It never occurred to me that I would be unemployed in mid-life. Well, yes, it had occurred to me when my tits were still perky and my mind malleable, so I went to grad school, got a Ph.D. and embarked on what was once a promising and stellar career. But after I found myself in the cross-hairs of those in institutional power, my carefully-constructed career came tumbling down and before I knew it, I was a single mother out of work in mid-life, heading straight for a cardboard box in some downtown doorway where a pint of spirits in a brown paper bag might be my only hope. Life gets that way sometimes.
While I haven't yet fallen that far through the cracks of life, I have learned a few things along the way. The first is that once the paycheck goes, so, too, do the friends and colleagues. Next to go are the designer clothes and unscuffed shoes, and after that, the high credit score and weekly pizzas. Soon it's socks and underwear and not long after, food for the kid and gas for the car. Before you know it, phone sex and drug dealing sound like wise career moves, and pre-demise estate sales are just another way of rejecting life in the material world while tiny homes parked in someone's driveway become retirement aspirations.
Let's face it. The number one reason people find themselves stuck in the muck of the long-termed unemployed is because they're too damned old. The likelihood that anyone would hire an extremely qualified person over 40 who has been out of work for more than six months is far less than the likelihood they'll win the MegaMillions. Indeed, my guess is that the editors of this very blog post have never interviewed, much less hired, anyone who has lived more than four decades, or if they had, they've concluded they just weren't a "good fit."
It's time to have a bad fit. It's time to throw one big, everlasting, global shit fit over the fact that anyone out of work and born in the 20th century is not going to be hired in this 21st century effervescent-youth-trumps-all-economy.
But having such a fit won't get anyone very far. All it will do is prove the old and unemployed can't handle daily stress. So, in the spirit of self-renewal and nauseating optimism, here are my top 10 tips for finding work when work won't have you.
First, look good. No matter how dismal your hopes, keep the hair cut, the nails manicured and the clothes pressed and cleaned. Never let yourself look as dismal as you feel. Stay clean and mowed and preferably, tanned if you're white, lightened if you're dark, and adorned with something pricey, like stolen cuff links or glittering but understated earrings that scream, "Kept Woman."
Second, pretend you like it. There's no sense acting like this unemployment thing is something you don't welcome. The older you are, the more likely you "retired early." Bask in it, like the undeserved heir you wish you were. Better yet, own it. Turn unemployment into a social science experiment and consider yourself a research subject. See what happens to your ideology when you don't get out of bed and make rolling over a form of stress-resistant exercise. You just might learn something. Or not.
Third, eat well. Even if you can't afford anything more than beans and rice, make them Cajun beans and rice. If all you can afford is broth, then make it consommé. Stock up on some decent spices and oils and turn anything you're eating into a foodie's wet dream. No sense in putting something bad inside your body when your body is all you've got left. And don't forget the chocolate.
Fourth, consider drugs. Why experience the painful emotions of depression, anguish, rage and misery, when you can easily destroy them? Whether alcohol, marijuana, narcotics, television or a socially acceptable script for psychotropics, there's always something to blot out reality and numb the pain before it ever has a chance of reaching your troubled neurons. Don't turn to drugs you cannot handle, but find those you clearly can. If that means a good anti-depressant or a bad baggy of weed, find it, consume it, and tell yourself you're self-medicating. It won't solve the problem and it will make it worse, but at least it will dumb it down, which is the best that you can hope for. After all, let's face it, you're heading straight for a green apron at Starbucks if you're lucky, so might as well have fun until you get there.
Fifth, lie to yourself. Tell yourself over and over that it will get better, even when all the evidence proves it won't. The more you convince yourself that your long-term unemployment is just a detour on the road to finding your bliss, the more you can put off the inevitable, which is the harsh reality that the world no longer wants you. Don't go there. Lies have value; embrace them.
Sixth, get a website. Put your face out there with a halfway decent slogan, and before you know it, people will think you're worth something. There's no need to tell them that you're unemployed if you can rebrand with a photo-shopped image of yourself as some sort of expert, sage or guru. There's nothing you haven't done or didn't do that you can't turn into a victory for self-rejuvenation; even serial killers have followed their passion and gotten things done. Treat yourself like the latest bacon novelty and you'll be surprised how far you'll go. You'll at least get as far as Kansas, if not Mississippi.
Seventh, get stupid. There's nothing to be gained by introspection, especially when it leads to the inevitable conclusion that you really blew it. Better to convince yourself that people are beautiful and so are you and in no time you'll have your own business and become an internet billionaire. Stupidity is bliss and what that means is that if you don't think about anything for any length of time, you will by default find yourself content. Go with it. Denial brings you far more than awareness ever will. Be smart, which is to say, get stupid. You'll be better off without the brain cells.
Eighth, give piano lessons. And if you can't play piano, figure out what you can do. Teach something. It will help pay the rent when the paychecks are gone, and if the paychecks do by chance come back, it will give you some income to pay off the credit cards you racked up during those dark days of unemployment. Most of all, it will remind you that you do have worth even while the world tells you otherwise. Teach something, even if you do it for free. Teaching saves lives, and yours needs saving. Just do it. Preferably with a candelabra and three-piece suit made out of rhinestones.
Eighth, serve soup to the homeless. Or drive cancer patients to their chemotherapy. Or plant flowers for the elderly who can no longer get down on their knees. Find someone who is worse off than you and use your spare time to help them survive. Get out of yourself and before you know it, you'll realize other people are in even worse shape -- and you're in much better shape than you know. Help others. They need it, as much as you do, if not more. Get humble. It does wonders for the ego.
Ninth, turn to magic. Whether that means religion, psychics or plain old fashioned hocus pocus, place your bets on the improbable, because the probable is a losing hand and that's the last thing that you need. Pray for a miracle, wager on the stars or buy the occasional lottery ticket (not more than a buck a week), and you'll have everlasting hope. And hope is what you need when reality tells you otherwise. Believe in magic and you're bound to survive. Believe in reality and you'll jump off a bridge. Don't go there.
And finally, never forget that it only takes one. For all the times you've tried to find work, connived for work, and begged for work, you only need one person to give you a shot at survival. No matter how many hundreds have turned you down, ignored you, denied you, or turned against you, the cold, hard truth is that you only need one. You only need one person to give you a shot, so never lose sight of that one. And never let that one down. No matter how humble the work or how beneath your qualifications, give that one person your very best. And believe that that one person is out there, to give you that one hand that you need, to pull you out of despair. It's your choice, to drown or reach out a hand. Reach your hand out, and maybe, just maybe, that one person you don't yet know, will grasp it.
I've been a long time unemployed, and in that time, I've survived not by counting on friends (most of whom let me down), and not by polishing my resume or projecting a "youthful image." Those are lies fit only for the mid-level blogs and the early unemployed. I've survived by pushing the worries aside, believing in miracles, and believing in myself. And most of all, by believing in that one person who will reach out their hand and pull me out of the quagmire of demoralizing long-term unemployment.
It's unfair, it's unjust, and it's a disgrace that our society discards its own in middle-age. But if there's one thing that I've learned by being unemployed it's that one way or another, I and my family will survive. And so will you, if you do nothing more than reach deep inside yourself, and pull out all the laughter and joy and magic you've long buried, hurl it far into the universe and scream, "I belong!" Because you do, and one way or another, you, too, can and will survive.
But until then, let's tell everyone we know, and everyone who's listening, that the long-termed unemployed should move not to the back, but to the front of the employment lines -- because they are the ones with experience, they are the ones who've endured, and they are the ones who will stick with the job, long after youth will flee. Anything less is discrimination and anything less is folly.
But for those standing in line with nothing more than hope at the end of their sleeve, never forget -- most will discriminate and most will cave in to folly from shear ignorance. But there's always one who won't. So for the long-term unemployed, the task is simple. Find just that one. And until then, stay stupid, stoned and strong.
Several larger corporations such as Starbucks, Target and Land's End are able to offer even their part-time employees benefits such as health coverage and paid vacation time (head over to ABC for a full list).
For those with an entrepreneurial spirit and computer know-how, the Internet offers opportunities to bring in some cash from home -- at any hour of the day or night. Take Jose and Jill Ferrer, a retired couple profiled by AARP for supplementing a freewheeling retirement with their website, Your RV Lifestyle. By highlighting certain products related to RV living, the pair earns $700 a month, AARP reports. "And we know the potential is there to grow our website business further," Jill Ferrer says. Other ideas: Etsy.com allows the crafty to turn a profit from their hobbies.
Personal care and home health aid topped the Bureau of Labor Statistics' list of the fastest growing occupations in America. The time commitment may vary (between 10 and 30 hours per week, according to SmartMoney), but the median annual wage is around $20,000 for both occupations, according to the BLS.
Bartending is not just for twentysomethings -- and for social butterflies, this part-time gig offers opportunity to rake in extra cash, not to mention tips, with a minimal initial financial investment (a 40-hour certification course at the New York City Bartending School costs a little less than $600, for example).
Age discrimination is less of a problem in government agencies, reports The Fiscal Times. In fact, agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Transportation Security Administration actively seek older workers. Visit USAJobs.gov to search for available positions.
If you've got an artistic flair or an interest in theater, makeup artists can make up to $40 an hour, and only work 20 hours a week on average, AOL Jobs reports. Disclaimer: qualifications may include formal training in cosmetology or theater, and a license is required to practice in several states.
What better way to scratch that globetrotting itch? If you're up for an on-the-go lifestyle, flight attendants also earn up to $40 an hour, making it a very well-paid part-time job.
The nonprofit sector can offer more than volunteer opportunities for retirees, and may be particularly appealing to those who "thought they wanted to change the world ... [but] put that on the back burner for 20 or 30 years while they climbed the corporate ladder," as Tamara Erickson, author of "Retire Retirement: Career Strategies for the Boomer Generation," told The Wall Street Journal. To get started, Idealist.org offers listings for available paid positions in addition to volunteer opportunities: applicants with years of experience under their belts are sure to be met with open arms. Even cooler, Encore.org offers paid Encore Fellowships to "match skilled, experienced professionals at the end of their midlife careers with social-purpose organizations" -- while earning a small stipend for part- or full-time work, midlifers can get their foot in the door to a fulfilling retirement job.
The pay may not be great, but if you're an arts lover, a history buff or a sports enthusiast, the perks certainly are!
"I studied hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy 3 years ago and now I have my own business, couldn't be happier" -- Huff/Post50 reader Lee Adley It's certainly a challenge, but as our amazing readers -- and the many men and women featured on our page -- can attest, going back to school and pursuing something totally different can be well worth the investment of time, money and energy.
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