The last time I had a job interview that resulted in getting a permanent job was October 2007. The last time I had a permanent job was June 2011.
You don’t realise at the time it’s never going to be that easy ever again. You don’t think. Sure, you’ve had setbacks but you assume that somehow it will change. Things have been generally good before, you’ve struggled at times but you’ve succeeded in the end. You’re wired to think life is, generally, fair. You have privileges that help you. You don’t think that might ever end.
It ends. It’s impossible to tell when it ends but there comes a point when people look at the same cv and the same experience and the same skills and think less of them than they did before. You aren’t valuable anymore, you’re limited.
At first it doesn’t seem obvious why that might be. You think you’re a decent employee, maybe not one of the best in the world but certainly not one of the worst. You’re willing to put in the hours, and you do. You have some talents and skills you can use, and useful experience, more and more of it all the time. But it ends. You are no longer useful. You are no longer valuable. You’re limited.
Maybe it’s just those employers, you think. Maybe it’s just these circumstances. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. Maybe I’m not cheerful or exciting or optimistic enough. Maybe it’s that. You try again. You work harder on it. You listen to feedback. You work on it. You do things differently even if it’s uncomfortable for you, because it’s worth changing. Everyone tells you to be flexible and adaptable and you want to work, so you do the things you’re told to do, and you can do it. But it’s not about whether you can do it.
You notice something else. There are other people who have the same skills as you, or not quite as many, or the same level of experience, or sometimes less, and they start getting the jobs you don’t get. They are men and women. They are from all different backgrounds. But they are all. Young. Younger. Than you.
You don’t want to have a chip on your shoulder or to seem bitter, so you ignore it at first. You must be wrong. The world is fair, and you aren’t entitled to anything, you have to work for it, and that’s fine, because you can compete, and you can just keep working and something will come along.
Something doesn’t come along. You have a series of temporary jobs. People, who are younger, join after you and pass you by. Everything is passing you by. You suddenly look around and it’s just you left there on the bottom rung, going nowhere. Everyone else moves on and passes you by. You don’t move on because you can’t move on. There is nowhere to go.
All of these bastards. They turn up and smile and have no worries about anything, and they take that job instead of you, and they go. But there is never anything for you. Not for you. That isn’t the way it works.
It becomes harder and harder to look at the mounting evidence without coming to the same conclusion. Because it doesn’t just happen once, or most of the time. It happens every time. Nothing you do will ever be good enough.
People say, but something will come along. But it doesn’t. And you feel worse because you bother them with your fears and worries and anxieties. So you try and hide it all. You keep it all inside. Even though it hurts you all the time, you try and keep it concealed. The thing that is eating away at you and hurting you and making you shuffle off quietly to the work toilets and sit on the seat in your trousers and cry until no tears come out. And you dry your face and come back to your desk and type some things into an email, and people talk about it their holidays, or some aspect of their more senior work that doesn’t involve you.
You feel like a shell, just a heap of old skin draped over old bones. You’re watching someone else do these things. You don’t even feel like you’re in your own body. But the only thing you do feel is the pain. Sometimes it gets more numb and sometimes it hurts more openly but it’s always there. And it won’t go away because you can’t get what you want, although you try, and every time you try you dare to hope and dare to dream that this time might be the time you get out of this mess.
You try to pass as someone who isn’t feeling this. Sometimes you can’t help it from coming to surface, a bitter word, something that sounds out of place, a sigh in the middle of a four-hour meeting that indicates something short of the compliant nods and warm interesting mumbles you’re supposed to bring to the party. It slips out. You can’t help it. You want to jump on the table and scream and kick these people in the face.
And it doesn’t stop. There is no happy ending because there was never going to be one, but you didn’t know that back then, when it seemed so simple. But you didn’t know and you didn’t appreciate it. And now it’s gone. It’s passed you by and it’s never coming back.
And it isn’t that easy to pick yourself back up every time because every time it hurts harder. And there comes a point where you have no fight left, and you want to give up and stop trying, and stop trying to care. You want to stop hurting. Maybe it’ll stop hurting if you stop caring. But it still hurts, because all you want is all you want, and all you want is what you can’t have.
Something won’t come along.