¡hola papi!

‘I’m Unemployed and Spiraling’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

Things just aren’t working out for me. I’m in my mid-20s and I graduated about five years ago from a good public university, the kind where your friends graduate, immediately go into well-paying jobs in respectable fields, and begin their nice stable lives. (Read: my friends, not me.)

I did my best in college despite my severe anxiety disorder, and by senior year I’d worked multiple jobs in my field of graphic design and had a solid résumé and portfolio. Then graduation came, and I was rejected from all of the many, many jobs I applied for. My anxiety spiraled through the roof. 

In some confused attempt to regain control of my life, I packed up my shit and moved to New York City as many young gay men do. I eventually landed an internship that would look great on my résumé and open up many doors. Except it ended, and it didn’t, and I was tired of working my shitty retail job so I moved back home and spiraled even more. 

Cut to the pandemic when I attempted to pivot to the gaming industry, which led to a low-paying, entry-level job that abruptly ended after a year and a half when my employer told me to move to L.A. in a month or quit. Six months later, and I haven’t found a job in either field. To make matters worse, I was rejected today after a third interview for a job that I’m 95 percent sure I didn’t get because I’m gay. (It was two 50-year-old straight men who were very concerned if I could mesh with the “company culture.”)

My self-worth is so intertwined with my career, and after so much failure and rejection, I feel deeply and painfully inadequate. I know it’s not everything, and I have a lot to be grateful for like great friends and some financial stability, but every time I think about my career, I spiral. I’m currently doing it now. Papi, how can I separate my career from my worth?

Spiraling So Much I Feel Like a Toilet

Hi there, Spiraling!

Wow, you moved to New York without a plan? That made me anxious just reading it. I came here with a plan over six years ago and I’m still recovering.

Look, your 20s are for being humiliated. Right after I graduated college, I started looking for “writing jobs,” then “jobs that involve writing,” then “jobs where words are used in some capacity.” My first gig was running a social-media account for a knitting company with less than 200 followers. It was unpaid, and after two weeks they stopped replying to my emails even though I still had their passwords.

I will say, though, that this was before Twitter had “threads,” and yet I was using “threads” as the fun theme for the knitting company. “Wish we could string these tweets together!” I believe I once tweeted in a series of posts about yarn. I was an innovator the knitting community wasn’t ready for.

Anywho, my first week in New York was spent crashing with a goth woman, a friend of a friend who generously shared her air mattress with me. We were both on it. She had six roommates and I think we said three words to each other. Two of them were “good night.” Look for the helpers.

Through it all, I was utterly certain that my fulfillment would come from getting a career, a real job. At that point, I could finally be a real human. I could do after-work drinks with my colleagues and talk shop with other professionals in my industry and I would know, deep down inside, that a corporation had looked at my portfolio and said, “Now here’s a young man with a bright future in blogging.”

It’s natural, Spiraling, to seek that kind of approval! The steady paycheck and health care certainly don’t hurt either. If the job even offers that kind of thing. I really don’t know these days. It feels like a company could make the interns fight each other for leftover lunch wraps from the conference upstairs and someone would earnestly reply, “You guys get wraps?”

Regardless, in a world ruled by corporations and capital, it makes sense that finding yourself outside of the system feels utterly invalidating. But the thing about the system is it has innumerable ways to onboard you into it. In all likelihood, you’re gonna get a job. Will you love it? Will it be in your preferred field? That much, I don’t know. But you will probably get one.

That job might lead to another one, and you might fight yourself going all over the place in your career, as careers are so rarely straight lines for those of us who aren’t nepo babies (see? I’m topical) or born into fabulous wealth. In the constellation of gigs, it is entirely possible for you to connect the dots into a nice shape. I think, on this front, you’ll be just fine.

But another thing the system is good at is reducing us down to our usefulness. You are laboring for another entity that has no real incentive to care about you beyond what you can offer them. Leave most of yourself at the door and walk in ready to grind all day. You’re expected to give 100 percent while not being 100 percent.

It’s no wonder that the people who seem to consistently come out on top of this game tend to be, well, sociopaths. We live in a system that rewards selfishness. It’s prudent to objectify workers, because if you start thinking of them as full human beings it becomes a lot harder to justify the structure of everything around here.

But even if we recognize these things or think of ourselves as nonparticipants of “hustle culture,” we can still fall into the habit of objectifying ourselves. We define ourselves by our output, by what we’re able to contribute to a company, by our salaries. This is silly. You need not do the corporations’ work for them. You will be thought of on these terms soon enough.

It may not seem like a very productive time for you at the moment, but I hope that, as you apply for jobs and face rejections on your way to your next professional milestone, you take this time to reflect on your goals, on what you want, and on who you are. These are things you can carry with you from job to job, and will lead to more fulfillment in the long run.

The path is long, crooked, embarrassing, and deeply silly. Having friends and passions will make it tolerable. To hold a sense of self in a dehumanizing world is a powerful thing. Now is a great time to practice.

I wish you a very pleasant “just following up.”

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on January 16, 2023.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

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