A few minutes into a conversation with someone unemployed and looking, who I had just met at a friend’s going away party, “I’m sure you’ll find something,” just slipped out. And then, immediately after in my head, “Did I just say that?”
When I was unemployed, “I’m sure you’ll find something,” was undoubtedly the most annoying thing anyone could say to me. Intellectually, I could appreciate it was meant as an upbeat consolation. Emotionally, it felt dismissive, like whoever said it didn’t feel comfortable discussing the reality of my unemployment and couldn’t think of anything else to say. As if even abbreviated honesty, “Yeah, it’s a tough economy out there,” would open a gate they’d rather keep closed.
So, as you can imagine, to find myself offering up what I had always perceived to be a flippant consolation was unsettling. “Have I become so comfortable with my own situation that I have forgotten what it’s like to be unemployed? Have I forgotten what it’s like to dread going to social gatherings where I would have to repeatedly and publicly state the fact of my unemployment?”
I had to redeem myself. “It’s hard looking for a job. I got laid off a few times myself during the dot-com bust. I remember not knowing what to do with myself. I’d wake up, apply for a few jobs, hopefully go on a networking lunch, and then wait.” He softened. And then, crowded in the kitchen, we all shuffled around as someone made his way in to get a drink. The conversation ended spontaneously, as they often do in large social settings. I hope he knew I was sincere.