It’s not just me that this has happened to. There’s nothing particularly unique or terrible about my situation, and other people have things much worse than I do.
Five years ago, I found myself looking for a job. I didn’t get one. I remember this because I thought, at the time, it might be a few weeks or a few months before I had something sorted out. Weeks and months went past. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking, or that I wasn’t trying hard enough, but nothing changed. Friends were supportive. Some offered little bits of paid work, if they could, others offered advice. Something would come along.
I had a Plan B. That plan was to be a teacher, and it hasn’t really worked out. It’s partly me being me – as one trying-to-be-helpful headteacher put it, “You just don’t look like a teacher, why don’t you go away and try something else” – and partly something else that I haven’t fully understood. Friends have been a bit less understanding, for some reason. “Well, you have all the advantages on your side,” said one, and I suppose they were trying to be helpful, too. Teachers haven’t been especially kind, either. For a profession that’s built around developing other human beings’ skills, a lot of people seem to think you’re either “a born teacher” or you’re not.
When I used to report on non-league football, a manager once told me that he divided his players into two groups: “some of them need an arm round the shoulder and some of them need a kick up the arse”. For some reason, people seem to have put me in the latter category. I need tough love. Kick me and kick me and kick me, and it will make me work. Tell me I’m shit, and somehow I’ll get better. Tell me I’ve failed, and I’ll somehow do better. Tell me I’m worthless, and somehow I will thank you for it. I find it faintly disappointing that it hasn’t, seeing as they’re all so sure it’s the right way to go about these things, but I am afraid to say it hasn’t.
There have been a couple of times when people have tried to help. Once, someone rejecting me for a job, when discovering I had already had 29 job interviews as a teacher, and I’d been trying to get one for three years, started going quiet on the other end of the phone, and ended up putting it down on me because he didn’t know what else to say. I kind of felt sorry for him, but then I thought, why not just give me a fucking job, you cunt, but you won’t, will you?
I had in my head that something would have gone somewhere. That something would have worked out. It really isn’t that I haven’t tried hard enough, but there isn’t anything there, or enough there to make any kind of difference. And time ticks on, and you get older and older. Being unemployed at 36 is disappointing, but at 41 it’s downright unpleasant. When you have a child who depends on you, and you’re barely making enough money to cover your costs, you feel like you’re just walking in the dark.
You get turned down for entry-level jobs that anyone could do, but which apparently you can’t. You get turned down for jobs you’ve already done. You get turned down by people you’ve already worked for, for several weeks, on a temporary basis, where you know the ins and outs of the place so much better than anyone coming in from outside. You get turned down for everything, everywhere. This is how it is.
It gets more and more difficult to slap on the fake smile and approach every application with enthusiasm (!) and excitement (!) and passion (!) and all of those things. You get to an interview and you see someone half your age, who’s twice as keen, and full of ideas, and is going to stay later than you are, and doesn’t have a child to go home to, and you know what’s going to happen, and you know you were them, once, but you’re not them anymore, and all you can think of is silently pushing them down the fire escape in between bits of smalltalk so that for once you can actually fucking get a fucking job.
I’m sorry. It gets you down. It gets you down after the first couple of weeks, but you think you can stay optimistic. You think things are going to go your way. After all, there’s nothing you can’t do, is there? You’re qualified and you’ve got hard work behind you, you’ve got a decent CV – all right, it’s not in the right profession, but still, it’ll help you somehow – and something will come along. Something will work. Something will get you through it all. But it won’t. It won’t. It doesn’t.
August stretches out forever. I have three applications awaiting rejection. Oh, I know, let me patronise you and pat YOU on the head for once. Maybe I shouldn’t be so pessimistic! Maybe that’s what’s making it not work out! Maybe I should just be more cheerful after five years of constant failure! Maybe if I spent less time being so gloomy it’d all just fall in my lap! After all, I do have all the advantages! I know, I know. Of course.
I have dreams of things that I miss from work. Getting money, obviously, is one of them, or grumbling about putting money in a pension – you still have to as a temporary agency worker, but it’s about £2.50 a year, and that gets eaten up in administration fees anyway, for what it’s worth. You dream about the gloomy office canteen. You dream about bitching about people sitting at the desk opposite on email to the person next to you. You dream about the sheer, overwhelming, tedious fucking banality of work. Because that’s what you can’t get. An ordinary life. Not for you.