indeed sent to try us, then at some point there will be something to be gained from such experiences, whatever the outcome. Perhaps the only way to deal with the pain of not knowing, and all the negative emotions which can arise from it, is to examine how we respond to the situation, and what that says about us. Then maybe next time we can handle the place of not knowing with more calm, courage and gratitude.

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Phew, it’s been a while. There are times when creativity – whether it be writing, singing, dancing, admiring a beautiful landscape – suffers in the pursuit of specific goals. My blog has been temporarily abandoned whilst I’ve had my head in piles of University application forms, each with different guidelines and requirements.

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Why did I decide applying for a Phd was a good idea? At times I’ve forgotten myself; then I remember that my research idea  – stress and burnout among international humanitarian and development workers – is one that is close to my heart, and drawn from personal experience.

But like most decisions in my life, it seems with this one I’ve hardly chosen the easy route. In 2012 – a stormy and soul-searching year for many – I could have done many things after returning from a difficult year in Palestine. What I craved the most was stability and safety. After all, up to this point my life had been far from settled or grounding: four years in East Africa, ending in a dramatic escape from a slightly psycho Ugandan boyfriend; four years in a squat in Brixton, wondering whether we were next on the eviction list; a year in Palestine, forever fretting over the possibility of being ‘found out’ by Israeli intelligence, and deported for daring to do human rights work in the West Bank.

An image from Banksy which poignantly depicts the reality of feeling constantly under scrutiny in the Occupied West Bank

An image from Banksy which poignantly depicts the reality of feeling constantly under scrutiny in the Occupied West Bank

I’ve had my fair share of uncertainty. And 2012 was no different, despite returning to England and the suburban bliss of my parents’ neighbourhood. I’m still there, at the start of 2013, still not knowing what the future holds. This has to be one of the biggest skills to hone when undergoing a big transition – embracing uncertainty. That and the essential antidote to uncertainty: patience. There’s always a point during a transition where you have to accept that you do not know, and will not know, your destiny for some time. There’s no use in forcing the future, although there’s certainly no harm in building the path you wish for. That is indeed what I’ve been doing the last few months – practising my writing skills with the quiet wish that one day I will write a book; reading journal articles on burnout and writing my research proposal with the quiet wish that one day I’ll be offered a scholarship to study a Phd on the subject (hhhm, maybe ‘quiet’ isn’t the right word, given it’s all I’ve really been talking about to anyone I’ve spoken to recently).

But it’s taken a long time to get to this point of acceptance. When faced with a big transition, the urge is to run to whatever is familiar, even if it’s no longer nourishing or fulfilling. If I’d persisted with chasing familiarity, maybe I would have got that job working with a humanitarian organisation or an international development agency.  I’m glad I didn’t, because I doubt I’d be sitting here now, writing this piece; judging from previous experience, I probably wouldn’t have had any time for self-reflection whatsoever…and I would have been miserable.

Instead I’ve chosen a path of further uncertainty, where there’s no guarantee I’ll get what I wish for. Will I be accepted on my University course? Will I be given a scholarship that will enable me to study the course (I certainly won’t be able to do it otherwise)? I won’t know for some time yet, and meanwhile I have to live with the unknown and trust that whatever the outcome, I will gain something. And herein lies another major challenge for transitioners – learning gratitude.

Gratitude is a learned skill. And as gratitude becomes a habit, so will happiness.

 Julia Cameron

This week I’ve been meditating on gratitude. It’s not easy! Sure, it’s not difficult to be grateful for friends and family, and all the good things in your life. But try reflecting on all those things that have made you unhappy, or angry, or fearful – and find something positive from them. It’s a difficult exercise, but an essential one for transitioners living a life of uncertainty. Each setback, each disappointment, is something we can potentially gain from if we have gratitude for all experiences, good or bad.

So 2013 may have started with further uncertainty; I still don’t have the stability I crave, I’m not yet settled in any way.  But living with uncertainty has given me an inner strength – an inner certainty – which has helped me see clearly what is right and good for me, rather than what is familiar.  And for this new sense of power and courage, all I can feel is gratitude.

Last week I spoke of the tears we all shed during the Olympics – tears of joy, of wonder, of warmth. And only this week I spoke of some funny situations that perhaps only a transitioner would find themselves in. But it’s not always fun and games, and the tears of a transitioner are not always ones of joy.

Since my last blog post, I’ve been crying quite a lot; in fact, I’m in a perpetual state of holding back tears. Maybe it’s all that anger that the Qi Master told me, after an acupressure session, that I was holding in my stomach, along with any other emotions stuck there that are now releasing themselves, often against my will. The absence of any of my regular routines of yoga, Tai Chi or dance classes in the last few weeks since I had knee surgery probably hasn’t helped and has thrown me off kilter. My belief that getting wasted at the weekend would somehow be a good idea in this state of imbalance may well not have helped either.

A poem by Julia Cameron. Last week I finished her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, a 12 week course in unleashing your creativity (but it actually does a lot more than that). I think I’m having withdrawal symptoms!

Whatever it is, a transitioner’s tears are often letting out a whole lot more emotion than is easy to define or attribute to one particular disappointment or grievance. I cried today when my friend told me she got married. That’s not really the reaction a friend expects when giving such news (and luckily this was an online exchange so she didn’t have to know…although now maybe she does. Sorry, I hope I haven’t caused offence with such spontaneous tearfulness). Yesterday I read the poem attached to this blog post, and burst into tears; and carried on crying for a good solid half hour, my parents blissfully (and thankfully) unaware in their other rooms.

Call me ungrateful, or blind to all the good things I have in my life. But actually I have been seeing those things, and reminding myself religiously of them, every day. I have a safe and welcoming house to live in, and two very supportive parents, and some wonderfully encouraging friends. I have time to be creative, to write my blog and discover new and exciting projects to work on. But when you’re going through a bad patch as a transitioner, all these positives get pushed out by the so-called negatives; or, to use another term, those nasty little demons of anger, resentment and fear.

In my case, I start looking at the last ten years of my life. All that time spent fighting injustice and extreme poverty in various countries (or at least that’s what I hoped I was doing, but in these dark moments even that is thrown into serious doubt). The organisations I worked for with such commitment, often with little appreciation or support. The year I spent studying hard for a Master’s degree whilst living in a squat. All that hard work, so how do I find myself here, in my thirties and living with Mum and Dad? No matter how well you get on with your parents, such a situation can never feel quite right; I thought I’d grown out of depending on my parents years ago. Added to this my continuing dread every time I look for jobs – any jobs – and find myself despairing because I actually have no idea what I want to do. The self-doubt that accompanies longer term visions – mine being to write a book or to do a Phd – and which can take over if any person questions my motives or expectations. And then there’s the gaping hole that is my private life; my desire to go out and have more fun often dampened by the reality that this is not so easy whilst living in suburbia with my parents and with no income.

A cure for those emotional or creative blocks: bake a cake. I baked this yesterday – it’s a blueberry and hazelnut muffin cake.

At times like this, the transition can seem like a long, dark tunnel with no light at the end of it; and one in which everyone else appears to be whizzing past, apparently able to see the light more clearly than me, despite all my efforts at ‘knowing myself better’. Whilst others have been working on their jobs, their careers, their marriages, their children, I’ve spent a whole lot of time working on myself. But am I any wiser? Searching for my inner truth appears to be a much longer journey than I had anticipated, and not always one that brings fulfilment, or even clarity. There are days when everything simply seems terribly unfair, when one can’t get past the loneliness or emptiness of a life of uncertainty. We’re only human after all, and tears are natural, even healthy. Maybe I’m making up for all the tears I’ve held back and buried in the pit of my stomach over the years. Tears release what sometimes dare not be admitted or publicly revealed – our vulnerability, our desperate need to be loved, to be appreciated, and ultimately to be happy.

This year marks 50 years of Jamaican independence, so I thought a nod to Bob Marley was appropriate right now. His words are not only a call to mobilise, to unite; they also call on us to dig deep within ourselves, and to let our conscience be our guide.

Marley performing at Dalymount Park

Marley performing at Dalymount Park (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been officially unemployed since December last year. Did I envisage this when I chose to leave my job in Palestine and come back home to live with my parents for the first time in 10 years? No, because for the first few months since returning I convinced myself that what I must do is a) find a job and b) move out as quickly as possible. Well apparently such humble ambitions were a bit presumptuous, as I’m still here, transitioning. Not knowing what comes next. Making bi-monthly visits to the Job Centre and cringing with every story I have to tell of what I’ve been doing to find a job – because this is what is expected of every person in unemployment. Taking a break, or transitioning, is apparently not an option when you’re claiming state benefits.

But despite the low points of being unemployed and full of uncertainty (and I touched on those, to put it mildly, in my previous blog post), I’m reminded each day of the big lessons learned from all this time with, to and for myself. Particularly in the last couple of weeks, when I’ve not been able to move about too much having just had knee surgery, I’ve been forced to be still and do nothing. When I’ve not been doing nothing, I’ve been trying to map my progress over the last eight months; and here is what has emerged.

I’ve had a lot of letting go to do. It is only when we stop and confront ourselves – look within – that we realise just how much we bottle up; how many emotions and feelings we allow to fester inside us, grinding us down, preventing us from moving forward. A key emotion for me has been anger. I’ve had anger over the injustices I’ve witnessed or experienced over the years – in Palestine, in Uganda, in Sri Lanka, in Iraq, or here in the UK, sometimes concerning friends and people I know. I’ve felt anger over people around me who have let me down, or made me feel inadequate, isolated or disappointed. I’ve felt anger over the jobs I’ve done, because of all the effort put in with little appreciation or recognition. But what I have also begun to realise over the passing months, as I work through these emotions and experiences, is just how pointless this feeling is. What, or who, does this emotion – anger – serve? Has it helped me be a better human rights activist? Has it helped me do my job more efficiently? Has it helped me deepen my relationships, with friends or colleagues? I actually find this emotion quite tiring; whether it’s me that feels it, or someone close to me expressing it. Letting go of anger over the last few months has been quite liberating, and has eased my path of transition considerably.

I have learned to say no to situations that no longer serve me. This may be friendships, habits, jobs…..it’s quite surprising to see what comes up when one looks within and asks: ‘Is this really what you want? Is this good for you?’ The result is that I may choose not to read an article, or engage in a discussion, on torture or corporate exploitation. Or I may choose not to go to that party which sounds so exciting but will leave me empty and ill the next day. I don’t always get the answer right, I’ve realised afterwards (and usually after a situation which is alcohol-induced), but I’m getting better at this exercise.

I’ve realised that ten years of human rights work has squeezed out any room for other pursuits, because now I’m not working, I’m discovering (re-discovering?) new interests – like writing, dancing, walking in the countryside. My spare time over the last ten years has been dedicated to, I say slightly ashamedly, partying. OK, so I did intersperse that with a few country walks and a bit of yoga. But when being a human rights activist or humanitarian worker becomes your entire identity, any other meaningful interests slip away, apart from partying until the early hours to work off all that pent-up anger. I know not everyone who works in my sector would agree with this, but that is how I’ve operated over the last few years; and although there’ve been some great parties along the way, the last few months have been an awakening to bigger and better things. Not to say the party’s over – perish the thought!

As I have let go of one identity (the humanitarian/human rights worker), other jobs suddenly seem quite appealing. As I mentioned in my last blog post, accepting the loss of one identity or career has not been easy. But in letting go, I’m suddenly considering other opportunities I would never have previously acknowledged –

The British Library

The British Library (Photo credit: stevecadman)

working in a charity shop that sells unusual clothes and jewellery; or a café that serves a blinding Flat White and delicious freshly baked cakes; or in a University library where I can delve into their collections on Buddhism or psychology whilst meeting interesting and stimulating academics and students.

These are all jobs which I feel will allow me the space to continue nurturing myself – a space I denied myself in my previous work.

Lastly, I should touch on my spiritual path. Until recently the word spirituality, along with ‘God’, ‘faith’ and ‘religion’, didn’t exist in my personal vocabulary, or my life map. I’ve been doing meditation for several years, but I have always shied away from identifying myself with anything cosmic, or metaphysical. Going to the Sanctuary in Thailand at the beginning of this year changed all that. As well as doing daily yoga and meditation practice, I took part in a women’s healing workshop – something I wouldn’t have touched with a barge-pole even a year ago. The workshop involved, among others, crying, laughing, dancing, hugging, sharing. Too much detail would actually not do it justice, but the important thing to acknowledge is that something opened up. It tapped in to a part of me that had been buried beneath the anger, the resentment, the self-doubt. We do not all have the privilege (or money) to go to such a place; the point is, as someone in Thailand said to me, to put aside old habits, assumptions and scepticism. Allow yourself to surrender, and who knows what interesting things you might find. This doesn’t require a belief in God, but it does require courage.

With such a small life, with such a small energy source, it is simply stupid to waste it in sadness, in anger, in hatred, in jealousy. Use it in love, use it in some creative act, use it in friendship, use it in meditation: Do something with it that takes you higher. And the higher you go, the more energy source becomes available to you. At the highest point of consciousness, you are almost a God.

Osho

 


It’s easy to assume that living with one’s parents, signing on at the Job Centre and surviving on no income whilst working out what on earth to do next – and all at the age of thirty-something – must be a miserable life. I have had a few pitying looks that’s for sure. It gets worse if I feel obliged to go into the details of what I do with my time. ‘This and that’, I sometimes say, further provoking a look of sympathy for such a hopeless situation. Because in this society we live in, as blogger Tim Kreider so poignantly put it in his recent piece, ‘the Busy Trap’, we are so used to saying how busy we are – whether it be with work, family or social life. Apparently taking a break from work, or spending time doing very little except reading an interesting article, listening to an album all the way through, or writing a blog (!) is nothing short of shameful. Surely we must be desperate to find a job, to get back on that work treadmill and do something with our life.

This is indeed how I felt for a good few months. In February I returned from a month away in Thailand, supposedly full of inner peace and calm after several weeks of learning how to be still and do nothing – which comes pretty easily when you’re lying in a hammock by the warm Pacific waters and sipping from a fresh coconut, after having just done an amazing workshop on transformational breath.

Had Thien/Had Yuan on Koh Phangan – the place to go to find calm, stillness, and your chakras

But what did I do on my return? Within very little time I was back onto the job listings and contacting anyone I knew in vague desperation, seeing what work was available. There were job applications which took several days to complete, during which time my hopes were raised as I convinced myself that what I’d written ticked all the boxes in the job description; then the long wait for a response, the long silence, followed by a period of despair as I realised yet again I hadn’t even been shortlisted. Such is the difficult times we live in, I try to reassure myself – competition is high, and apparently no one has a spare minute to get back to you unless you’re invited for an interview.

And those are the moments when a transition is indeed painful, even agonising. You wonder how you got to this situation, given all your hard work and effort over the years, and how you can get yourself out of it, as quickly as possible. Living with the parents also seems like an extra shameful element to an already bleak picture. Surely I should have grown out of relying on my parents by now.

And yet, and yet……I would like to repeat a great phrase I heard in Thailand – ‘change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change’. Transition is a process, and over that process there have been subtle adjustments in attitude, in behaviour, in choices, which have helped me see the positives of this time. For some who are reading this, the positives might be obvious; but it is actually quite a challenge to adjust one’s mindset – so firmly rooted in the ‘Busy Trap’ – and stop worrying about finding a job or a house or settling down, and embrace the present without worrying about the future. There is a huge amount of resistance to start with, accompanied by a great deal of self-doubt, where the RAGS (Regret, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame) I referred to in an earlier post rear their ugly head.

But having periods of doing nothing actually results in doing something, and that is self-growth. How to describe an act of self-growth is tricky, but it can be found in yoga or meditation practice, in taking a dance class, in baking a cake, in buying a sketch pad and some colouring pencils for the first time in years, or in putting pen to paper and writing a blog. I haven’t done all of these activities, but I’ve certainly dipped into a few.  Self-growth for me has also been a continuing process of letting go of what no longer serves me, and taking pleasure in acts which really require very little effort – like watching the birds fly into our garden to peck at the bird feed in the morning, or spending time with my parents doing a crossword.

Birds feeding

And a few more words on living with one’s parents. Whilst many people I know are right now taking a crash course in parenthood – with pregnancies and births announced almost every week – I have been learning my own profound lessons in this area. Because when you live with your parents in a limited space, you learn to let go of any cravings for peace and quiet or privacy, and instead enjoy these precious moments, because one day we will no longer have them. After many years spent away, sometimes in countries that I’m sure my parents would wish I hadn’t chosen to live in, it is a privilege to spend this time together – without the stress of work or other commitments.

I’ve come a long way since February. I can’t say how exactly; the changes which occur during a transition are not always earth-shattering. But maybe they wouldn’t happen at all if we hadn’t chosen to take that giant leap of faith into the unknown.

No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.

 Agnes De Mille

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