After work, I had to stop by our friends’ house to pick up glasses that Chris left the last time we came over. Our couple friend, who we met just two years ago, have become regular hangout buddies for us in Manhattan. We really don’t have that many couple friends we see on a regular basis, and we’ve bonded pretty well over the last couple of years. The guy of the couple has been in a deep job search switching industries for the last ten months and hasn’t had luck in securing a role.
Although I intended to stay only about 10 minutes, I probably stayed over 40 given that he was so down about the search and how long it’s taken, especially given that he’s trying to switch industries. I can empathize given that I’ve had periods of unemployment before, and I do truly feel bad for him given that I know he has been actively searching, applying, prepping, and interviewing, so it’s certainly not due to a lack of effort at all. But what made me the most sad about the conversation is how I’ve realized that for so many of us here in the U.S., our jobs are our livelihood and so much of our identity, even if we are not the Steve Jobs or the Elon Musks of the world who are creating massive changes and are billionaires. We’re just everyday workers soldiering on. When we don’t have a job, we feel as though we are worth less, and we need that job, that income, that form of stability to feel “worthy,” as though our lives truly matter. He said he’s felt ashamed and embarrassed a lot during the last ten months. I get that, as I’ve had similar feelings in the past. Would people coming from other cultures feel the same way if they were unemployed for that long? It’s not really about him as much as it is about the society we are born into and live in every single day. When Chris’s cousin’s wife from France didn’t work for over a year and half between the time she graduated from business school to our wedding, we spoke and texted often, yet not even once did she mention feeling bad about not working, not making money, or feeling like being jobless made her feel like she was worthless or incapable of being.
I told him what I really think, which is — I’m not friends with him because he was working at a large company before and because he had an MBA; we’re friends with him because he’s a good, interesting person who is enjoyable to be around. That’s why most of our friends are our friends. He’s the same person to us now without a job as he was before when he was working full time. None of that really matters to us or to anyone who really should matter to him. It just makes me sad that so much of what we all do is tied to paid work that at the end of the day, probably isn’t going to matter a lot when we’re all on our death beds. All of us may work really hard, but there are plenty of people higher on the ladder who do less work who will inevitably get compensated more and think they are worth more. Work, work, work; money, money, money. The capitalist way. That’s our world.