Unemployment & The Ego


Inspired by this recent post on The Tangential, I decided to talk about my own experiences with unemployment and what that does to a person– not just the money aspect, but in how it makes you question your own self worth.

I’ll mention off the bat that I have a history of depression. I was diagnosed in 2007 when I started Therapy (that was unsuccessful at first; I didn’t have a connection with my doctor. A year later I started with a new one and that was much more positive) and started taking antidepressants. I’d say generally, I can be pretty upbeat. I have a tight network of friends but for the most part, find it difficult to talk to people. When I get down, I get really down. I question everything in my life, and feel like a failure. These spells don’t usually last longer than a day or two. I wallow, indulge myself in some treats (like, getting Chipotle or watching my favorite show) and get over it. The ability to reason with myself has probably been my saving grace.

How does this relate to unemployment? Well, in my case, it relates greatly.

I’ve been unemployed off and on most of the last year. My first real job, which I got out of college, was fine, and it paid the bills, and it was a design job. I liked it, and the people, and the flexibility that came with it. The company shut down in March of last year, and even though I was sad, I felt like I had a real opportunity to explore what else was out there. Maybe start some projects, revel in the FUNemployment, and everything would be peachy. Quickly I realized that was not how it was going to be, and I got some serious ennui.

My summer was lost to me. I had decent money every week, not so much that I could put a substantial dent in the house bills, but I got to have fun. I went out all the time, stayed out late and slept in until noon. The tension in this house was thick. I wasn’t doing anything productive. I wasn’t even cleaning the house or taking out the trash. I went to some informational interviews, some of which made me feel good, some of which made me feel hopeless. And I think I applied to some jobs, but the whole period is a blur.

For years, people were telling me how great I was. I do these posters for this popular dance night. Thousands of people see them every month. The DJ is super well known throughout the cities. I should’ve been in high demand. Like an idiot, I let the hype [about me] go to my head. I thought I was as great as everyone said. And when I didn’t get any jobs, I was resentful and angry at everyone who’d ever said something nice about me. What the hell did they know about this industry? If they think I should be getting a great job, why don’t they find me one? Sometimes I even thought that I wasn’t even that good and they were stupid for thinking I was.


In the late Summer, I found a job that started out great and it paid well but after about 6 weeks the project went in a different direction. I was again unemployed, and now I had no real money to sustain me; I couldn’t reapply for unemployment based on those new wages. So I had to wait a month before I could start requesting again. I tasted desperation for the first time. I looked for the deals everywhere. I managed to get a $6 haircut at Great Clips. I started a personal design project for myself to stay sharp and give myself something to do, but also with the hope that someone out there would notice it and give me work.

My unemployment was due to run out on December 29, and there was no way out of that. Everyday was now a difficult task I had to face, frantically sending my resume out to anyone and everyone I could find. I don’t know how many places my resume is on file now. Inside, I was feeling crushed. I didn’t know what more I could do. Only a few friends knew of my predicament, and those ones would be absolutely wonderful to me. Inviting me out and buying me drinks, listening to me vent. But everyone else I secretly resented. I would go out and be moody and silent, feeling close to tears because everyone was having such a great time and they didn’t care that I was going through a tough time. This is where the depression set in. Sometimes I thought about the death, and it almost felt like a relief. If I went away, all my problems would disappear. I would never have to worry about getting a job, or paying for things. I even began to envy my cat, because she doesn’t have to do anything, and nothing’s expected of her. I wanted out.

I was always working. Working at finding a job, working at giving my designs away for free because I wanted to build up my network and get recognition. Being as accommodating as possible. I wanted to please everyone because if I did, maybe they’d give me some money. But that didn’t really help my self-esteem problem, and ended up feeling worse that I was selling myself so short. If my work wasn’t worth anything to the people who genuinely like me and my designs, then I’d never find a job. Ever. I contemplated giving up Graphic Design altogether. I didn’t think I could do it anymore. Quitting seemed like the easiest way.

But as I said, I have the ability to reason with myself at times. And reminded myself that I knew what I was doing when I agreed to it and that if I really didn’t want to be giving my work away, then I didn’t have to.

Finally I ran out of money, and after frantic searching I got a paid freelance gig. It was heaven sent. I worked a week but soon after was told that they might need someone with more experience. The weight settled in again, and on top of that, another potential client couldn’t hire me because I didn’t have web experience. It was a low point in my life. And it was only last week. 3 days later I had sat in a group interview where people seemed to genuinely like me and what I do. I felt validation. Finally.

But then, like a fool, I realized I had validation the whole time, and despite myself, I was ignoring it. How many people went to bat for me when someone was looking for a designer? How many people would still? How many people would tell me they liked my work? More than I can count. They weren’t stupid for thinking I was great. I blamed everyone for my unemployment instead of me. And, maybe even I’m not to blame. Maybe the market is really shitty. Maybe I’m just not the right person right now, but I will be. I’m good enough to get hired in this town, and it really sucks that I haven’t been yet, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen soon.

I think the best thing anyone can have is a good support system. My friends and family keep me going, keep me constantly striving for greatness. It’s the type of thing that I never thought I’d have.

About the Author

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Hi! I'm a graphic designer, photographer and female person. I live in Minneapolis with my husband Alan and our baby son Alexander and baby cat Arya.




This is a very moving post Caroline. I’m glad that you are able to find empowerment in yourself despite the ups and downs of life. You are an inspirational designer to me not because of your aesthetics or coolness, but because of your work ethic and inability to allow yourself to go unchallenged. I hope you know how much I value you as a friend and peer.

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