The worst thing about unemployment

Now that I’m more than a month into my current unemployment, I’m starting to find it all a bit overwhelming. But not for the reasons you might think.

It’s 10am on a weekday and I’m sitting in a café, sipping my on-the-whole-pretty-decent large flat white, writing this. It’s not a bad life, really.

My sister and I were joking that being a Trophy Wife is a feasible career option for me. By joking, I mean only half joking, because it is extremely difficult for me to be bored. I could devote myself to philanthropic causes – I mean, that’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do anyway. Or I could be perfectly happy sitting in nature and pondering – all day, on my own.

2015-07-28 Día de Soledad 08
Note: Not the actual large flat white I was sipping at Table Eighty-Ate. The pictured beverage is a cappuccino (which looks suspiciously like a flat white!). Courtesy of Typica café in La Paz – the only good milk coffee I ever had in Bolivia.

The thing is that in reality, I have chosen unemployment. I am not a “dole bludger” – I don’t receive any government benefits. I am not a spoilt rich kid – I don’t receive any rent assistance from my parents.

My situation is this: I’ve managed to save enough money to choose to not work, for a time. And I have a safety net if my savings ever run out. It’s a luxury I enjoy here in the affluent world.

Really, the most overwhelming thing about my current unemployment is the very thing that led to and sustains it: choice.

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Now I’m not talking here about mere indecision – though that is definitely one of my character flaws. I’m talking about balancing freedom and responsibility.

I have the ridiculous freedom to be picky about the work that I will do. I could get a job waiting tables or in an office doing something tedious that pays well – not because I’m awesome, but because I’m a sufficiently normal and sufficiently competent human being, with the legal right to work in a country like Australia. Plus I happen to have a degree.

Now don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with waiting tables or doing tedious office work, and I have had positive experiences doing both those things. It’s simply that neither of those are the best use of my time, my particular skills and passions.

This is where the idea of responsibility weighs in. I am picky because some years ago I recognised that my time, skills and passions belong to God. I’ve given my everything over to Him. I would go anywhere and do anything He tells me to.

The problem is He hasn’t told me to go anywhere or do anything. And it’s not that He’s been absent, or even silent. On the contrary, He’s been talking to me about all sorts of things that are unrelated to life choices.

The problem is He seems to have given my freedom back to me. And I am struggling with that because I don’t know what the most responsible thing to do is. I could be content doing any number of things – but what’s the best use of my freedom, of my time, skills and passions?

fork-in-the-road
Photo credit: You Choose Your Path via photopin (license)

On one level, the hardest thing about my current unemployment is having too many options available to me. Most teenagers are itching for more freedom. I consider myself an adolescent when it comes to faith, but perhaps I am coming into adulthood, entering into that stage where I have to make decisions – make spiritual decisions and live by them, be prepared for my good intentions to fail.

After years of indecision, I managed to narrow down the career path I’d like to pursue, identify something that I am good at and passionate about, something that makes the world a better place.

But now I get to thinking I should consider more than jobs in deciding my next steps. What about church? Relationship possibilities? Family? My unresolved and irrational desire to live in Europe?

I want my life to honour, not squander, the privilege that has been bestowed on me. Half the struggle is actually me trying to not feel guilty about choosing what I do with my life. Trying to accept that I can choose something for myself that is equally about God. Trying to understanding that a faith decision doesn’t necessarily have to be sacrificial in nature to be good.

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I was going to end this post there. But as I review what I’ve drafted, doors are closing, and I know that I am not far from getting to a place where I can make a faith-filled, peace-filled decision. Take the next step in this neverending process of growing up.

Stay tuned.

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PS: The title of this post should be The hardest thing about unemployment. Because the worst thing is not freedom vs responsibility and wrestling with my privilege – the suckiest thing is the pity that I get from well-meaning people, including friends. (If you are reading this and realising you are one of these people, relax – it’s fine, I’m not upset at you).

PPS: Not that you’d care, but I’ll tell you anyway. The best things about unemployment have been:

  • Sleeping in
  • Getting up and having no obligations – only possibilities!
  • Spending the entire day at the beach in 26 degree mid-May weather
  • Being able to get up to watch the football at 5am and then go straight back to bed without worrying about needing to function during the day
  • No crowds at the shops or on public transport
  • Time to breathe, reflect, process

PPPS: I’ve substantially reworked this post after some helpful feedback from a few readers. I realised that the original emphasis on choice wasn’t an accurate reflection of my current thinking and have restructured and rephrased parts of the body of the post to highlight that my struggle is one with privilege and with balancing freedom and responsibility. I’m grateful for the comments that have helped make this a better post!

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