“I’ve been laid off before and paid that due. I’ve learned what I needed to learn about myself from that experience and it won’t happen to me again,” I told myself as I listened to a news story on NPR’s Morning Edition about the long-term unemployed, knowing it was a lie of self-preservation. Rushing to get ready for work, I didn’t have time to contemplate it further. That night, I heard a similar story on the evening news. The internal dialogue began again. I’m a rationale person. Why would I entertain the idea that unemployment won’t happen to me again?
Tali Sharot argues in her book, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, that “optimism may be so essential to our survival that it is hardwired into our most complex organ, the brain.” Optimism bias – our tendency to assume we will experience more positive events in the future than negative ones – is what led me to think I am somehow exempt from experiencing future unemployment.
To cope with my unemployment, I created a myth to explain it, believing my past experiences, in large part, shaped who I am today – grateful I had the experience of being unemployed, but hoping to never experience it again. I envision a future easier than my past, a future where I apply what I have learned from my previous set-backs to propel me forward. A future where my life looks different from the lives of those I heard interviewed on Morning Edition. And it’s with that thought I catch myself, realizing that believing I’m exempt could be confused with the belief I am superior, as if moving beyond my past experience signals transcendence from the possibility of it happening to me again. “Do I really think I’m superior?” I ask myself. Unsettled by the idea, I answer myself an immediate “no” – the recognition of my limited control making necessary the creation of my myth and the optimism I hold for the future.