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The Effect of Unemployment: Remembering Who We Are [An Anonymous Guest Post]

October 28, 2013 by Lady Unemployed

I love when people take a leap of faith and write me about their thoughts of unemployment. If you would like to write a post for my blog, please send me an email at It can remain anonymous. The rest of this post is written by an anonymous submitter.


Unemployment can affect individuals in a way that is much more profound than many people may realise. Of course, not having a job means not earning money, and consequently there are many practical and economic problems which are not to be under-estimated.

However, it is the way it can affect you mentally that I feel needs to be highlighted. This is the hidden part of the unemployment=unhappiness equation that is not helped with a £71 government cheque. It is a insidious black cloud that can hang over people who are looking for work, and it often goes unnoticed. It affects each person differently but can be both subtle and debilitating.

Personally, for someone whose self-image was linked strongly to my job and career, it was easy to start to lose sight of my identity. I thought ‘If I am not working as a designer, then am I still a designer? Or creative? What am I now?’ If you are in this position then you have to re-structure your way of looking at yourself and the world. You have to re-program the way you perceive not only yourself, but others, in a world where society puts people into boxes – ‘Professional’, ‘Blue Collar’, ‘Creative’. You have to remind yourself that you are an individual made up of an un-definable number of unique traits and characteristics, and are not just a label. You have so many talents and idiosyncrasies; you are not just defined by your job. However it can be hard to move the focus away from your career when you live in a world where the second question people tend to ask is ‘What do you do?’. We all know they don’t mean ‘what do you do for fun?’ but really ‘what do you do for WORK?’. This leads you to ask yourself –

What DO I do?

If I was a designer before but haven’t done it in a year, is that still what I am?

Or can I be something different?

Or, am I nothing because nobody seems to want to employ me?

The answer to the last question is obviously no, you are not nothing, but I am demonstrating how easy it can be to think that way when you are confronted with that question for the 100th time. After many months of job hunting, it can get harder and harder to tough it out. It is quite easy at first, but each time the question ‘What do you do?’ is asked it becomes more meaningful, each time you doubt yourself a little more.

Most people would find it easy to understand how someone who has been out of work can lose some self-esteem when it comes to their career. But I think that what a lot of people don’t realise is that it can also affect your self-esteem throughout the other areas of your life as well. The self-doubt goes beyond the workplace, and seeps into how you feel about yourself in general.

If you can break through the darkness however, I think that there is some healthy self-exploration that can be made in this time. You can take advantage of the negatives and actually get a step ahead of everyone else. Being in this position can help you to break free from the boxes that people love to put you in. It stops you asking the same question of ‘what do you do?’ when you meet someone new, and pushes you to be more inventive with your small talk – maybe you will learn something about who the person really is and not just how they earn money. I don’t want to discount people who really do live for their jobs, these people are defined by what they do for a living, and want it this way. Though equally, the same argument can still be made – a musician might have a lot more too them than their music. They might have a passion for silent movies, love skiing, and volunteer with old people every week….

When I talked to someone about the things I had been struggling with, he asked me what I thought my intrinsic qualities were. I was at a loss. All I could think of was the list of key skills on my CV, but this wasn’t what he meant. He meant the unique and special qualities that I have as a person, and which speak about who I really am, and make me, well….me. It scared me that I wasn’t really sure. I had become so caught up in trying to sell myself to employers, that I had lost sight of the truth of who I was. It made me realise how easy it is to forget the qualities that you don’t put on your resume – ‘Always writes something nice in birthday cards’, ‘Dances the robot really badly’, ‘Shows what she is thinking through the expressions on her face’. These are some of the silly little things that make me who I am. And just because I won’t be publicising them to potential employers, doesn’t mean I should forget them, or be any less proud of them, or think that they are any less part of me than having ‘a good attention to detail’. Hell, I’d rather be known for an hilariously bad robot than for meeting deadlines anyway….

Employers – don’t employ people because you feel sorry for them, but do open your mind and give people a chance. If someone has the appropriate transferable skills but hasn’t worked in that industry before, think ‘do they have they passion?’ ‘Do they really want it?’, maybe they could actually bring something new to the table and provide fresh insights.

Friends and family, your role here isn’t so much about helping with the job hunt, or paying the rent (although no doubt this help will be needed!). You are there to support the person – the real person that is inside of this situation. They may be lost, or just at a loss. They might have forgotten who they are, or what they are trying to achieve. You need to remind them of the things that make them unique, and I am not just referring to the traits that make them attractive to potential employers. I am talking about the reasons why you love them, why they are in your life, and why they couldn’t be replaced. Because sometimes it can be as simple as that to help us remember who we


  1. Antonette B. says:

    I empathize completely with your thoughts about the impact unemployment has on your perception of yourself. I have been unemployed for almost three years. I left what was my dream job to relocate to another state with my spouse. I am college educated and certified in my profession, so I did not worry much about my prospects to land another job. I, however, did not consider a few significant differences in my circumstances at the time of this move as compared to previous ones. They are the worst recession since the depression, turning 50 years old and the departure of my youngest child for college (aka empty nest). I have experienced insecurity and self doubt that I can best describe as debilitating. My fragility is like that of a teenager some days. Unemployment is not a relatable condition for most of my family or friends, therefore it is not discussed. The patent line of “hang in there” or “it will work out” sting rather than soothe. Not being able to convey these feelings serves only to intensify them. I find enormous comfort whenever I am able to find someone sharing their experiences. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and candid essay on this problem.

  2. cynthia says:

    the person who wrote this is to be commended – not only for honesty and openness, but also for the underpinning insight that money and jobs aren’t what makes a person, without dismissing their importance. Thank you.

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