Published 15/11/2013 on GoThinkBig
My contract is all over the floor. I’m sitting cross-legged in the middle of the mess, trying to look zen, like I know where to get a P46 form, like I’m starting a job at the Guardian. There’s no one here to impress with my ocean of calm, so I can only conclude I’m trying to impress the contract, like it might roll its eyes as I hand it to HR.
I’ve been jobless for a year. I’ve been writing about being jobless for a year. Any unemployed grad will tell you there are moments you’re certain you’ll never work again. Suddenly, success strikes and you have to fold up your pyjamas, close Netflix, and go and pretend to be a proper, normal person. How can you possibly prepare for that?
I was in my living room with three free weeks ahead of me. It was just like any other jobless day, but without a raincloud of shame and boredom hovering over my sofa, soaking me to the skin. My phone rang, from an unknown number. Assuming it would be a telemarketer, I cleared my throat ready to belt out “Singing in the Rain” until they hung up.
“Hello?” Silence. “Hello? Hellooooooooo?”‘I was just about to do an operatic ‘hellOOOOOO’ for my own amusement when the line cracked and a voice said, “Hello, it’s Alan Rusbridger.”
I don’t know why but I jumped up and stood on the windowsill, which made the entire thing more nerve-wracking as I live on the 11th floor.
“Alan! You can’t just CALL ME, on my phone! What if I’d been walking? I could have fallen and broken my face!” Ok, I didn’t say that, obviously, but my brain was shouting it so loudly I have no memory of what I did say.
As I pictured Peter Capaldi on the other end, the real Alan asked if I was free for the next two weeks. He put MY name forward to help organise an event on NSA surveillance. Why? In the job interview I babbled about Snowden as if he was an ex-boyfriend I’d chopped up and hidden in the handbag I was clutching.
I spent the next two weeks organising an event with some wonderful and VERY proper people – another trainee on the the digital journalism scheme, a girl who works at Vanity Fair, and Observer columnist Henry Porter. Fantastic “real person” practice – we worked in the Guardian offices so I know where the bathrooms are, after a shaky start I dressed appropriately almost every day, and the sight of Alan became perfectly ordinary. No more jumping on windowsills for me.
Do a silly exercise regime
I took up yoga, because I wanted to start my new job strong of mind and body. Not because the yoga studio right next to my house had an incredibly cheap introductory offer lasting the exact number of days before the job start date, that didn’t enter into it.
I thought yoga was just expensive stretching. Turns out it’s hard. And this particular studio conducts its classes in 40 degree heat, because sweating is “detoxing”. I detoxed so much in my first class I fainted.
Yoga makes you strong of body because it forces your body to defy physics for 60 minutes at a time. It makes you strong of mind because the solemn, spiritual atmosphere forces you not to guffaw when someone tells you to “Let your kidneys breathe” (and yes, that is a direct quote). Apparently I’d been unknowingly garrotting my kidneys. Silly me. Note to self: stop strangling vital organs.
The weirdest thing is they tell you when to breathe. “Inhale as you put your left elbow over your right knee, exhale as you twist to look behind you, inhale as you tuck your left leg under your right buttock, exhale as you bleed internally…” I don’t feel much more prepared, to be honest – yoga trains you for the way life will NEVER be. No one instructs you at work, “Inhale as you compose the email, exhale as you type the subject, inhale as you put in the email address, and send on the exhale…”
Weather the comments
When you get a job, most people come out in support of you. In my case the response was almost overwhelming. I have never been so grateful to so many strangers. Unfortunately, friends can let you down. The sad fact is, backhanded compliments are a part of getting a job.
I went to my followers for their worst backhanded compliments. The least surprising ones came from unsuccessful competitors, like “Congratulations! I must really suck.” Amazingly insulting – it means ‘if you got it, I’m less talented than…YOU. The shame.’ Upon landing a paid internship, one HTBJ follower was told, “Just goes to show how much it has to do with luck”. It’s a shame you can’t break up with your friends.
A more subtle one is when they lump themselves in, to disguise an insult as self-deprecation, “I never thought either of us would get this far!” Oh ho ho. The thing is, you’re deprecating ME as well. Tool.
Some just want reassurance that you’ve not done TOO well: “It’s a year contract? Oh, so it’s an internship?” (Then you hear a sigh of relief over the phone)
My personal favourite – the absolute contrast of compliment and insult: “There’s always been something so endearing about your scatty rubbishness. That’s probably why they took you.” Thanks, Nan.
And of course, old faithful; the straight up, “Why did they choose you? No offence.” Thanks. None taken. I have no idea either. Great minds, eh?
The truth is…
…there’s no easy way to prepare yourself for starting a job when you’ve been unemployed. My only advice would be the same as I gave for dealing with joblessness: don’t take it seriously for long periods. Freak out, then laugh. The sadness, the nerves, the fear, the boredom – whatever emotion has you gripped, find a way to make it funny as you talk about it with your friends or followers.