How being unemployed is perceived shameful

‘What are you doing or what are you working with’ we usually ask people we meet for the first time. We automatically assume the person standing in front of us is employed. The reply, ‘I'm unemployed’ gives us this funny expression on our faces signalling to the other person we feel embarrassed on his/her behalf. Because talking about work forms a natural opening topic we either lose interest in continuing the conversation or we find it embarrassing to discuss the status of being unemployed. Why is it so?

Unemployment is perceived shameful, not only by society but also by the unemployed. Being without work often cuts one off social life and eventually often also from friends (who are employed). For many, being unemployed is like losing one’s identity and paired with humiliation and personal degeneration it attacks the person’s self-esteem and self-perception. As time passes, many unemployed fall prey to depression and unfortunate habits, which in the end only foster increased isolation. Avoiding socialising to avoid talking about lacking social status is not uncommon. The unemployed often feels looked down at – a feeling that mixes together with a sense of shame. 

In our society where busy and interesting lives are the key to be seen successful, it can be double as hard to find yourself without a job. You must be something to count as someone. Socially stigmatized, the unemployed becomes the outsider of the society s (he) lives within. Looking around, everyone else seems to manage well – they are busy and successful as opposed to the unemployed in his/her mind. Even in times of economic recession, the societal perception of shame prevails. It does not have to be this way. 

What if being unemployed ultimately became a blessing? What if your period as unemployed became valuable time you spent doing what you really wanted and that you never had time for previously? Seeking opportunities fosters opportunities and there is no reason to feel shame about being unemployed, unless you choose to lie in bed all day. Unemployment is often a result of recession and negative economic growth. You do not run the market, and as there is little likelihood of you losing your job on “purpose” there is no reason to perceive being unemployed as malicious, lazy or negligent. "Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed" Booker T. Washington once said. Well spoken. 

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