I quit my job in 2013, on a sunny Monday morning because that’s exactly what Mondays do to you. But I was really unhappy, disappointed, unpaid, working without a contract and health insurance for more than a year. So, I just did it. I quitted. I thought, or to be totally accurate, I was convinced that my skills and qualifications would have been enough for me to get a new job in less than three months. I didn’t and when I realized that it was already 2014 I slept. I slept for days, weeks, months until one day I woke up and I was weighing 80 pounds more. With some brief calculations, that meant 25 pounds for every month that I’ve been sleeping. I barely left my apartment, abandoned any activity, rarely talked to my friends and my only walks were either to the supermarket or the ones my dog asked for. One day I felt so tired and miserable with my own self, I refused to accept my poor fate and decided to create a better one, more suitable for me. That’s what 26 years of life experiences had prepared me for. On the same day I realized how fat I had become, trying to put on some proper clothing in order to go out. I enrolled myself in a Masters program, though I already held one.
You know, unemployment is a tricky phase in someone’s life. Few are the professionals that never faced it or even the threat of it. It is crucial to have a strong personality, a solid background and amazing people who will support you. In my case, fortunately I had the background. Unemployment that lasts for more than a few months is a horrible experience. You can’t provide yourself with the basics, you can’t treat yourself or your beloved ones the way you wish, you pray for every single cent and you deny personal needs and life. You feel devaluated and humble, no one can help you and you can do nothing but hope for a job position to pay for your debts. You feel stressed and a parasite to your relatives. You feel empty. You consider yourself exhaustively useless, unable to fulfill your goals and desperately willing to lower your expectations by doing any job you can get.
In 2014-2015 my life was focused on my studies, I took Mandarin and Russian classes, applied for more than 600 jobs in Greece, was invited to 2 interviews, my relationship was a wreck and I continued talking to my dog as if he was my personal therapist. I was forced to move to a neighborhood with no easy access to the city center and had to spend 4 hours in the public transportation in order to reach my university. In January 2015 for 6 months I got myself a short contract as an administrative assistant. Part time but it made me hope again that I am not too old to bloom again. If so, why do we call them late bloomers?
I never stopped applying for any job I believed that I had the qualifications, better or worse than what I wanted to do for a living. After 3.000 applications, early in August, I got my life changing email; my very first letter of acceptance. I was on the phone talking when I opened it and after reading the first words I bursted into tears of pure happiness. Without any single thought or hesitation, I responded ‘yes’. Yes, I will come to live for 6 months to this charming French city. Yes, I will leave it all behind, the love, the people, the house. Yes, I will change my life and think no more about the fear and the stress and the uselessness of my unemployed self. And, oh yes, I did. In 9 days, I packed my life in 2 suitcases, waved my dog au revoir, broke up after 6 years of relationship and let all my friends find out about my runaway through an update on Facebook.
By that time, I was living in Greece. That’s where I come from. That’s where I was raised, where my roots are to be found. A city named Thessaloniki, the second largest of my country and located on the northern part of Greece is what I call home in terms of belonging. And I would be able to belong there for the rest of my life. I would not choose to live in any other part of Greece. Because to be honest, we have it all; the sea, the sun, the city center, the European character, the history, the political significance, the cultural heritage, the magic. We have it all, besides jobs. The well known or notorious fiscal and financial crisis, overly discussed during the last 7 years has changed the situation of employment in Greece. The market looks like a roman arena where only lions survive. I guess I was not ready to eat bloody flesh. After all, I am a vegetarian out of compassion.
Mentioning the notion of compassion, I remember why I broke up. Unemployment is a bitch. It’s the third person in-between a relationship that was never meant to be strong enough during the first turbulances. Unemployment shadows every emotion, you feel less, you offer less, you are told that you should feel less and you are repeatedly told that you offer less. That’s unemployment, but humans are responsible for the words to be said. Sometimes, it’s better to be alone, during the hardest times instead of sitting next to someone who doesn’t seem eager to support or understand you. Not to mention the fact that you cannot support anyone else either..
September 2015 found me in my little studio, 29sqm of my own. I bought a plant, I bought a mug and framed my dog on every wall. Yes, I love my dog. I love human beings, I love every creature that breathes and rests under the sun. I respect life and I want every form of natural life to be sustainable. That’s another lesson taught with the kind sponsorship of unemployment; to respect everyone and everything. Nothing is given to us, nothing is provided without a reason and we deserve nothing more than the others. The basis of all the skills, the most crucial core of any thought, the fundamental stone of every aspect in life is respect. Whatever you wish to be, whatever you are dealing with, whoever you talk to, whoever you love, do that with respect. I respected every single moment in my new city, Strasbourg. I was alone, I had a kind of job for 8 hours every day, I was writing my thesis on energy diplomacy and I was able to think about myself. What I have become, what I want to become, who I seem to be in the eyes of the others. I thought it all with the deepest respect.
I gave myself the present of a year. A whole year out of my life to do whatever I wished. I would allow myself to do anything I loved, liked or dreamt without any second thought. I would exploit my opportunity to be abroad and I would make my life as fabulous as I could. My main aim would be to have a job by the end, to gather experiences and exchange ideas and knowledge that would lead me to my objective. I started traveling. I started visiting countries I had seen before but never looked so beautiful. One after the other, Switzerland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Belgium, Great Britain, Turkey, Bulgaria. Everything seemed new to me, a whole world to explore and see the possibilities that lay beneath. I was applying for jobs everyday for a couple of hours, I was sitting at the European or Balkan cafes and gazed at the way people, professionals or not, behaved. I started having a routine in my small French city. Routine is important when you chase a goal. You need to find your purpose and focus. Traveling opened my eyes again. I remembered what had fascinated me when I was younger and why I wanted to live abroad. It was unemployment that made me hungry, I was hungry and now I was ready to eat.
See, unemployment changes you. I told you how I slept for weeks. That’s why routine is so vital for you, mentally and physically as well. You have to keep your body and mind active. Do some puzzles, some crosswords, Sudoku or some math. You have to be busy and full of energy, to exercise and feed yourself well. Nourish yourself and prepare for the battle to come. Stay positive in your thoughts and find activities that you enjoy. Read, listen, learn. I like to paint, I like to write, I listen to music and I play brain games frequently. Do whatever pleases you. Besides sinking in a chair in front of the tv hugging a bowl of potato chips. That’s how I worked with myself for a whole year and it all came up, the reasons I studied so many years, the reasons I speak 9 languages, the dreams and the goals, the professional experiences already acquired, the personal development, the advices I had received from friends and mentors. It all came up. Everyone had prepared me, except me.
Unemployment is a lesson, a tricky one, I told you before. It makes you forget who you are, deletes from your brain archives the sense of self-respect and self-esteem, you ignore your capacities and potential, you do not see the footprint that you can leave in the world. Your own personal footprint in our grandiose world full of ideas and actions, which is as unique as you are and without it the same world would be different. But no, when you are unemployed you do not think like that.
In my first two months in Strasbourg, I managed to lose 30 pounds even if I tasted almost every single French dessert available, I had travelled half Central Europe and had fixed 7 professional appointments in order to explore the possibility of a permanent or temporary contract. I created a life. Again. I had my crash and now I was rebooting. I was hoping again and I was willing to do my best with the gift of life that I was given. I have to have a life well spent. My contract was until January 2016. I would not let time decide, I was not going for sure to go back to Greece empty-handed. But all my plans for business meetings and endless travelling and discussing and marketing my own CV in Europe had no success.
The terrorist attack in Paris, November 2015 changed my path. The safety measures affected everyday life in the whole country and the series of attacks that followed across the European continent changed the life in Europe as we knew it. I was offered only unpaid 3 months traineeships but I already had a traineeship and I was too old to work for free not to mention overqualified. So I said no, and with some sorrow inside my European heart I booked a ticket for two months in the USA. I knew that I would not be able to discuss about a job with my visa status but I wanted to explore the country, see how the market works, how people behave and how people succeed out of nothing in a country so diverse and so different to my eyes. I wanted to discuss a PhD program and acquire personal experiences.
In Greece, in France, in Belgium, even in the USA people started to wonder what I was doing wrong so long and even if you ask me today, I am still unable to provide you a convincing and reasonable answer. I guess that my main problem was that I identified myself as an unemployed, setting aside anything else that characterized me as a human being. I had my CV and resume changed over a dozen times, I had written hundreds of motivation letters, I filled numerous forms of applications in the two years period of my job hunting process. Still, I had no success in getting an interview. What was my fault? I heard lots of people, I asked the opinion of few that really mattered to me, I talked to professionals, visited recruiting agencies, I discussed the way to a job across Europe exhaustively. But nothing. And then the people who were wondering about my situation kept talking. Oh my God, how much talking! Endless opinions and advices, diverse points of view, several stories and personal cases, experiences of people that they had listened before, mindsets and words, words, words which I was invited to follow and adjust to my CV and resume and cover letter in order to succeed. And I wanted so much to listen to all this information but I couldn’t. I was confused. How could not be? People I knew, people who knew me, people who the people I knew have known, people that never met me before…Everyone had a plan for me, a piece of advice, a manual which I had to accept as the mysterious gift to humanity. People talk. Some of them never asked me what I had studied in my Bachelors or where I had worked before. But they kept talking.
People like talking. They like it more than listening and that’s what unemployment does to you; no one cares about your opinion, no one wants to know your skills or your knowledge, no one expects your opinion on professional issues. You should shut up, you are unemployed. What can you possibly know? If you knew better, you would have a career. That’s what you get when you sit around the arena but you don’t have a job in it. Even the lions won’t feel your threat. That’s a point of view that exists but no one is forced to accept. It’s a huge misunderstanding, a false concept, a wrong way to approach an unemployed person. If unemployment is tricky, you should see how tricky the people around you are when you face that situation. There will be and there are people who surround you only to diminish you, to show off their career, to make you feel worthless, to cover their own flaws under your misery. But you are not worthless nor their stepping stone. You just need some mentoring, proper guidance and one advice that will suit you. And that’s what it is. It’s only a tough situation through which you need to pass and survive stronger than before. After all, “it’s how well you pass through fire” that matters.
To sum up, people talk, they will continue to do so and they will always try to play Jesus. But what happens when you do succeed something on your own? People talk again. From where I stand, no one offers you a job or an encouraging and honest word when you need it the most, but when you get a job people talk. After my relocation, people started texting me. People that hadn’t talked to me since high school or people that I knew for sure that were talking behind my back. Texts were sent not to congratulate me for getting a job after 2 years of unemployment but to ask me something. Texts went like that: “Hey Anastasia, I saw you got a job abroad. Can you help me find one too?” See, I told you the arena is a cruel place to be.
The 2016 came, I had already visited the States and returned back to Europe. My applications reached the fascinating number of 5000 all over the globe from Vietnam to LaLaland, and from Sweden to Russia. My trip to the States during this period of emotional stress and professional disappointment was a great gift. I observed part of the world and part of myself. I even got the best piece of advice from a friend of mine that lives there almost a decade now. I just had to find what I want and stick to that. Eventually, everything else will happen. Not magically of course. I would have to work hard for my goal and when it becomes my reality I would be calm and peaceful enough to work on the rest aspects of my life. For her that was her personal life that was important and when it was all set, career followed. For me, it was the job.
I organized my trip to the states alone, I flied there all by myself and I spent two months almost alone. I had people to visit and I didn’t plan a trip to the arctic pole but it was for me a chance to do something alone, unprotected, like a fish out of the water. I was feeling like a 3 year old child who has a bag full of candies but doesn’t know how to open the bag. I enjoyed every single moment and guess what? I came back the weight I was supposed to be. Lost the 80 pounds that unemployment and my stupid self had given me and I felt more at peace than ever. I found a little house in Italy, stayed there for two months and had some trips around to see the country, learn the people, gather material for my book, my articles, my social media accounts. I fed my eyes and my soul. I started to exercise, my mood changed, I had to change my whole wardrobe, I look healthier than ever, dyed my hair black and I rarely stay home. I meet my friends and acquaintances as often as I can, I talk more with my family, I play with my dog, I enrolled myself at a Harvard’s online course, I study Hebrew and Farsi and I do yoga every day. And it came. Since March I was called constantly for interviews in Italy, France, Swizerland. I even had 6 interviews in Greece. I travel back and forth in the most amazing european cities, Milan and Paris and I feel grateful any time the plane lands or the train reaches the destination. I feel grateful and peaceful, creative and productive. I write every day, I listen to people, I listen to music, I support causes and I feel. I feel a human being. I do not feel unemployed. I am not. Started to believe in myself and thus I started to believe that I can be my own boss. So I started my project, freelancing and enjoying life wherever that leads me to.
My applications for a normal job, 9-5, have reached the 7000 and still counting. Not that I will stop my projects when I get one, but I am still so curious to see at which number my luck will change. You see the worst part of being unemployed is that you shut yourself down. And you are alone honey, during your whole life. You are alone if you do not respect your own self. People, the famous others that sociology names, do not expect anything from you when you don’t earn money, when you don’t have a career. People count on you only if they have something to expect from you. Well, that’s just how humans are. Lovers and friends don’t have to be that way. Unemployment is a multilateral test to really find out who stands for you, who stands by you. Guess who’s the one to give up on you first…You.
Eventually, we all find our way and some of us learn that the arena isn’t such a bad place to be. Just keep your eyes open for those hungry lions around. You might end up eating that bloody flesh.
For all the women that have been in my shoes, for the ones that are today and for the ones that won't be lucky enough not to be, I will March. Never alone, Never weak.