Opinion

The woes and joys of being unemployed

Confessions of an unemployed Omani writer.

By Sharifa Al Badi

Artwork by Emirati artist Alia Al Hammadi.

You could have written a thousand novels and travelled the seven seas, but if you are unemployed you haven’t accomplished much, have you? The stigma attached to unemployment is not a nice place to be.

People will wonder if you’re unlucky or just spoilt. And God forbid you’re a free spirit who refuses to conform to societal and cultural norms!

Since childhood, we’re told that we must act a certain way, go to school to get a degree, get a job and settle down with someone nice to start a family. If you decide to stray from the normal path, most people will consider you a difficult rebel, and no one has time for that.

Even if you decide to start your own thing and call it your “job,” you will most likely be discouraged to depend on your “hobby” as a legitimate job. The unwritten rules we must follow are simple: get a secure job with a well-established company (preferably a government one), and don’t even think about starting your own company because dreams are “silly,” and you “will fail.”

“If you decide to stray from the normal path, most people will consider you a difficult rebel, and no one has time for that.”

One of the first questions people ask at a gathering is: “Did you find work yet?” If you say no, you will most likely get glances of pity and a prayer or two. If you have been unemployed for a long time, despite your experience and education, you won’t be able to help but blame yourself for not being good enough. You will most likely feel feelings of shame and insecurity, and feel alienated from the rest of the working class. Assuming you successfully launched your own company or business venture, it will generally not be taken seriously by most unless it is government approved or recognised by an important entity.

Take my case as an example. When I tell people that I am a writer I either hear “ oh ok” or “ cool,” and I know it’s just out of politeness. You see, I am not an engineer or a doctor, so I am automatically put in the “lazy and stupid” box. My published books mean nothing in this economy infatuated by bloggers, social media personalities, fashion and luxury. Plus, I hardly made any sales (close friends and family don’t count), and with the spread of digital communication, everyone has become a writer in the 21st century.

I have spent years being unemployed, and truth be told, I felt like the biggest loser on the planet even though I was a published writer. It didn’t feel enough in the eyes of people, and slowly, my eyes too. So I went from internship to internship insisting on wanting to do something “more meaningful.” And considering my BA in International Studies and MA in Media, Communication & Critical Practice my choices on the job market were limited. And that worried me.  I wondered if there was a shop I could go to to buy a new dream (this could be a great business idea for any budding entrepreneurs).

‘When I tell people that I am a writer I either hear “ oh ok” or “ cool,” and I know it’s just out of politeness…I am not an engineer or a doctor, so I am automatically put in the “lazy and stupid” box.’

But after reading The Power Of The Spoken Word by Florence Scovel Shinn, I began to see words as a powerful tool again. After all, it takes one big idea to change the world, even a statement to make an impact, and maybe this is what I was searching for in between the lines of my articles and  books. My body could not understand the purpose of sitting at a desk, repeating the same tasks for  eight hours in a row, so my soul rebelled through the written word.

If you’re lucky enough to know what you want to do with certainty, I salute you. But if you’re killing time and finding your purpose in life through your job, then please stop and think for a moment. For those who have worked for over 20 years, losing a job can become a tragic affair in their lives because working is all they have ever known. They will say “I can’t wait to retire and go on vacation forever.” But believe me, when the vacation ends, you will find yourself feeling empty. Work fills our time, but it is not the answer to our existence. In a way, being unemployed has been a hidden blessing for me. I have learnt to value time, money and found out things about myself I would have never known had I been constantly busy.

“Work fills our time, but it is not the answer to our existence.”

But it requires a great deal of courage to stay true to who you are, and if you’re lucky enough and can afford to find your true purpose, and chase your dreams, then go for it! Dream on dreamer because the Gulf Region and the world need more poets, dreamers, philosophers and artists.

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

Sharifa Al Badi is a published writer and author from the magical lands of Oman. She has written for Esquire ME, Khaleejesque and The Culture Trip. She is also the author of “Themis Aella & The Magical Forest” and “50 Things To Know As An Adult.”