I distinctly remember the day I decided to become a writer. I was riding a bus back home from university with my eyes glued to a romance novel, so enthralled that for a stretch of time, I forgot where I was. This wasn’t disorienting, but extraordinary: I was in a different world, imagining myself as the protagonist of this tale. After a while, I looked up and this time, disorientated by my surroundings, realized that I missed my bus stop. But I wasn’t upset. I spent the half-hour walk blissfully flirting with the idea of becoming a writer.
I felt a pull towards this idea. If I could create a world for others to escape to — a sanctuary where people felt heard, seen, and less alone, then I wanted to become a writer. Shortly after that day, I decided to change my major to English Literature, giddy at the prospect of starting a career as a writer. Little did my naïve-self know that the path ahead wouldn’t be as linear as I once thought.
Looking for a job post-graduation
Fast-forward to post graduation. Entering the job market felt like a blood sport. Despite the numerous writing internships, applications, interviews, and entry tests for various companies, nothing was successful. As the rejections piled on, I began thinking: “Is it me? Am I not good enough?” None of that was true, of course, but I didn’t know any better and hadn’t yet built up the confidence to silence the negative beliefs about my skills and capabilities as a writer. If I could go back, I would tell myself that it’s okay to not be a master at your craft at the onset of your career and that your worth isn’t determined by your skill set or work experience.
The beginning of one’s career can be confusing, even more so if you can’t find a job. This uncertainty worsens if you’re living in a country with high unemployment. Not being able to get a job had nothing to do with my skills, but a lack of job opportunities. However, this didn’t stop me from conflating my worth with my joblessness. After her umpteenth rejection, my sister also decided to change her career away from writing due to the lack of opportunities. We both ended up going in career directions that we didn’t necessarily want to go in. The job market is oversaturated in my country and high unemployment is just one of the many socio-economic problems that many young people face in South Africa. My education was my one advantage and allowed me to take a practical route, even though that meant straying away from what I truly loved.
Finding a job in an unrelated field
I became an English teacher. I started out teaching online, then transitioned to teaching in a classroom in Spain. In many ways, I’m privileged to have an education, to have access to the internet, and to have the resources to save up to travel and work in a foreign country. Being an English teacher definitely had its perks, and the job market was open to many nationalities. In my country, this gave a lot of emerging graduates opportunities to become English teachers. Many young people from my country emigrate to build better lives abroad, to save up, pay their student loans, and improve the quality of their lives. Although this is a privilege, it’s disheartening to be met with such limitations within your native country, not to mention straying away from the career you originally desired. Living with such limitations affects your self-esteem and confidence. I lost hope in becoming a writer for a long time because of it.
I wrote here and there, kept a blog, and documented my travels and other life experiences. I gained a lot of valuable experiences during the time I wasn’t pursuing writing, but when the pandemic hit, I lost my teaching job and had to return to South Africa, unemployed. Returning to online teaching proved difficult: the industry itself had changed and many companies started excluding South Africans from the job markets. The companies that were hiring South Africans paid little money.
Dealing with job loss in the middle of a global pandemic
During this time in the lockdown, I faced many hardships and confusion amidst the financial stress of unemployment. I was living with my parents, my father was about to be unemployed, too, and it was at this time that I felt the pains of being a marginalized person of color in a third-world country. But, despite the difficulties I faced, I knew I had to keep on fighting. I decided to stop looking for teaching jobs and, out of curiosity, take a peek at the writing jobs. Somehow this sparked a bit of hope in me and led me back to writing and uploading new articles on my blog. I decided to try a different direction in writing: copywriting. I completed two courses: one to learn about copywriting and another to build my portfolio. I started to feel that gravitational pull back into writing and then worked up the courage to apply for writing positions again.
The first few rejections were discouraging because they brought back the old feelings of inadequacy that I felt years ago when applying for writing jobs. Because I had been in the education industry for a long time, I had to research how I could land a content-writing or copywriting job, despite my lack of job experience. LinkedIn gave me hope, though. Career coaches on LinkedIn kept on encouraging people every day that it was possible to land any job, even if you lacked experience. It showed me that changing my career was possible and that as long as I invested in myself — my craft and making myself more employable, I could get a job as a writer. To my benefit, COVID-19 changed the job market, opening up possibilities for a larger international market due to remote working. For the first time, I believed that I stood a chance. I became laser-focused on copywriting courses, researched content strategy, and educated myself on marketing during that period of unemployment. I pushed myself to wake every day and try again; work on my portfolio, work on my courses, look for jobs, write cover letters, and reach out to contacts on LinkedIn. And that’s when my love for writing re-emerged like fresh dew in the first moments of sunrise.
After months of writing countless cover letters and doing courses, I received an email from a company. After researching and learning about them, I became genuinely excited about their brand as I felt it aligned with my aspiring lifestyle and values. The interview process was a breeze, too. I felt comfortable expressing myself, and the recruiters showed a genuine interest in me. Once I received the “yes,” it just seemed like the right move. Fast forward to today, and I can honestly say that working as a writer has given me the confidence to keep going for my dreams. I went from someone who never believed she could ever land a writing job to someone who now writes every day. To be able to have a job that I truly love is more than I could have ever imagined.
Here’s what I did during my period of unemployment:
- I brushed up on interviewing skills, received feedback on my resume, revamped my portfolio, and took on freelancing jobs during my unemployment gap.
- I took care of my mental health by taking frequent breaks in nature. Many studies show that job loss is linked to depression and anxiety so it’s important to take measures to support your mental health. A growing body of research has shown that spending time in nature for an extended period can reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. Nature became my refuge during this time.
- I invested in skill development by finding affordable and free courses to further my education. Studies show that education improves the chances of re-employment for unemployed people.
- I took rejection less personally and came to terms with the effects of the COVID-19 recession and its global impact on unemployment. This meant that fewer jobs were available and that I certainly wasn’t alone in my experience. This was an important step in addressing how I felt during unemployment.
At Holisticly, economic health is a core pillar. Unemployment, financial stress, and lack of job security can all affect our overall health. Finding support during periods of financial strain is imperative for our wellness. I have first-hand experience in how low economic health affects your life and also how daunting this period can be. Although my non-linear journey was arduous, I gained some valuable tools along the way. I learned how to adapt to a changing job market, to motivate myself to keep on learning new skills, and I developed networking skills that I didn’t have before. I started to own my craft, carve out my own path, and rise up from adversity. Although change can be slow, the tides do change, and when they do, a path opens up beyond our intellect.