Warning: Whining, self-indulgent rambling about self-inflicted unemployment ahead
I’d kind of suspected it was coming. I’d spent weeks with the nagging fear in the back of my head that my work performance was being scrutinised, and found lacking. Ironically, this constant worry prevented me from doing my job effectively. The warning meeting had come and gone, and despite the promises to apply myself, to get engaged and enthusiastic about the job, I could feel myself slipping. Flicking over to Facebook and Twitter when I should have been working. Zoning out, failing to engage with my co-workers.
So when I came into work this morning, and the boss took me to the empty conference room and told me he was “letting me go” before I’d even had a chance to sit down, it didn’t come as a surprise. I can’t even say I was angry, or upset. They’re a small, upcoming company, and they need dedicated employees, enthusiastic about the software we develop and use. I didn’t fit that description at all. It would make no business sense at all to keep me on for even the rest of my six month probationary period. It would be unreasonable to expect them to.
So while it was disappointing to be “let go”, and I’m already worried about whether I can find another job, in a way it was also a relief. I wasn’t happy there. It was extremely unlikely I’d have turned it around and become a model employee. I am by nature shy and withdrawn. My depression and low self-esteem make it difficult to engage with things I don’t feel skilled at already. Leaving the job was ultimately the best choice. Part of me even believed my boss when he said he was doing me a favour.
But it was impossible not to think the following at the same time: why am I not right for this job? Why was I turned down for countless jobs before this one? Why do we have to market ourselves on our CVs and in interviews as though we’re selling a product? Why is it that only an fairly narrow range of personalities, interests and approaches to situations are considered appropriate for the workplace?
My thoughts on the labour market and the failings of neoliberal economics are extremely basic, introductory-level stuff, cribbed from better commentators than I, but I’ll share them anyway. In the logic of the free market, there is no place for labour that doesn’t produce wealth. The penniless artist or musician enriching peoples’ lives; the academic conducting research or analysis that sheds some small amount of light on a corner of human experience; the stay-at-home parent who looks after young children and makes sure their partner has a comfortable place to come home to- they might as well not exist for all the labour market cares. They’re all engaged in productive work, making the world a better place to live. But because that work doesn’t produce a profit for someone several steps removed from the labour process, economists and bankers and politicians couldn’t give a shit.
Because of this attitude, our economy and the majority of businesses within it tend to only value those workers with a demeanour suited to making money. And increasingly, the logic of the workplace is being used for moral judgements. If you don’t have the “work ethic” to work hours every day, making someone above you far more money than you get for your own labour, you essentially have no value. That judgement filters down to your own self-image, especially if, like me, you’re predisposed to see yourself in a negative light. It was at its worst when I was unemployed, feeling like a drain on society, with nothing to offer an employer and therefore the world itself. But even when I had this job, I constantly felt that my productivity and enthusiasm wasn’t enough to make me a “good worker” and therefore a good person.
To be fair, I was a shirker, a malingerer. Because of my lack of enthusiasm, I didn’t put the effort in to the job that I probably should have. This was a well-paid job in a comfortable office, with friendly, encouraging co-workers and bosses. People with far worse mental health issues than me manage to hold onto far worse jobs, through necessity and determination. Probably because I’ve never had to really struggle or face the threat of being without any money of support, I didn’t feel the urgency to apply myself to my work.
But why should people have to live like this? Forcing themselves into job roles geared to a narrow range of people, dealing with an increasingly harsh internalised dialogue that has no room for anything but the pursuit of profit? I don’t want much- just to live in comfort and have time to write this blog and some music, maybe perform it if I can find any like-minded people. Why should this be an increasingly impossible dream? Why can’t the life of the artist, the academic or the parent be as economically viable as that of the businessman?