Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Emptiness Of Unemployment

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 12, 2013


Shayna, twenty-three has never perceived a bump in her road. She did well in school, went to an Ivy League college, majored in a humanity, and is now searching for a job in the publishing business, knowing well that the business is drying up and her prospects are poor. She has returned to her parent’s house, with contentment. She is not burning to move out, or to move on, for that matter. Her life feels “empty” but not “boring”. She entertains herself with her friends who are in similar situations. She could go to graduate school, but “why should I waste all that money?” She tells me, as if she is echoing her parents. She has a boyfriend in town, who is hard-working, at a steady job in the technology world, and he pays for their entertainment, but “I am not comfortable,” she says, expressing ambivalence about their financial inequality. “Maybe you are scared you won’t find the job that satisfies you, so you are stuck in a place where movement is more threatening than stasis.” I say, highlighting her apparent challenge to become an adult and commit to a profession which both makes her happy and provides financial independence. ” I do not feel fear,” she says directly, “but I do feel stuck,” she responds, letting me know that her surface is paralysis, and under that surface is foggy to her. “I guess I am scared,” she continues, as she thinks about my comment. “I have never not gotten what I wanted, so I am not sure how I cope with disappointment,” she says with admirable candor and courage. “Maybe the adventure is to be open to coping with disappointment and/or enjoying your next chapter.” I say, highlighting her uncertainty that she may get rejected from jobs, and/or she may not like the job she lands. “I am stuck now,” she says, “but I am also afraid of getting stuck in a job that makes all my time feel wasted and not creative,” she says opening up our discussion of her inhibitions and her fears. “Which kind of stuck do you prefer?” I say, encouraging her to make more conscious choices about her behavior, as right now she seems to be  unconsciously choosing to not pursue jobs very aggressively in order not to land a job which makes her feel like she is selling her soul.  “I guess I prefer my current situation,” she says, with hesitation and uncertainty about her response. Stasis versus movement, comes to my mind. Inertia is powerful, and yet upon reflection, can feel like a wasted opportunity. “We need to think about this more deeply,” I say, as I toy with how to approach her fear-based inertia.

4 Responses to “Emptiness Of Unemployment”

  1. Ashana M said

    Waiting can look a lot like “stuck” from the outside, or if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing, but waiting is really quite different. Waiting involves an openness to possible paths and solutions to problems, so that when you come upon it, you are ready to proceed. Stuck involves a closed attitude: there are no possible solutions to problems; all possible paths are summarily rejected. At 23, maybe she does not realize that waiting is a part of the process of moving forward. School life tends to move forward at a fixed rate: you make certain decisions at pre-determined points that mostly other people decide for you. (You choose classes when the counselor says so. You choose a college before the college deadlines.) But often you need to wait for what you want, or you need to wait to know what you want, or you need to wait in order to gain the understanding. Life does not proceed in a smooth, unbroken line. You often need to wait, especially if you want to make better decisions. Is she stuck? Or just waiting?

  2. Shelly said

    For some reason, I can’t relate to Shayna. Adults don’t have the luxury of “waiting” or “being stuck,” of moving back in with their parents and choosing jobs that will or will not fulfill them. How long will her parents put up with that attitude before tossing her out to fend for herself? No-one knows better than me how hard it is to toss and adult child out on the streets, yet Shayna is not ill, just ‘stuck.’ Child, go get unstuck! Move on! Get a job, get insurance, get an apartment and get a life! You don’t like the job you have, get another one! You don’t like your profession? Go to night school and get trained in something else! Don’t like that your boyfriend is rich and wants to support you? (Gee, what a problem!) Dump him! For some reason, I simply cannot relate to the whines of the young and unemployed. I can relate to the middle-aged and elderly who have to live on unemployment or pensions, but certainly not to the young who “choose to be fulfilled.”

    • Yes, there seems to be a generational shift where attitudes have changed dramatically. Millennials, it seems to me, have taken their poor employment prospects and re-framed them into a search for “fulfillment” giving themselves permission to be “at sea”. Having said that, my point of view is that people who walk into my office are trying to better their lives, so they are not “whining” or “being self-involved,” but rather they are open to seeing themselves in ways which might be uncomfortable and unsettling, with the hope that this will put them on a better path. Perhaps my writing does not convey the courage that a young person must have to enter psychotherapy and examine their life, which, by definition, does not feel right to them. Thanks. ,

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