Funemployment. This term always conjured good images in my head.
But between 2020 and 2021, I found myself in the longest period of unemployment. And honestly, it wasn’t fun.
At times, I felt like an Israelite wandering in the desert. Wait for God’s call? Sure, sounds like a picture-perfect image until you lose the ability to see what’s ahead of you.
Helplessness creeps in, fear bites the foundation of your faith, and it feels like you’re losing sight of that weak beacon of hope.
One common question I got was: “Why did you leave your job?”
After processing this for the umpteenth time, my brain has been wired to generate two sets of answers: the politically correct one and the real one.
To my outer circle, my scripted response was from a professional growth standpoint. I couldn’t visualise myself being in the same job/my bosses’ position in the next five years.
I didn’t want to waste my nor any of my mentors’ time. Therefore, I wanted to try and learn something new beyond accounting.
If I were to wear my heart on my sleeve, there were many push factors beyond mere job fit.
But there were also many concerns I had about leaving. The big one was finances.
The sad truth is, money has an undeniable chain effect — a drop in income meant proportionately less money for my parents, reduced savings and the need to cut down on my “wants”.
To extrapolate matters, it might eat into my rainy day savings and jeopardise my financial stability. Will my safety net be enough?
Money really is a double-edged sword. and it may symbolise different things to different people. However, the thought of not having enough can be unanimously very stressful and scary to everyone. Me included.
When an internship opportunity came up in early 2020, I counted the costs, spoke to my trusted circle and prayed.
During this crossroad, God also gave me this image of a bird in a cage.
In the cage, the bird was well-provided, protected and sheltered. Yet, when the cage doors opened one day, the bird refused to fly out.
A BIRD IS MADE TO FLY
I saw many parallels of that vision with my situation. I was like that bird, and the cage signified my safe harbour (my job).
As much as it provided much financial security, I felt trapped (or what people call golden handcuffs).
It broke down the complexity and drilled down to the heartbeat of the decision-making process: Was I ready to operate in fear of losing, or in fear of regretting?
Controversial decisions like this often give rise to an alternative opinion. If practicality has a substantial weight in your decision-making, a well-intended adviser would suggest taking a sabbatical rather than submitting a resignation.
Frankly speaking, the former gives you the opportunity to try something new yet while keeping your rice bowl – the best of both worlds.
However, upon reflection, it seemed very much like having my feet straddling two platforms, or leaping out of the cliff yet being fastened to an anchor point.
While safety and security would be guaranteed, I was uncertain if I would put my best foot forward knowing there would still be a path back to my safe harbour.
With that in mind, I left my full-time job in January 2020 for a six-month internship at a digital publication company — right before COVID-19 hit.
From October 2020 to January 2021, I also decided to take a course. My job search finally ended in June 2021.
In my journey out of unemployment, there were many lessons I learnt as well as many misconceptions I unlearned along the way.
If you’ve ever felt helpless while kept in the waiting room, my prayer is that you may find encouragement in them.
4 THINGS I LEARNT AFTER LEAVING MY JOB
1. Humility: It’s okay to go back to school
Although I loved studying and missed being a student, I struggled because going back to school was not part of my plan when I left my full-time job.
Through this process, I also realised that I had I misconstrued the meaning of studying.
I have always seen acquiring knowledge or improving my skill set as a climb up the ladder in accolades — each step should elevate myself, so that I move higher, one notch above, and gain a competitive edge.
Embracing unwanted seasons is never easy.
After graduating with a degree, a Master’s course or something equivalent would seem befitting.
However, rather than a ladder, I believe the learning journey today looks more like a branch — it can be lateral and many paths can lead you to your destination, not necessarily a single one.
Embracing unwanted seasons is never easy. In my case, it felt like I was going through a refiner’s fire, or some may say a baptism of fire, to become more like Christ.
2. Security: It’s okay to be rejected
Over four months, I attended nearly 30 interviews. Rejections became a daily affair — it was like reading about COVID-19 on the news.
Sometimes they happened during the interview or through a cold, hard auto-generated email; sometimes the wait implied a subtle rejection; and at times, ghosting was also a form of rejection.
Let’s be real: Rejections are not taken in a good light. It often signifies that “you are not good enough” and that there’s someone out there “better than you” for that role.
We tend to be benchmarked with a bell curve — that’s beyond our control.
If I were to continue to idolise societal expectations, I would be merely fuelling the culture of comparison. However, for everything, there is an “offer” and an “acceptance”.
Society opens the door for the rat race, but we will fall prey if we agree to participate instead of persevering towards the heavenward goal which Paul called us to.
This is a commitment that I need to make every day, mindfully deciding whether I would place my identity into the hands of God or the world.
3. Faith: It’s okay to change course
I wanted a change without the pandemic in mind, but COVID-19 threw all of us off guard.
With the ever-changing circumstances, I often looked back and thought about the “ifs” and “would-have-beens”.
- “If I never left, I would be (in this role) now.”
- “With this promotion, would I have $xxx in my bank account?”
These thoughts were real but unhealthy. With the growing uncertainty towards my next steps and the hostile job market, I started asking God the “whys”.
I was deaf to God’s love and grace, and I had forgotten His faithfulness in the past and taken His saving love for granted.
In my anguish and with my identity challenged, I doubted God’s love for me and His character.
- “Are You truly for me?”
- “Why did you give me a sense of peace when You (all-knowing) knew the road ahead was this tough?”
- “Is this how You treat Your beloved child?”
The me-centred questions overwhelmed me, and I was so angry with God that I wrote an angry letter.
After penning down my indignation and rage, things became clearer. I was deaf to God’s love and grace, and I had forgotten His faithfulness in the past and taken His saving love for granted.
The truth is we live in a fallen world. Disappointment and pain are life’s certainty — even Jesus was not spared. So who am I to demand to have things my way?
With knowledge of the past but no crystal-ball view of the future, we can only make prayerful decisions in partnership with the Holy Spirit, and with sincere trust and faith in our Abba Father’s sovereignty.
In my waiting, I came across Romans 8:6 during one of my quiet prayer moments.
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
Seeing the digits in my bank account fall for weeks and months brought fear, anxiety and guilt. But what would it mean to have an eternal perspective?
How about my spiritual sight? Where does my identity belong? What about the character of God that has proven true and real to me time and again?
4. Community: It’s okay to rely on a support system
The last and most paramount of all: I count myself lucky to have my support system.
Writing and thinking about the faces who have journeyed with me in this season of finding purpose at work often brings me tears of joy and gratitude.
People who celebrated my mini successes and shared my anguish during roadblocks, who were ever-ready to pick me up when I was at the brink of giving up.
One thing I know for sure — I am bringing over the people of my previous season into the next.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 is a favourite verse for wedding couples, but I like to use it for God-centred friendships.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
I am certain that this defining chapter is not going to be the last, and this isn’t the final time I will fall or falter.
But spiritual companionship makes this whole journey bearable. Most importantly, isn’t it true fun when you run this race with friends you trust?
- Are you making decisions out of fear or faith?
- Are you driven by the motivation to please God or to win approval from men?
- Are you trying to do all of this alone? Remember to seek the Lord throughout the journey as well as speak with trusted ones who know you well and have your best interests at heart!