Everyone deserves the chance of a job. Why? Because unemployment sucks.
Take it from an expert.
I was born lucky. I was born into the ‘lucky sperm club', living a gilded youth thanks to a whole drawer-full of silver spoons. I was sent to 'that school' (yup, that one) in the same gambling ring as ‘Dave’ and a few years below a polar bear of a boy called Boris. Don't judge me; my parents chose it. Mine was a charmed existence, with untold access to opportunity and a 'fast track' career pathway mapped out for life.
That is until 3 pm on April 16th, 2009, when my senior sales-executive role in the US was made redundant.
I was suddenly unemployed. Jobless. Wholly unoccupied.
But unemployment was something that happened to 'other people'. People who maybe didn’t work as hard as me, people who perhaps weren’t as good at their jobs as me - or God forbid - people who had screwed up. Bottom line, after 23 years of upward career mobility and continuous employment – for global leaders in the hospitality and drinks industries respectively - life was good, and unemployment was somebody else’s problem.
Then the music stopped and there was no chair left for me. The fact that I had been made redundant only as a result of the 'Great Recession' was irrelevant. Suddenly, in the length of a three-minute telephone call, my cherished professional status went into freefall. I was no longer in the fast lane; I could forget about being a corporate player. Just like that, I had a new alter ego: loser, failure.
I was utterly consumed by an appalling, visceral sense of shame. I had catastrophically failed my own beloved family - the people I loved most and the children who depended on me.
As anyone who has been out of work can attest - and there have been plenty more of those in the pandemic - there are zero redeeming features to unemployment. Forget the hackneyed clichés about spending quality time with your family or using the precious newfound weeks as a chance to learn new skills. That - as we Brits like to say - is bollocks.
It's not a blessing in disguise - it's a ticking time bomb. Your Mission (almost) Impossible – find a new job in a role that appeals, offering the right compensation, in a company that suits, at a location that works. And all before the ticking stops.
And unemployment can quickly unravel your prospects of getting re-employed. Losing my job was like a tsunami, trashing my self-worth and obliterating my self-confidence. Depression hit - uncharted territory to an unswerving optimist like me. Suddenly, people crossed the street to avoid awkward conversations or talked in muted tones when I entered the room. Or was I just being paranoid? The sleepless nights, the miserable rewriting of CVs, the uncaring recruiters avoiding my ever-more desperate calls, and above all the soul-sucking cycle of rejection after rejection. When I looked in the mirror, I could hardly recognise my haunted reflection. Was I simply unemployable?
It turns out that I wasn’t. But the second job ended in redundancy just like the first and dropped me right back into the same bleak abyss. At times, life felt like a petrifying street fight against Mike Tyson packing a large baseball bat and a grudge. It wasn't just a job search; this was a fight for the survival of everything that mattered to me.
I needed to find reserves of resilience and strength that I never knew existed. Failure was simply not an option. My rallying cry to myself: dig deep; dig deeper than ever before. Never let go of hope. Never, ever give up. And above all, stay in the fight. After all, it takes just ONE punch.
And then, out of the blue it happened. An astonished Tyson hit the cobbles. An actual job offer! Gainful employment. Miracles of miracles, an exciting new role before the proverbial clock stopped ticking. Someone actually believed in ME!
The sheer unadulterated ecstasy, giddy euphoria, the newfound bounce in my step and above all the utter and total relief! I was BACK!
Just not for long. In the next few years, I repeated the same cycle again and again. Several more redundancies, one excruciating firing, the agony of two so-near-and-yet-so-far entrepreneurial ventures and finally one medical discharge thanks to a doozy of a nervous breakdown on the garden porch.
I was in the grip of an unimaginable nightmare, triggered by a potent cocktail of serial redundancy, a couple of swindlers, numerous sociopaths and topped off, it turned out, by undiagnosed bipolar disorder. It's a condition that I now see as a huge competitive advantage – but at the time it was enough to get me sectioned and trigger a cataclysmic life collapse.
After a brief sojourn in a charming psychiatric ward outside New York city, I returned to the UK. It was 2015 and I was alone, having lost everything I valued.
As a white, (formerly) married, middle-class male, job discrimination was an unfamiliar shock. But suddenly there it was, gratuitously staring me in the eye. I was too old, I was overqualified, and since I had a mental health condition, I was likely to start drooling on the carpet at any moment. Not that any of these reasons were ever given, just implied.
Was this what it felt like to be born on the ‘wrong side of the track’, to have the 'wrong' coloured skin, ‘wrong’ religion, to talk or behave in the 'wrong' way? How it felt to have your actual talent and capability rendered irrelevant by accident of identity or history?
I took the only job I could get within biking range of my mother's cottage in Suffolk: assistant cleaner in the frozen meat division of a local food processing plant. It was a zero-hour contract for minimum wage and performed at a numbingly cold minus-50 degrees. The extensive health & safety guidance amounted to this: if or when your eyelids froze up, get the hell out quick before hypothermia kicks in. It had been a mighty fall, but it was paid work and I stuck it out for five long, frigid months until an opportunity to get back on the ‘career ladder’- naturally several rungs lower - finally arrived.
This was an opportunity to regroup, rebuild and reassess. It meant that I was prepared in March 2018, when I was made redundant once more, and unemployed for the seventh time in a decade. This time I decided to ‘exit right’ from the corporate world once and for all; to move to the non-profit sector to try to 'change the world' and ideally give new hope to others.
How? I had no clue; although helping people find access to employment and regain hope was certainly going to play a central role. That much I did know.
And why? Because if there was one thing I knew, it was this: a job provides for your family, a job nourishes your self-worth; a job is hope in a bottle, rocket-fuel for the soul. A job changes everything. Everyone deserves the chance to have one.
Oh, and because unemployment sucks.
Take it from an expert.
The Bridge of Hope is the missing link between charities - and now universities - with ‘untapped talent’ and inclusive employers seeking to be more diverse and with jobs to fill. email@example.com
A version of this article was originally published in September 2020 on LinkedIn.