Day 20: Loretta

I spent most of 2017 obsessed about finding a job, but I found myself instead.

I really wanted to write about 2017 at the very end, when all the “loose ends” would have been tied so I could end on a good/motivational “I made it, you can too” note, but that feeling does not exist. And when one loose end gets tied up, another one rips, or you notice all the others just crawling about messing things up. So be like me, eat a lot of sugar, cry a bit, sleep and pick up another loose end to trim. C’est la vie.

I lost my job at the end of 2016, so I entered 2017 badly bruised and seriously hurting.  It was not my fault but it would take me about 9 months to figure this out. It was also the first time I had failed at something.

I’m going to tell you now, learning to fail is a skill. It takes a lot of willpower to move yourself from that pit, and the longer you stay down, the more you and the people around you get used to seeing you there and the harder it is to come out, because people will mostly assume that’s where you belong or want to be.

In retrospect, I realized that I tied my self-worth to some definition of success that involved getting a job right after NYSC, and my failure to do that made me really question myself and what I was worth, and the fact that I got it and then lost it only made it worse.

I threw myself into the job hunt like no man’s business. I became an online jobs board pro. I applied to everywhere, and for any position. I just wanted a job, any job. I was convinced a job would fix me. I also had the foresight to pick up a few skills in the process.

Right now, based on my experience, I believe one thing to be true about job searches. Usually when you don’t get a position, it’s not that you’re no good, there was just a better candidate. Better recommendations, better knowledge of buzzwords, a little more skill than you have. I’m sure that’s why they encourage you to learn as much as you can and not worry too much about money at first. 

Anyhoo, I didn’t gain all of this wisdom until like 3 weeks ago, so if you think I’m smart, best throw that notion out the window now.

The first quarter of 2017 was literally the universe just playing limbo with me. Oh you think this is the lowest? Well, we can go lower baby! And I just sank and continued playing. 

I started running and one month into it, the week I hit 10k at a stretch, I got mugged on my regular route at 6am. I still can’t go running and it’s been a year. 

In February I got this gig managing someone’s social media page. I did it for 8 weeks and she only paid me for 4 weeks and refused to pay the balance. This was not unusual or surprising, people are horrible, but I’d made a mistake. I borrowed money from my friend, thinking she’d pay and when she didn’t I couldn’t pay back. It wasn’t a lot of money, but I couldn’t pay back and it made me really sad. 

Around April, I discovered what suicidal ideation meant. 

Now, we will ignore what a shit fest my love life was this year. Just take my word for it, it was bad.

By May, I got about 3 job leads in Lagos. So I packed my bag for a 2 week trip, and got on the road. I spent a month in Lagos, exhausted my leads and got, “sorry but no thanks, we’re good. We won’t hire you.”

I came back home and I slept for a week.

I was in debt, my phone broke, and I just spent one month away from home with nothing to show for it. I shut down. A lot of my friendships suffered during this time and they still haven’t recovered. I was spending all this time in my room just sleeping a lot. I did this for a week, and then my father started to panic, so he forced me to go to a thing.

It was one of those marketing seminar things where you get someone and the next person got two other people and you get a commission off their signing up or something, but this particular seminar was for just women.

I don’t know exactly how to describe what it was, but I think it sort of saved my life at that point. I got a sense of community from hearing these women’s stories. I was not the only one struggling. Things were bad, but they would get better.

Look, I hate motivational speeches as much as the next person, but that day I was grateful. I let their stories of triumph wash over me and I felt so much better. 

There was the woman who married right after her school cert and then got herself into university, all by herself, and became a chartered accountant, after having 4 children. There was the widow who pulled herself up after her husband’s sudden death choosing not to remarry, and carrying the financial burden of raising her children all alone. There was the woman who made it back out after getting scammed of millions of naira and being suicidal, and there were two ladies who sat next to me and talked a bit about feminism, and what it meant to be an older woman without a husband or child.

I knew then that motivational words were simply something to make sure you keep trying to get up. Something to make sure that you don’t think the dirt is where you belong, something to soothe you while you’re down, like a drink of water, or hope. These words were never meant to be ladder out of your sunken place.

It was also funny that in a room like that, filled with the type of women who would traditionally distance themselves from feminism, not one of them defined themselves by marriage/men or children. Those things were just boxes to be checked off a list as they continued with their search for meaning by themselves. 

Attending that meetup kept me afloat mentally for a long while.

Then I became friends with a group of fierce young people in my city, who also paid for my drinks very often. They were older and had their shit together and yet they still let me in.

Finding this group of people who didn’t blink when I said I was unemployed, who didn’t treat it like a contagious disease caused by stupidity or laziness, but just a temporary situation, was very liberating. It was like I was holding my breath and I could let it out. Even when I got frustrated and complained about not having work, they would brush it aside, but it also gave me a sort of confidence. These people were convinced I’d be fine, so I supposed I would be fine. 

In July, one of my closest friends married the love of his life and I tucked in my anxiety and fears of not measuring up, went to the wedding and had the time of my life. I also reconnected with an old friend and I kept in touch. Gist led to gist, and it turns out this guy knew a place that would potentially be a good fit for my skills, so I went to him and said please, please you have to get me a job at this place that you have. I’ll work for free, I don’t mind.

He promised to help me put in a good word, but it was taking a while, so I just gave up. Then one day he’s like come meet me here, and the meeting turns into an interview and I get a job. 

I had one secret goal at this job. To not get fired after 8 weeks (I worked at my last job for 8 weeks). It was so weird but anytime someone asked, how’s work? I would just say- I’m still here, they haven’t thrown me out just yet, and it’s been 10 weeks, haha, I’m not broken after all. It was the stupidest thing but that was my benchmark. I think even right now, I’m not confident about long term employment. 

I agreed to work for free because I actually thought I didn’t have anything to offer that was worth money. That’s it. I was hoping I’d learn a bit from whoever was there and just slowly work my way up. We agreed to a month of free working and I said great. Even though your girl was broke and there was no way I was going to finance this venture for two months. I said okay.

Turns out I was a natural at the job. I did great work. After two weeks of working there, they agreed to pay for my services. I discovered so many things about myself in the next 14 weeks. I spent 14 weeks trying my best and doing as much as I could to get results. The work was hard and I struggled sometimes, but I enjoyed seeing how much I could do. It was a relief to realize that I wasn’t just all talk and no substance. I even figured out what I wanted to do for the next 5 years at least. I had to leave after about 3 months, and I had no regrets.

So I’ve spent the past 8 weeks being an unemployed bum, and also searching for another job, and it’s been mostly interesting, and completely different from how it was at the start of the year. There’s lots of sleep involved and lots of fried food. 

I don’t have a perfect ending for the year, but one thing is clear about 2017, I found a lot of the things I was looking for. The fact that I lost them shortly afterwards doesn’t really matter at this point. I found them, and that’s enough. And I’m looking forward to finding even more things and living in the moment.



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