How the Fear, Shame and Stigma Around Unemployment Are Holding Us Back

It is okay to pause, rest, and recalibrate our lives.

von Clara Hahn, July 17, 2023
Stigma Unemployment

Recently I was reading German sociologist Hartmut Rosa, and he said something that caught my interest. He said that this idea of higher/faster/further that shapes modern life is, at its core, not a desire to have more, but the fear of having less. Our parents and grandparents wanted us to have better lives than them. But for our generation, we may actually be saying, let our children not have less than us.

As it stands now, every third woman with a full-time job in Germany only receives a 1000 € pension even after working 40 years. The promise of capitalism was always that if you worked hard, you got rewarded. But is this even working for us anymore? In this world, as we constantly go round on the hamster wheel, do we ever get to retire? 

Many people here in Germany are currently living with existential fear. The sense of constant crisis across the last few years—with Corona, the war in Ukraine, and climate change—has made people anxious and afraid. Our professional lives have become breeding grounds for this kind of fear and anxiety. We are afraid that if we quit this job that sucks, we may not find a better job. Fear interprets everything could be worse, and warns us to hold onto the “safety” of the job that sucks. The more I look at this “safety”, the less it feels like ground to belong to, and more like a crutch. 

We are also often socialised to re-create the same environment of rush not only in our jobs, but also in our home lives, with our families, with our children. This is propelled by a sense of urgency that everything is burning and needs to be solved immediately. And so this rush consumes our lives, and it feels more and more dangerous to question what we are rushing for, what we are rushing towards. 

Also, I have noticed a certain cultural storytelling in Germany around unemployment, as portrayed on cheap TV, which says that if you don't have the means to buy yourself a nice life, then there’s some sort of stigma, or decay around you. That unemployed people tend to be stupid. 

This is almost a warning of capitalism: make sure you stay in the endless wheel of work. Don't dare stand still to wonder what your next step could be. In production-driven societies like ours, to pause is to decay.  

And that’s what we at Fired Up want to invite you into. A moment of pause, of standing still in all that pressure of having to move on. A moment of pause, not knowing what’s next.

Sometimes this acceptance of doing nothing - of standing still, of not having a solution - does not have to be for a year. It could be for five minutes. 

In the pause, it could be useful to ask yourself: What kind of stigma do I have around unemployment? Is it true? Am I avoiding confronting my fear by holding onto something supposedly safe? It is okay to pause, rest, and recalibrate our lives. In fact, it is essential. We, after all, “are human beings, not human doings”.

fear of unemployment

This is what coaching is for us—someone holding the space for the mud to sink, thereby allowing you to have a moment of slowing down. F**k self-improvement. F**k the idea of becoming a better version of yourself. In a dysregulated world, where we are dissociated from our bodies and only in our heads, where we are deaf to ourselves, a coach is another human being willing to sit with you and help you hear yourself. 

When you hear yourself think again, you can once again remember who you are and what's important. In a world where you are not sure of the reliability of your job, can you start practicing being reliable to yourself? 

What could that even mean? 

Could it mean something as simple (not easy) yet profound like listening to your need, responding to it, and continuing with that kind of self-responsiveness? For example, if you have a need for creative self-expression, then could you begin to make space for it in your life? And perhaps the action that can follow is to stay accountable?

All this is not to say that we’ll begin to make more money the moment we stop. The fact is, we live in a world where our doing makes us money. But what might be worth doing is to ask yourself if the desire to earn comes from a place of fear, insecurity, competition, of things moving too fast and leaving us behind, or from a place of contribution and of sharing your gifts?

Listen. I know. As easy as it might sound on someone’s inspirational IG feed, it’s hard to stop. We are all afraid. We are exhausted from putting out multiple fires. And I want to acknowledge that we may have gotten so used to struggle, that sensations of struggle may feel safer in our nervous systems than sensations of calm. 

As I write these words, I feel the movements of my day, blurry with speed, begin to settle with a sigh. I feel my pace slow down. I sense how fast I have been moving through my day. 

Tricia Hersey, the founder of The Nap Ministry, talks of breaks and rest as radical and liberatory. I remind myself of her words, “There is no urgency. There is no perfection. I am enough now.”

“I am not a machine. I am a divine being. I can rest.”