by John Jay Miller, librarian
Zen and the Art of Unemployment-or-Catcher in the Wry
February 3, 2014
“I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man”. It is 2:00AM on a Tuesday and I am unemployed. I have applied for over 70 jobs and remain unemployed after 5 months. Instead of turning to the underground, I’m determined to scrutinize this state of unemployment and its Zen, if any there exists.
Others might offer you advice or suggestions how to overcome unemployment, I cannot. What I can offer you are insights into what unemployment has taught me. That which has now shaped me, these qualities, that once having now yielded to them as allies rather than enemies are something which could never be offered by employment. They have made me a better person.
I haven’t sought to live meanly nor have I sought wisdom in leaves of grass but I assure you without duplicity, dear reader, that I have found these to be the best of times and the worst of times.
“As I awoke one morning from uneasy dreams I found myself transformed in my bed into a monstrous insect.” I was unemployed. It felt like an infected wound in my back. I knew no matter how much I scurried about I would only end up climbing the walls. I couldn’t hide under the carpet. I had to make the best of it and develop my skills. Instead of allowing myself to become wounded like a helpless creature, I had to set realistic goals. I’ve chose to become pro-active in my own life. This has taught resilience and determination.
“For a long time, I went to bed early” in search of lost time. One day, “it was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” I realized rather than yearning for the taste of times past or risk becoming a character in my own dystopic future, the pursuit of employment demanded honing my skills of critical analysis. Some job seekers are created more equal than others, it is true, and in a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. The economy is not improving. Ignorance is not strength. I had to do the research. This has created a greater overall sense of self-empowerment and self-possession.
“In my younger and more vulnerable years”, I found patience was less a virtue than an obstacle to be overcome. However- more accurately to the point, “my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the unemployment that you’ve had.”
It has become heartening to realize that others do have it better. Yes- that’s right. A fact that requires attaining a sense of humility; to know others are gainfully employed has further yielded to a sense of gratefulness on my part, I am fortunate. Others do have it worse as well. This balance has helped straighten my priorities. “The rich are different than you and me, dear reader. Yes, they have more money.
This time spent waiting here now sitting there has taught the greater skill of patience. Despite being close to finding employment on numerous occasions like a beacon of green light from across a watery bay, I can see it but cannot reach out and grasp it. This exercise of endurance requires a personal resolve necessitating inner-strength beyond that which employment has ever demanded. This has distilled an overall sense of confidence in myself and my abilities.
I may not be speeding along in a convertible for right now but unemployment has certainly taught me to be more appreciative of the good times. Besides, speeding along in a yellow coupe may lead to tragedy old sport.
For now, unemployment has given me the tools I need to work on myself and that has led to the development of greater self-awareness. Zen
Thank you dear reader for your time, your consideration and your sense of humor.
your humble servant.
John Jay Miller
*PS The author and his two dogs live with his shattered ego somewhere in upstate NY and cleverly used opening lines in famous works above to show how universal the job hunt is to human existence
John Miller is a ten-year Air Force veteran who graduated in 2012 with an MSIS and History MA.
His enjoyment of classic literature began with Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau. His ongoing fascination with Russian literature began fifteen years ago while reading Tolstoy in Air Force base libraries. Recent experiences include literacy volunteering and reading for the blind and print disabled. He plans to eventually own and race an exact replica of a 1920 Indian board track racer. John is currently employed as an archives specialist at the National Archives, Boston.