December 2, 2011

Unemployed and Unenlightened: If I Don’t Work, I Don’t Eat. ~ Sister Shamu


Unemployment presents me with something of an existential dilemma.

As a former business owner, I do not receive unemployment compensation as a result of having lost my business. (I suppose the assumption is that if I was a business owner, I would have the resources and the know how to get me to the next thing without starving. Um, ok.) So holding out for a job that is meaningful and enjoyable while I buy groceries with unemployment compensation is not really part of that dilemma since it’s not an option for me.

However, I recognize that much of my life has been about living the same situations over and over again until I find a way to break the pattern and do something new. Habit is shifty and creeps in to some of the darnedest places. Work is one of those places where habit has been master for me.

For example, I always start a new job or a new project thinking that I will make a difference, that I will somehow make the world a better place for doing what I do. On the surface, everything is fine and I go about the business of saving others from the tragic fate of not having me fix things for them.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Over time, I begin to see that my interference is just that, interference. Making a difference usually just means making things different, and in most cases fixing one thing means several other things break. I lose faith that what I am doing is worthwhile and eventually move on to something else that has the potential to feed my ego and save the world.

I can always justify leaving – my boss was a sexist nightmare, co-workers were being oppressed, the policies and procedures were unethical, the system was being exploited, the system was exploiting me, but the real reason I have always left was that I was unhappy. Little things began to add up and the accumulation eventually meant that I hated what I was doing and felt sure that the next thing would be better.

I know that there are at least two schools of thought on this issue – one is that the next thing will never make me happy unless I learn that happiness comes from within (i.e.: stay put and find a way to be happy regardless of my circumstances) and the other is that I should follow my bliss, that doing what makes us happy is our real purpose in life. I suppose another view would be that as long as I’m trying to feed my ego and save the world, I’m not in a place where true happiness or bliss is even possible.

The bottom line is that I am fast coming to a place where I must work if I want to eat, that is if I don’t want to resort to mooching off friends and loved ones or joining the soup kitchen lines. It somehow seems impractical to sit around and ponder the esoteric while the reality of being unemployed is staring me in the face.

The thing is, I can see the writing on the wall with every job opportunity I come across, whether I work for myself or for someone else. In-field administrative work – been there, done that: misery. In-field grunt work – been there, done that: misery with no power and no money. Out-of-field administrative work: same stuff, different color. Out-of-field grunt work: same stuff, different color with no money and no power.

Actually, the thought of diving back in administratively to do battle with the small minds that make up big government makes me nauseous. Jumping back into the cycle of illusion and disillusion is even more unappealing. I have no desire to do what I have been doing over and over again. Hunger, however, is a fairly powerful motivational force.

I feel compelled to at least try out-of-field administrative work since there is the possibility that I’m wrong – that it will somehow be different, or better yet, that it will actually be little Baby Ruths served on a silver platter, but isn’t that just part of the cycle?

Or is endlessly searching for greener pastures simply a part of our nature – not a bad part, a part that has to be exorcised or annihilated, but a part that ensures our physical and spiritual evolution? After all, if we had no desire to summit the hill, we’d never learn what was on the other side. Perhaps it really doesn’t matter what I choose.

Perhaps accepting cycles as the natural order of things is the key to transcending them. Summer will eventually come back around, maybe a little warmer than last year, maybe a little cooler, but still summer. The sun will rise tomorrow. It will also set. My body will cycle with the rhythms of nature as surely as the moon will be full again next month. There is something comforting in that.

Underneath all of my wanting and grasping and need is the voice of fear. I’m afraid to be here, afraid to have faith in the process of change, afraid to let go, afraid to

Erich Ferdinand

allow things to be what they are. I struggle endlessly to control what is unpredictable and impossible to know. I sense that each difficult step brings me closer to a place of trust, a place where the certainty of grace will help me to accept that who I am is the right person and where I am is the right place, but I am not quite there yet.

I’m guessing that enlightenment doesn’t happen all at once. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, you go through a process. You become. It takes a long time, but once you are there, it lasts for always.

T. S. Eliot said that the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. Maybe this time around I will see what I didn’t before. Maybe this time will be different. I suppose that’s the cool thing about cycles – they give us the opportunity to try again.



Sister Shamu (not her real name) is the former owner of Oops Mental Health Services (not its real name), which was a casualty of the unstable American healthcare system and an over-inflated ego. Now unemployed, Sister Shamu realizes that what she is qualified to do bares no resemblance to what she wants to do and has become preoccupied with confronting her slightly hostile and often devious Shadow Self by sharing intensely personal blogs and writing a novel that, like her, seems to be in a constant state of edit. You can follow her blog here: sistershamu.blogspot.com.

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