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unemployment and coronavirus

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Just one month ago, it felt like my career and my partner’s career were going well. We both had projects we were excited about. We felt we’d built some clout. We woke up passionate and excited about our work. We had things we were looking forward to. We were also fortunate enough to have just moved into a condo we’d worked and saved long and hard to purchase. It felt like things were moving along. It felt like, perhaps, how things should feel for a couple in their mid thirties who’ve been working hard for well over a decade. Now, I’m realizing that having any sort of notion how things “should” be is selfish, naïve, and futile.

 

Fast forward to today. My boyfriend’s work has come to a complete halt. As someone who creates ads for mostly physical businesses like smoothie shops and workout equipment, he’s in a tough spot. The economy has shut down. Gyms are closed so they aren’t buying fitness equipment so the people who manufacture said workout equipment aren’t hiring anyone to help them market their stuff. Smoothie stores have not been deemed “essential businesses” by the government, so they’re closed, and aren’t paying anybody to create engaging and quirky Facebook banner ads for them. I’m fortunate that my work still stands. But, just a few weeks ago, I was doing it from our finally furnished new condo, feeling really grateful and really hopeful. I’d made a nest for myself. I’d worked hard for that nest and was starting to make it feel like home. And now, I’m in my boyfriend’s family cabin in Colorado which is, naturally, a wonderful place to be but we are here because we escaped the big city. We weren’t sure how bad things would get as the pandemic worsened, so I had to kiss my new little nest goodbye for…I don’t know how long.

 

These are admittedly rich man’s problems. But it’s okay to admit if we’re struggling with some of the emotional implications of the changes that are occurring. And for a lot of us, those can surround our career. Here are career existential crises you may be having right now.

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Have people forgotten me?

It’s natural to wonder if people in your industry have totally forgotten that you exist. And, honestly, they may not be thinking about you, but that’s only because they aren’t thinking of anyone besides themselves and their loved ones right now. I can promise you that there isn’t someone else in the industry who has their attention. Their family has their attention.

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Am I falling behind?

In order for you to fall behind the rest of the world would have to keep moving, and it isn’t. Everybody in your line of work is on hiatus. If you can’t do what you normally do right now due to the pandemic, then that means nobody else who does it can, either.

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Will my industry die?

That is unlikely. Even if you do something deemed “unessential” right now—like if you’re a live performer—it’s hard to crush the human spirit and the need for exciting new experiences and interactions. Human kind, as a whole, has a way they like to do things. Industries that have existed for decades (or centuries!) have done so for a reason: people want them. And they’ve existed through several recessions, the black plague—you name it. So, no, your industry probably won’t die. It just may be slow to bounce back.

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Will my industry forever change?

Naturally, there are fears that, when everything returns to “normal” that it won’t be normal at all, and that your industry will be unrecognizable. I’m watching my father-in-law, who is a lawyer, take all his meetings via Zoom and FaceTime right now, and that’s just not really the nature of law—typically. But, again, I’ll say that the human spirit is hard to crush. We like things a certain way. We need things a certain way. And we can’t live in fear of a virus forever. Though it could take a year or more, your industry will likely return to what you mostly know it to be. Perhaps with a few small tweaks.

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Will I forget how to do what I do?

That depends. How long have you been doing it? If you’ve done what you’ve done—say, been a writer or singer or comedian or mechanic—for many, many years, it’s in your bones now. You may be ever so slightly rusty after this break, but you can’t forget what you do. It’s no longer a matter of forgetting or remembering. It’s who you are now. It’s in your DNA. Don’t worry.

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Have I lost all my clout?

I know that I personally was just making headway on some important relationships when this all fell apart. Now I wonder if I will have lost all my clout. But, look, the powers at be will get back to work eventually. Then they’ll need to decide who they want to work with. The ones freshest in their memory will probably be whomever they were having good interactions with, before the pandemic started.

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Is what I do even useful?

This is a very normal question to ask right now, when the country itself has decided that, basically, medical workers, bankers, and grocery store employees are the only “essential” professionals. So what about you, with your frozen vegan kids lunch business? Or your…jewelry store? The thing is that, what makes us human, is that we want so much more than to just eat, sleep, and do it again. Whatever you make or do, people will still want it. For a while, they may focus on the “essentials,” but they’ll remember that joy and luxuries and excitement are also essential to our existence.

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Is what I do perhaps silly?

I’m telling you, the government deciding what jobs matter and what jobs don’t is really playing games with our minds, right? My partner and I have been watching a lot of “Shark Tank,” lately, and I look at all the individuals with all the products and services that could seem “silly” in the wake of a pandemic. But please believe me that it is human nature to want to keep growing, evolving, and experiencing new things. Even comedians who make literally silly content are necessary. What is life without laughter? No, what you do isn’t silly. Even if it is technically silly.

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Should I pick a more “stable job?”

The shutdown of the economy has been traumatic for many. Naturally, some individuals are left wondering if they should go find a recession-proof job, like a doctor or a pharmacist or a delivery truck driver. But if you do that, you’ll be living a life of fear. You’ll be always in preparedness mode for the worst, rather than enjoying the good times. Perhaps, take this situation as a reminder to just save a bit more each month for hard times, but still do what you love.

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Am I a bad person for remaining employed?

I feel guilty for having a job right now. I really do. How can I not, when so many are struggling? And you might feel bad if you’re employed, too. You may think, “Any of my unemployed friends could do this job—why do I get to have it?” but that thinking doesn’t get anyone far. You know what gets someone far? If you perhaps share a little bit of your money right now with someone who can’t afford to feed herself or pay her rent. Don’t feel bad about your employment. Share the fruits of your labor.

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Will I need a whole new skillset?

It’s a normal question to ask. So many people are doing everything they do online right now. People are making more online content. People are taking more meetings online or even teaching classes online. You may panic that you have to learn a new skillset. Don’t panic: embrace it. If it weren’t for this pandemic, there would be another time those skills would be put to good use.

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What about all my coworkers?

You may be missing your coworkers right now, or your clients, or your colleagues, or your customers. What happens to those relationships if the nature of your work changes? It’s normal to wonder that. And to miss everybody! Now is a good time to stay in touch with everyone. Touch base. Ask how they’re doing. Ask how you can help them right now—not network or work for them but help them. They’ll remember that when things return to normal.

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Is there a point in working now?

You may feel creatively stifled. You may not be feeling too ambitious. It can feel like everything is happening in a vacuum, and you can’t see the payoff of your efforts in the traditional way you normally would. But yes, it’s worth it to keep hustling and keep working on your craft. You’ll feel it when things return to normal. Likewise, if you pause all advancement, you’ll feel that, too.

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Is this a sign?

Is this pandemic some sort of a sign that you’re in the wrong line of work? If you haven’t been seeing the results you wanted at the speed you wanted, and were losing steam on your goals before this outbreak, you may be thinking, “Maybe this was a sign.” Stop right there. This pandemic has done only bad things for basically everyone. It can’t possibly be a sign that everyone in the world was on the wrong path. It’s a pandemic. It’s nature. It sucks. It’s not a sign.

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Who am I without my career?

If you really can’t work much right now, you may be faced with the scary realization that you don’t really know who you are without your work. Well…maybe it’s good to realize that. There will be plenty of times in life you may not have your work. Motherhood. Other periods of unemployment. Extended family emergencies. Maybe this is a good time to figure out who you are—what is permanent about you—without accolades and success.

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