The Consumerist offers the latest in an endless series of articles giving helpful advice to those seeking jobs that don’t exist. This one is about “Tips for Beating the Résumé-Reading Robots of Doom.” Keywords, gaming the system, yada yada.
It’s possible such tips and tricks might make a difference for someone, and I’m sure they’re offered in a genuine attempt to be helpful. But still, after the first 40 or 50 or 500 such articles, it becomes hard to read such advice without it all seeming like it’s an attempt to assign blame. We’ve got more than four jobless workers for every job opening. It’s aggregate demand, stupid. That is why we have widespread, enduring unemployment. Not because we have 14 million people who haven’t sufficiently tweaked the keywords in their résumés for optimal automated sifting.
These earnest offerings of advice all start to blur together after a few weeks, all fusing into a single accusing finger. “You there, member of the 14-million-strong army of the idle, you need to shape up and fix this.” Get to work at finding work. It’s about shoe leather. Pounding the pavement. Working the phone. Surfing the Web. Hop to it!
But they never tell you how to deal with having done all that. They don’t warn you about the bewildering, befuddling vertigo that comes with having done everything they say to do, all to no avail, and having no idea what to do next. There you are, willing and eager to wear away whatever leather there still is on your shoes, but you have no idea what direction to walk. There sits the phone, but you have no one left to call. And you’ve refined your online job-searching skills to the point where it takes you only a fraction of the time to confirm that there’s nothing out there.
Now what? What happens when something must be done, but there is nothing left to do about having nothing to do?
Such repetitive futility is sometimes described as “Sisyphean,” but you come to envy Sisyphus. He never doubts his next step. He has a task at hand and knows what is required and expected of him. The boulder must be rolled up the hill again, and though his back is breaking and his muscles shudder from exhaustion, he will roll it.
But you haven’t got a boulder. Or a hill. Point me to a boulder, you think, and I will gladly break myself pushing it wherever it needs to go. But you’re not Sisyphus and no one is asking you to do that. No one is asking you to do anything. You’ve been trying to get someone to ask you to do something, but no one will.
It’s been five minutes now. Maybe it’s not too soon to check all those websites again. It’s unlikely that anything new will have appeared on there in just the last five minutes, but you’ve got a long list of sites to check, and by the time you reach the end of that list even more time will have passed. If you wait a bit longer you might have more grounds for hope. If you wait 10 minutes instead of five, then it’s twice as likely that some new job opening will have appeared, right? Or does the math not work that way? You’re not sure, but you wait another five minutes, or maybe only another two, confirming that your inbox is still empty and that the phone has still not rung, and then you check that list of websites again.
A whole hour can go by in such 10-minute increments. It passes by and you have nothing to show for it and you ask yourself where that hour went, where that day went, where that week went. It seems a waste of time, like that old bit about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over again but expecting different results. But it still seems a bit more sane than doing nothing, and you don’t know what else to try, what else to do.
But it’s not quite so regular and steady as that, really. It’s a bit more manic-depressive. The depressive part sneaks up on you. You just sort of notice at some point that you’d stopped, that you’d been sitting there frozen, paralyzed for you don’t know how long. And then you launch yourself back at it in a manic, directionless frenzy. Either way, the results are the same. When there is nothing to do, you can’t do it harder. When you have run out of ideas, out of leads, out of options and plans and possibilities, when you just plain don’t know what to do next, then urgency is as useless as inertia.
I need to take a break from this, you start to think, then catch yourself, wondering how you can take a break from having nothing to do, wondering how it is that having nothing to do can be, at times, so exhausting. And but still, life is life and you have all those other things to do — laundry and dishes to wash, grass to mow, leaves to rake, snow to shovel. (How did it get to be winter already?) You’re grateful for all these tasks and chores, and you perform them with greater care and zeal than ever. And then, remembering, you rush back to check again that list of websites, to confirm the emptiness of the inbox and the silence of the phone.
And so time elapses without its passage bringing you any closer to any destination. When there is nothing to be done, you can never be finished doing it.
“How’s the job-hunt going?” someones asks you.
“Oh, you know,” you say, surprised to hear what sounds like cheerfulness in your own voice. “I’m surfing the Web, working the phone, pounding the pavement, fine-tuning the keywords on my résumé …”