Personal Bullshit


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 I am by nature shy and withdrawn.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?

9 responses to “Personal Bullshit

  1. I’m no stranger to depression, and when it was at its worst, no would hire me either. It’s really hard to escape the rain whilst entrenched under the cloud. What I found, though, was that as soon as I found some confidence, through experience in life, I was able to be myself in job interviews, and thus, became more desirable to employers. For me, it was all about how I carried myself. I even ended up almost interviewing the interviewer, because after all, what the company has to offer me is just as important as what I have to offer the company. I’ve learnt, though, through many different jobs that everyone has something to offer someone or some company, so stay positive and good things will come.

  2. How to make money? Make this blog a book and sell it. Although I will probably pirate it.

  3. I see a lot of people pride themselves on their ‘work-ethic’, but I think a lot of the time they are confusing work ethic with being downright exploited.

  4. How you are as an employee doesn’t represent how you are as a human being. It only represents how you feel about the job/company. If you aren’t good for the company you’re probably still a good person, just a bad robot.

  5. The_Lurking_Miasma

    “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.”

    Bingo. I’m not trying to be overly harsh, but that really is the key to your troubles and dissatisfaction. I’m going to wager that we are similar in age (I’m 28). I had to come to that realization on my own after a particularly excruciating period of being unsatisfied with my work, my lot in life, and–to be honest–being unsatisfied with myself. The human necessity and will to survive forces us on through myriad troubles and tribulations, and career woes are no exception.

    “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?Why can’t the life of the artist, the academic or the parent be as economically viable as that of the businessman?”

    In short: Because everyone wants that. Seriously. Supply far outstrips demand. You actually want a great deal, and though you think your request is realistic and modest, it’s actually very nearly unrealistic and entitled. You want to write on a blog and make music, and want a guaranteed life of comfort? Who wouldn’t want to do that?!

    You’ve come to terms with the fact that our world is increasingly market-based. You don’t have to agree with it or approve of it, but it’s the harsh reality. Everyone wants to do what they like to do and enjoy to do all the time, and everyone would love to be able to do only those things they enjoy and be exempt from those things they do not like. However, human existence and human life itself proves the undesirable necessary–for example, in prehistory, I’m sure our ancestors would’ve much preferred to paint, stargaze, bathe, adventure, or play games than forage, hunt, find water, build shelters (in short, “work”), but they had to do those things in order to survive. Working in a modern job that is “production” (i.e. “profit”) based is analogous to the “mundane” and “hard” work of our ancestors: we don’t want to do it, but to survive (which, like it or not, is accomplished by making money in the modern world), we need to do it.

    Again, I’m not trying to be too harsh. It’s just simply the truth. Rare is the person who is completely and totally satisfied with their work on a physical, mental, emotional, moral, and philosophical level. In fact, I’m not confident I could name a single concrete example. You need to find your satisfaction from things outside of your work, and understand and accept “work” for what it truly is: your physical self’s will and need to survive.

  6. The_Lurking_Miasma

    Thanks for not publishing my comment. Nice censorship!

    Had I been abusive, antagonistic, or flat-out wrong, I could understand. But my advice to you was real and meant to be useful for you to carry forward through your troubles. By censoring my comment, you just illustrated what I had feared: you are an entitled, spoiled brat with no real awareness of reality and the real world. You want the world given to you, you want it your way, you want it easy, and when that doesn’t happen, you are pissed. I foresee many disappointments for you if you don’t change that outlook.

    • Your comment only didn’t get published earlier because, believe it or not, I have better things to do than update this blog’s comments as soon as they appeared. As it happens I have a job now, which isn’t always fun but has allowed me a greater measure of freedom and satisfaction in life. Doesn’t leave me much room to reply to people on the internet unfortunately.

      If “someone didn’t get around to approving my comment yet” equals censorship in your mind, then you clearly have no idea what the word means. I sincerely doubt your “advice” was offered in good faith when, if it doesn’t get noticed immediately you resort to name-calling. So yeah, thanks but no thanks.

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