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“So, any luck in the job department?” or how failure is making me see what matters most.

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Under the Golden Gate, March 2013

This month isn’t turning out quite how I hoped. When does it ever?

I planned on a 3-week online course on women’s fiction, but unfortunately this was cancelled the day it was meant to begin (the day after I booked it), so I had to re-think my use of this month’s writing time.

This weekend I’m attending the Psychologies Writing Weekend put on by Writers & Artists at Bloomsbury in London. I’m really excited as it’s my first foray into writers’ conferences (though I do wish I had a buddy going with me!). I’m looking forward to meeting other writers and getting a chance to do some workshops. I’m also attending a live webinar with literary agent Kate McKean entitled “How to Submit Your Book To Agents.” It’s on May 2nd if you want to join me! 

All that to say, most of my time has been devoted to writing. I can’t lie. I graduated in June 2010, and I’ve been endlessly applying for jobs, interviewing, and trying to network since then. A few contracts here, an internship there, but it is has been, without a doubt, the biggest anticlimax of my life.

Why? Well, when you return to university as a mature student — in a foreign country, to boot — you’ve by that time built pretty high expectations and demands of yourself. You’ve missed chances and been unable to focus on one thing in the past, so when this amazing opportunity comes around to make something of yourself, you want perfection. I’ve said it before on here. I worked my butt off to do the best I could on that degree, and some might’ve suggested I put too much pressure on myself, for things that, in the grand scheme of things, haven’t mattered so much. But I did it to prove to myself I could, and whether you scoff at a Film BA or not, getting that 1st is the thing I’m most proud of.

I didn’t expect to meet my future husband before my course even began, let alone that he would be someone who already had his act together (certainly not been my previous experience!). My plan of moving to London and living in a cardboard box until I got a proper job in film died an early death, for a variety of reasons, mostly practical.

If only my path were this clear.
If only my path were this clear.

I’ve had interviews at some fantastic companies and organisations, and been told countless times, “You were this close!” and “It was between you and one other person.” The number of times the door has been shut, slammed, or locked right in my face is just unbelievable, especially for someone who never interviewed for a job she wasn’t offered in the past. All this time I thought a degree would be the key, along with the work I put into it and work experience, etc.

Nope. God has had other plans. I can’t say I understand them, but life throws you surprises and you have to accept them, no matter how unbelievable. And when I say I’ve been applying everywhere, I mean everywhere. Jobs I’m totally overqualified for that I’ve dumbed down my CV for, jobs that I’m underqualified for that I’ve aimed for anyhow, jobs I’m perfect for either in an industry I care about or not, and still, every door has been closed.

Do I know why? Nope. My name? My nationality? My age? The economy? All these things? Or just that God has another plan?

I read a devotional email today that said in all our struggles and fears, it’s vital we yield to God. When I’m weak, He is strong. I’ve prayed many times, Your will be done. Whatever it is You want me to do, and to want, I want it. Show me how.

But I’ll pray it again today, and every day. I want to do what God wants me to do, just so I’m finally at that place in my life where I’m confident in my path. I felt confident at uni, but that had a countdown that expired on the day I graduated. It was a shadow of the real thing.

Writing has been the one thing that’s been consistent in my life since I was young. I’ve always had stories flowing out of my head onto the screen, and the more I learn about writing and publishing, the more I write and read and talk with others about it, the more I feel confident that if nothing else in all this struggle, God’s given me this passion, bigger than any other one. I can’t ignore that, and if people look at me and say, “Why doesn’t she have a job yet? What’s wrong with her? Is she just irresponsible and lazy? She must not really want it, I have to remind myself that their opinions and judgements aren’t relevant. I have to stop worrying about that.

My closest friends know how hard and frustrating this time has been, but they also encourage me to use the time not spent applying for jobs on writing. To those friends, thank you for believing in me, and not making me worry you think I’m lazy, or ridiculous, or irresponsible.

Words cannot express how exasperating, how humiliating, and how confidence-destroying these last few years have been. But if they’ve taught me anything — once I look past the self-doubt — it’s that the thing we have passion for, the thing we don’t feel we’re wasting time doing, whether it pays into a pension or not, it nurtures the spirit to do it. So I will keep writing, learning, networking and reading because it’s the one arena in which I feel I truly belong.

This is a mighty long post, and if you’ve gotten this far, thanks for hanging in. It felt like time for reflection again on what’s been going on. I leave you with some snippets from JK Rowling’s Harvard Speech, which is one of the best things I’ve ever read:

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Lacock Abbey, filming location for Harry Potter, June 2006

Why yes, I am wearing an I Love Sirius Black t-shirt.

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Version 2

Summer of ’12 wouldn’t make a catchy song title.

Neither would this weather go down in anyone’s good books, but it will have to do.

The UK had the wettest June on record, to go along with the coldest whatever on record and the wettest some-other-month (April?) on record. This year has been awful for weather in the UK, apart from the glorious week during my wedding which was 80+ degrees and stunning. All this has made it very hard to make decisions because–as I firmly believe–one needs to be in a good frame of mind (but not too good) for sound decision-making. In this case, where to live and what jobs to apply for.

Right now, my visa application (4th one) is sitting with the UKBA, as is my passport, so I’m unable to travel out of the country at the time when I most want to go back to my hometown in the U.S. and visit my family and enjoy the summer they’re getting, and this:

Red House Lake, Allegany State Park, New York

I will continuously rave about Allegany being my favourite place in North America and post endless photos I’ve taken there (apologies). {g}

I’ve been living in the UK for over 5 years now, and I have to say the summers have become less and less pleasant each year, which makes waiting for this visa more difficult.

Back to the job thing (this is a rambling post, can’t you tell?). There comes a point when you just want to settle down, if, like me, you’ve moved from apartment to house to apartment for years on end. I’ve moved 30 times now on last count, and I’m very eager (now that we’re married, as well) to buy a house, put nails in the wall and carpeting down that no one else has ever touched.

Unfortunately, as eager as we are to do this, a few more decisions need to be made. I’ve been job hunting since graduating in 2010, and it’s been a long, frustrating slog. Part of me just wants to write full-time (a very big part of me) but the practical side (aka my husband) says I need to start a pension and get a career under my feet before an agent sweeps me away and my best-sellers are flinging their way to Kindles everywhere. I’ve been looking for jobs in publishing, marketing, film, etc. where my writing/editing/admin/computer abilities will be best used, and have had to set aside some of my “dream jobs” (researcher for film, film editor), apart from writing (which is my heart’s truest dream, I would say, and always has been). These types of jobs don’t seem practical unless we relocate to London, which we’re not.

So I’m at that point where major decisions need to be made, but I’m finding it really hard when the sun isn’t showing its face for more than 10 minutes a day. How about you – are you affected by weather at all, whether good or bad? Do you feel like your emotions, decision-making, or motivation is impeded by external things or do you have a means of disregarding such things?

And the most ironic thing of all this is, despite this weather dragging us down and making it hard to decide whether to try to relocate – given that a relocation will put our house-buying further in the future, but might be better for us long-term – I want to move back up to Scotland. Where the winters are longer and the summers are nearly non-existant.

Why? Because I took it as a good omen that our wedding day was on the nicest, warmest day Scotland’s seen in about 500 years 😉

Done rambling, off to do some writing. Hope you all had a fabulous 4th of July yesterday!

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A trouble shared is a trouble halved.

There's a light in the distance! Okay, really, I just wanted to use this shot because it's pretty. But it is relevant, in an ultra-cheesy way.

I know the saying is “A problem shared…” and I know too that sometimes this isn’t the case. Sometimes sharing your problem just upsets the other party and now instead of just yourself, you’ve also got the problem of a worried-sick mother, or a partner who feels helpless, or a friend who nervously changes the subject, and so on.

But in the case of the peace that comes from knowing others understand and sympathise, it goes a long way towards propelling you through the trouble. A cloud can hang over a situation in our lives for months, or even years. We may have a long way yet to go to get through it. But each time someone genuinely reflects on the subject, or shares their similar experiences, it can be just that little nudge you need to get you through another week, or another day, or even another hour. These nudges along the way, whatever their stature, are fuel for the journey.

After commenting on some tweets from the Guardian Careers’ Twitter account, I was invited to share my experiences of being an unemployed mature graduate with a 1st class degree. Of being both “over-qualified” and “under-qualified”, according to employers.

The Guardian’s careers articles, Q&As, and series of guest posts are comforting and enlightening, and I highly recommend taking a look around their archives. Job hunting and its related soul searching can be a very solitary, lonely experience. Even if you have supportive loved ones around you, unless they’re in the same boat, it’s not always easy to relate. The self doubt, the what-ifs, the state of looking backwards so often you need a rear view mirror attached to your head. I often feel cut off from the rest of the world in this matter. So it’s refreshing to read about others’ experiences, some reflecting my own, some with different outcomes, but all insightful.

All of my friends save two are in stable jobs, some in very healthy career paths, so there are few people with whom I feel at ease discussing this topic. The truth is, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there unemployed, and thousands of mature graduates who’ve either been in my shoes, or are in them now. And really, I know I can talk to my friends about this topic, but my self-consciousness keeps me from dumping it all on them when there’s little they can say to make it better. It can be awkward to shine the light on the lopsidedness in friends’ situations, and I never want to make anyone uncomfortable. So it was with great relief I read the comments on my post today.

Simply put, there are some amazing, lovely, empathetic, intelligent, eloquent people out there who are either in a similar situation, or know a loved one who is or has been, or can simply just see the state of the job market and feel for those of us struggling to find a place in it. To all those lovely people, a massive hug and thanks. I want to add you all to my Twitter and Facebook and read your blogs and encourage you that while we may be in a rotten time for chasing dreams and wondering if there’s any value in doing so, I believe persistence is key. Don’t give up.

Knowing that we’ve had to work a lot harder to get somewhere we want to be, in the end–even if it takes years–we’ll appreciate it infinitely more than those who slid easily into jobs pre-2008. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I feel like whenever this recession starts to ease up, we’ll be able to put a big, fat bullet point on our CVs that reads DETERMINED and COMMITTED, skills honed not on the job but while seeking one. And determination on the job is much easier when you know there’s a paycheck coming, so those of us able to keep that determination alive in the mean time aren’t wasting time.

Thank you for reading! Your time and thoughts are valued!

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