I originally started this blog as a way to reassure others that their bizarre experiences in the world of unemployment were not unique. I wanted to reaffirm all the sensations, emotions, frustrations that go along with the process of looking for, but not necessarily finding your place, in the workplace. It was a world totally and completely different than any I had experienced before, and a pretty hostile world at that. If you didn't have a job, it was somehow your own damn fault. Not wanting to degenerate into whining and self pity, and not wanting to rehash the same old stories, I decided not to post without something fresh and interesting to bring to the topic. After many months, I have come to the realization that the only employment out there with any potential to pay the bills, offer a sense of challenge and satisfaction, is the world of self-employment.
If you are unemployed, there are armies of people out there offering you opportunities to make phenomenal incomes while never leaving your kitchen table or changing out of your jammies. Everyone has a fool proof plan, and most of them are based on selling people something that they don't really want and cannot really afford. In a rotten economy, the only opportunity for you to profit, is literally to be taking some money out of somebody else's pocket in the form of sales. I have further discovered that self-employment is really a misnomer. The folks that are offering these wonderful opportunities are not as desirous of giving you a chance to succeed and support yourself and family, but are about profiting from you efforts. You see, for every person they recruit, they get bonuses, perks, points, or direct cash. Every time you get a sale, they get an override. That smiling, helpful mentor is all about your success as long as it increases their success. And because so many are in unemployment desperation, we are completely expendable.
We are cautioned against advertisements that ask us for a fee or deposit in order to work, but in the world of commissioned sales, you discover, after being "hired" that you are required to take classes, or perhaps pay for licenses or permits. This is not a condition of the employment, but rather a condition of actually doing the task that might just actually generate an income. Often these fees are mandated by the very same state and local agencies that told you not to ever accept a position that required you to pay something in order to work. These are the same entities that are continually asking why it is that you haven't got a job. The clock is ticking, and unemployment comp is not a forever thing, so you figure "What the hell! Have to do something!" So you gratefully fork over resources that you don't actually have to spare, take classes, exams, and pay license fees, so that you can annoy people in person and by telephone in the hopes that somebody really wants what you might be selling. Oh yeah, and they don't tell you up front that you have to pay for the names and phone numbers of prospects that might be interested in your product or service. That little piece of the puzzle comes after you have expended the education and legalization funds. By now, you are "all in", and not about to throw away the money and time you have spent to get this far, so you fork out even more cash that you don't actually have to spare. You wind up upgrading your phone contract, so that you have enough minutes to listen to endless voice mails or be cussed out and hung up on. Maybe you require a laptop computer for presentations, should somebody actually express interest. You have to drive to some central location, so that your new employer can be assured that you are making those phone calls and not just flaking off, because if you were flaking off, they don't get any extra income either. :You are spending gas money without earning anything back. Should you have to go to a client for presentations, you are spending gas and tolls to get to and from. You are reassured that these are all tax write offs, but the problem is that you have to make money to have a tax write off.....not to mention that you need to hire the services of a CPA to calculate your tax liability quarterly instead of once a year like the rest of the world. Now you have even more people depending upon your success. The mentor who convinced you that you were a cinch to do well in this occupation and the sky was the limit in terms of earnings is depending upon your success to up their income. The CPA is dependent upon your success to get paid for helping keep you straight with the IRS (I am firmly convinced that the IRS is the American equivalent to the KGB).
Initially, you were told that you were a completely independent contractor, and could set your own hours, work at your own pace, produce as much or as little as you were able. This is not the reality. Now, you are being told that you are expected to make a certain number of calls per day, go on a certain number of client appointments per week, and make a certain number of sales from those appointments. Suddenly, you have more goals to fulfill than you ever had working for the corporate leviathan. Your mentor gets surly when you are not successful. Gone is the personable and persuasive individual who "hired" you and gave you this great opportunity. And suddenly, you are back to learning about all the things that you simply are not good at, not even adequate. Explanations of circumstance are automatically considered as excuse making. If you only made more phone calls, or went on more appointments, you would be earning the big bucks. And pretty soon, you find yourself working at this stuff 24/7. Friends and family don't want to talk to you any longer, because you can't seem to discuss anything other than your self-employment. They didn't want to talk to you before, because you were unemployed, and now, they don't want to talk with you because you are employed....It is a real Win/Win situation here.
The real fun begins when you go on client appointments, and the person is trying to sell you on their products and services. They really had no desire to hear about your wonderful program, but they sure want to sell you on theirs. Or, they want to recruit you to sell their program for them (remember, they too will get perks for recruiting folks into the fold). They try to convince you that this is such a natural fit with what you are already doing that you could easily do both and earn even more and more money. Once again, there isn't a lot of focus on the costs of education or licensing, just the carrot out in front of unlimited earning potentials in a marketplace that is just screaming for your help. The clients are like leaves on the ground in October. You will have more work and income than you know what to do with. The only way to get rich quicker is a winning Power Ball ticket. Some of these encounters are almost cult like, flashback to the Jim Jones disaster or Branch Davidians. It is difficult to extricate yourself from these encounters politely and with dignity. Often your refusal to "jump in" is met with outright hostility and name calling. You are simply too stupid to live if you don't see the value in promoting their program.
Another interesting aspect to the whole world of sales is the amount of bullshit thrown about. We are talking non-stop, "please open a window and give me a shovel" levels of bravado. Sales people are doing so great, making so much money. See how easy it is? If that is the truth, then why are they doing the same 100 hours per week that you want me to do? Shouldn't they have reached the point of coasting along on all this success? By the way, questions like that, asked aloud, will get you drummed out of the corps for having poor attitude. One of the hallmarks of the self-employed, seems to be never admitting that you aren't earning money to anyone, including yourself.
My attitude was that perhaps having a job would act as a magnate, and if I continued to apply for conventional employment, I wouldn't be considered one of those "lazy" folks that don't want to work. As time drags along in the world of unemployment, you do tend to get hostile questions in interviews about what you have been doing all that time. Isn't it so much better to say that you went back to school, took classes, learned new skills, and have been self-employed doing something? Obviously not, because now the questioning seems absolutely puzzling over why anyone would want to give up this Shangri La of self employment, working from the kitchen table in your jammies. When you point out that there is a good deal to be said for having a regular paycheck and a household budget, that commission only work can be capricious, they tend to look at you as being unable to work in a "structured setting", unable to take direction from a superior, unable to be a team player. After all the descriptive of what you do is "self-employed".
Bottom line is that you have learned a ton of new stuff, which doesn't necessarily translate into income. You have some cool licenses and permits to hang on your walls. You have business cards to announce to the world that you have joined a different category of unemployed. You meet a ton of people, but it doesn't necessarily engender friendships and long term relationships. In fact, you sense that folks hide when they see or hear you coming. You continue to go through the rituals associated with "job seeking", with pretty much the same result as before, just new excuses for not being selected. The clock is still ticking, benefits have been reduced a couple times, but you know that soon they will go away completely and you won't even be able to shop at Aldi's And you have stripped out any savings you have trying to help yourself, trying to be productive, trying to pay your own way.
When all is said and done, you are still considered to be at fault for life spiraling downward out of control. Those who have jobs regard you as a parasite. Those without jobs are out there doing the same thing you are. It is amazing how many other folks, similarly unemployed, you run into as you attempt to sell the wares and services that are supposed to sell themselves. There are armies of us out there, probably more salespeople on commission than their are potential customers. We receive no benefits, no support, no protection, and many weeks, no payment. We are putting in more hours and effort and expending more of our resources than the folks who are employed. And yet, for many of us, the commission only sales route is the only option from which we haven't been shut out completely.
Update status: Almost 18 months without a conventional paycheck of any type. Commission sales are funny things, because it isn't really a paycheck, but a loan against future earnings, and if you aren't successful, you can be terminated. The employer/mentor gets to keep the business you did do, and can demand that you pay back all the "loans against future earnings" So you can't really afford to quit, but you can't really afford to do the job either/ It is truly frightening to consider that I may well be applying for employment just to pay for my self-employment.
For all those folks intent on convincing us that the economy is improving, and that there is no excuse for not having a job, I have one simple question. "Exactly what planet are you on? -and- "How do I book passage?" I have received two notices from the county in the same number of years which reduce my property taxes (translate that to reducing the value of my property), which tells me real estate is still on the downslide (so forget about being a realtor). And even without tidings from the county assessor's office, the empty houses in my neighborhood, and the empty storefronts in my community would be a pretty good indication that all is not well economically. There are industrial parks around where you could shoot off a Howitzer and not hit anything other than brick and mortar. It would be like the tree falling in the forest. If nobody is there to hear it, did the big gun make a big boom? I have wondered if self-employment is, indeed, a phase of unemployment, a rite of passage that we all must go through rather than going quietly insane by applying to the same positions over and over, with the same companies, and with the same results.
Filed under: The Job Search