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Gainful employment is frankly pretty excellent, I have learned. When applied correctly, it affords a person neat things such as a place to sleep and store your belongings, and meals on a daily basis. When it is especially gainful, as it has been for me, it also affords nice luxuries such as driving a car, purchasing provocatively named micro-beers, and occasionally travelling on an airplane.
It frees a person from scary things such as insurmountable debt and perpetual homelessness. Recently, it has come to the attention of the public that for young people in Canada it’s a scarce commodity.
I am a young person and I have been unemployed.
It’s frankly pretty awful. In the beginning it was just the sweet new fall jacket I couldn’t afford, or the Saturday-night trips to the pricier brewpub that I had to balk at in favour of retail-priced beer procured at the LCBO.
Then, as the weeks and months went on, I evolved into that boring friend who couldn’t afford subway trips outside my neighbourhood. Slowly but surely, takeout pizza became an unimaginable luxury. I grew truly and righteously outraged at the price of diced tomatoes in a can. I got really excited about finding a cheque for $450, made out to someone else, on the street before I reminded myself that cheque fraud is a serious felony.
What could I do? I went to university and got a degree. After university I went to college and got a diploma. Then I e-mailed my résumé to every company, non-profit and government institution with an online careers page.
My parents said “Hit the bricks,” so I printed my résumé on paper and handed it to people in brick-and-mortar buildings.
My aunts and uncles said “It’s all about who you know,” so I called, texted and e-mailed everyone I’d ever met who collects a paycheque.
I posted on Facebook asking “does anybody have a lead on a job?” Three people helpfully suggested I apply at the nearby hardware store. I was a bright, self-motivated and detail-oriented young person, but it was and is a tough economy.
One summer during university, my cousin and I helped my uncle’s business reshingle my grandmother’s roof. My cousin thrived while I ruined my back for what will probably be the next decade.
That same year, I was thrilled to be brought on board with a company that provided supplies to plumbing contractors in the Ottawa area. My job was to assemble the parts needed for each order so that the shipping manager could package them for delivery.
I was terrible at it. My slim, 100-pound frame was no match for massive ceramic toilets sitting precariously atop 20-foot warehouse shelves. I piloted a delivery van into another province by mistake. My four-day tenure ended with the parting comfort that I was “probably too smart for this job anyway.”
I’ve been underemployed, or perhaps inaccurately employed: It isn’t wonderful.
A lot of opinionated people have recently discussed and debated the notion that the predicament of unemployment in my generation is our fault. Some accuse us of being lazy or feeling too entitled.
Young people aren’t lazy and they’re not complacent. Some of my friends say that the fault lies with the baby boomers, who are clinging onto all the good jobs and won’t let go until they’ve squeezed every penny into bloated retirement packages featuring quadrennial yacht upgrades. But I think most of us are more realistic.
At the same time, those who claim my generation is to blame for its high rate of joblessness sometimes accuse us of having a sense of “specialness” that has led us to believe we can all be astronauts, television writers or unicorn wranglers if we put our minds to it.
A few of them will argue that we would all be happily employed if we would only learn trades or become mechanical or software engineers, because those people are cleaning up.
I think most of us realize that not everyone can go to Mars, write jokes for Family Guy or raise premium unicorn meat. I also think not everyone can make a good electrician or design advanced computer software. I know I can’t.
Everyone is good at something, but no one is good at everything. It took me hundreds of e-mails reading: “Thank you for your interest, but the position has been filled,” to realize that I had to stop blanketing the entire job market with a one-size-fits-all résumé and focus on finding a job where I could actually be successful.
Interestingly, or perhaps ironically, I found it in writing professional résumés for a company that helps people find the types of jobs in which I performed so dismally.
I am a young person and I’ve been employed gainfully.
All it took was several years of excruciating desperation, miserable failure and an honest assessment of my personal value in the cold and unforgiving job market.
I'm still pretty far back on the waiting list for the mission to Mars, and I have yet to wrangle even one unicorn, but it’s not bad for a start.
Braeden Banks lives in Toronto.