by Rev. Peter K. Stimpson
QUESTION: I’ve been unemployed for almost two years now. I’m trying, but I just can’t find a job. I’m so embarrassed. For a while I even pretended to go to work so none of the neighbors would know. I feel like such a loser!
ANSWER: Your problem, and that of our culture, is that we define ourselves not by who we are, but by what we do. If we "do more" than others, as evidenced by an impressive job title or a big salary, then we feel important. By contrast, if we "do less" than others, or "do nothing" by virtue of being unemployed, then we feel unimportant and depressed.
Depression is a gap between our ego ("who we are") and our ego ideal ("who we think we should be"). If you think that you should be at the top of the corporate ladder, or at least competitively clawing your way up the ladder, then, being too low on the ladder or out of a job, you fall into the gap and get depressed. The solution is to drop the "shoulds" and "musts" that are strangling you, and to come to love and accept the person underneath all your accomplishments.
Who you are is more important than the sum of what you do. Who you are defines your potential or power to do. Within you is a mind with which to think, a heart with which to love, an imagination with which to dream, and qualities such as honesty, integrity, and kindness that attract people to you. Ask your family why they love you; I doubt that it is because you have or had a great job.
Changing the way you think will, therefore, take a monkey off your back. The old you said, "I do good things; therefore, I am good." This way you are always nervous, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for someone to notice your first mistake and proclaim, "Aha, a loser".
However, the new you says, "I am good; therefore, I have the ability to do good things." This way, even if you goof, you do not panic, but resolve to do better tomorrow. Amazingly, as you are less worried regarding criticism, you become even more productive than in the past.
So, while the fact that you are unemployed is bad, you are not! You are just as talented as ever. If others cannot see this truth because they are lost in the same forest that you once were, then try to help them, but do not allow yourself to get sucked back into their way of thinking. And, hard as it is, try to see that while other factors such as a recessionary economy and possible age (or sex, or race) discrimination may hurt you, they are not due to anything wrong with you. Bad as it is, unemployment can have a good effect, awakening you to see your own value, and allowing you to minister to others caught in the same trap.