This morning, I walked into a room stuffed with endless rows of chairs all full of people waiting impatiently. They looked like they’d been waiting for hours. Most were staring at a small TV screen that was showing the news in French (how convenient).
Most hadn’t bothered to brush their hair and may still have been wearing their pajamas. Some had actually resorted to chewing on their hair to pass the time. Where was I? Centrelink. I had an appointment there this morning because, like a growing number of people, I am unemployed.
There is undoubtedly a stigma associated with being unemployed. Not having a job must mean you’re lazy or unsuccessful or incompetent. I felt it when I walked into Centrelink and I deal with it in my harsh self-judgment on a daily basis.
It’s a difficult thing to admit, as strange as that might seem. I don’t set out to go somewhere at 8am every morning to put in a hard day’s work and return home late at night. I don’t have stories to tell about how this client was impressed/unimpressed/had their fly down when colleague x and I gave the presentation we’d been preparing for weeks. There is no such presentation, no destination and no colleague x (though if there were I am sure they would have bought the first round at the celebratory pub drinks, they’re just that kind of person).
I make excuses, like “Oh I’ve only really been unemployed for a month, that’s really just an extended holiday.” Or, “Being unemployed is allowing me to better understand and empathise with what so many people throughout the world are going through.” While both of these excuses might have a tiny element of truth, the reality is that at the moment, no company wants to hire me, and that rejection just plain sucks.
As a madly driven, extremely motivated perfectionist, I am hoping that this streak of joblessness doesn’t last very long. If it were an Olympic sport it should be the 100 meter sprint. But my determined attitude doesn’t fit in with media representations of the unemployed.
The most recent articles attacking Centrelink for long wait times reflect this negative stigma attached to joblessness. These articles call people on welfare payments “desperate”, portraying us as people too much in need of money to have virtues such as patience and appreciation. It’s sad to see that the overwhelming attitude here is one of entitlement, rather than gratitude. I don’t like to wait any more than that obnoxious guy tapping his foot and sighing pointedly, telling anyone who will ask how precious his time is. But I for one think we’re better than that.
Centrelink is a fantastic service that should be celebrated. Besides many other achievements, it gives jobless people like myself the monetary support we need to get by. Without it, would we be able to buy enough food? Connect to the lifeline that is the internet? Afford the bus fare to attend a job interview? All these things take money, which is difficult to come by without an income. One of the first lessons we’re taught is to say please and thank you, why should this situation be exempt from such manners? The next step is up to us.
To anyone who’s unemployed, shake off that stigma! Being unemployed says nothing more than that you currently don’t have a job, which might suck. But nowhere does it say you are lazy, incompetent, or unsuccessful. Gracious or entitled, what you are is up to you.
I’d like to say a big thank you to the staff at Centrelink for giving us all a helping hand.
Time to get back to those applications…
Laura has recently returned to Australia after building a career in France. She is thrilled to be back in the land down under and is happily spending her time writing, rediscovering Sydney and eating vegemite.
Have you or someone close to you, ever been unemployed? Do you assume that unemployed people are ‘lazy or unsuccessful or incompetent’? Did Laura’s story change your view?