Truth Tuesday: On Humiliation

I know, I know, I know… It’s not Tuesday anymore, but I fell asleep in the middle of finishing up my post, so I am so sorry. It’s a day late, but here is my Truth Tuesday. Thanks for your patience!

This post is a bit hard for me to write because it feels a bit raw still. I’m still working through the feelings and all that jazz, so I hope you will bear with me and help me to dialogue through all this humiliation.

Since I’ve been laid off, I’ve been receiving unemployment. Besides the crazy hold time to actually sign up for it and the fact that you can only call on a particular day depending on the last digit of a relatively random group of numbers, it hasn’t been too bad. You can apply for benefits online and request them on a weekly basis online as well. It’s discreet and nobody knows the wiser that you are online requesting unemployment benefits.

You might be wondering, “Why does it need to be discreet?” Well, for me, I feel a lot of shame and humiliation applying for, requesting, and now admitting to receiving unemployment. I’m not sure where these feelings are coming from, but it seems to come out a lot more when I have to go in for these mandatory orientation sessions. I had to go in the first time and do this thing called a career action plan and make an additional appointment to do a career action plan review. You also have to bring all these documents including your work search log which is a log of all the different jobs or job search activities you’ve done for the past 6-8 weeks. The work search log is sometimes encouraging, but mostly discouraging depending on how your work search is going.

I thought that I would have a full time job again really soon, but it had been nearly 6 months and my benefits ran out. I didn’t realize, but there is what is called Emergency Unemployment that you can apply for to continue the benefits for a bit longer. So, I applied since I still had not found anything. Then, I got a phone call and a letter to come in for another orientation – this time, it would be for 2 hours. Ugh. I just started a part time job and this was not something I was even remotely interested in doing.

The first time I around, I sat in this stuffy conference room looking around to see what kind of people come in for these orientations and were unemployed. Nobody really looked like me. Some were younger and were in blue collar type jobs. Others were much older than myself. Many of them with limited English speaking skills as well as computer skills. Maybe it was the Korean mom in me, but I felt like a loser and I felt so much shame. I felt like everyone was looking at me and wondering why I was sitting there – how come I was unemployed? And I thought about my very expensive college degree and could not believe that I was sitting in this room. What did I go into debt for? My parents’ hard earned money went into paying for part of that private college tuition and I was wondering if they would feel so disappointed. I felt my face burning with shame and embarrassment.

In addition to that shame, I was also feeling shocked at myself for making all these preconceived judgments on the people around me – all based on how they looked, the questions they had, and their revelation of the types of jobs they were looking for. Where did I even get these notions?

The second time around, I felt even more humiliated because I didn’t expect to be back there again. Again, I looked around the room and did my quick survey of the folks that were sitting with me in this room. It was a much more vocal group this time around. The thing that I noticed, though, was that all of them seemed to have a lot of hustle. They were all looking so hard for jobs – some of them had temp full time jobs. It really sucked.

But the humiliation I felt was more pronounced by the one other Asian person sitting in the room and then compounded by the Asian career counselor that came in to help sign off on those career action plans. It made me feel really aware of the assumptions I had of myself and of Asian Americans. I assume that Asian Americans are all highly educated and should have white collar jobs – this includes how I view myself. If you were to ask me, though, I probably would not say that I feel this way and that you should just be doing whatever you love doing. Inside, though, I clearly was not feeling that way.

On my T ride back, I plunged myself into a book to try to shake off the feelings of humiliation. As I walked home from the T station, though, my thoughts wandered back to those feelings. I was carrying around these deep seeded assumptions of myself that I was so unaware of until this moment. It also made me think about what kinds of assumptions I am passing on to my daughter and the kinds of unspoken expectations I may have.

I grew up in a culture where certain things were deemed acceptable and laudable for professions, behaviors, and extra-curricular activities. Playing the violin or piano, being obedient to parents, Math club, tennis or golf, engineer, doctor, and if you were a girl – demure laughing (where one must cover your mouth and not laugh out loud). If one deviated from this path, it was generally frowned upon and not talked about, especially to any other Asian families. Not to mention, you would get a talking to about how you were shaming the family.

So it was to my horror and my family’s shame that I even sat in a career center because I was receiving unemployment and could not find a job 6 months after the fact. I still remember when one of my parents’ friends asked me about my job and I told them that I was laid off – they said, “Oh, you should say, ‘I quit this job because there is something better.’” Ah, yes – I should be the queen of bullsh@!ting, but alas, I was born with this terribly honest gene along with the oversharing gene. I definitely should not have been born in an Asian body for that alone.

The feelings of humiliation have slowly dissipated, but I am still trying to take apart why I even felt that in the first place. I am terrible at asking for help and this type of asking for help makes me feel a bit unnerved. Maybe that is also where the humiliation is stemming from?

For all those of you who are looking for work – don’t be discouraged. There is something out there for you and you will find it. There is also no such thing as work that is beneath you or something that you are too good for. Take pride in whatever work you do because it was hard earned and you are a hard worker. I also highly recommend using the resources of the local career centers around you. I didn’t even know such things existed until I went through this process, but they have so many tools that you may need to make your job search successful.

Do you have certain notions or assumptions that have surprised you? This has been an interesting eye-opening experience for me and I will definitely continue to explore all this and I hope you will too.

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