I have mentioned twice already how admitting to a sabbatical has proved detrimental in my job search. Jenny and I discussed it once and agreed the problem is one of location: being in Texas or more generally, in conservative country. If I lived in the Pacific Northwest or New England, I doubt having several months without gainful employment would cause more than a brief question—What were you doing?—and a sympathetic nod after I explained I had taken a sabbatical after nearly two decades of nonstop work. In fact, one of my friends from Seattle took a six-month sabbatical a few years ago and went right back to work afterward. She mentioned she received no negative responses or comments when it came to the blank spot in her résumé. What she did hear were things like “Gee, I wish I could do that” and “I’m jealous” and similar statements of envy.
Yet I do not live in Seattle, nor do I live in an area where not working does not automatically constitute a problem. Texas is anything but liberal in its thinking. As Rick pointed out the other day, as have several people I’ve talked to about this, the general impression in this area is that something is wrong with anybody who isn’t working 60-70 horus per week without respite. You’ve either been in jail, have mental problems, can’t keep a job because you’re not dependable or trustworthy or a good employee, or suffer from any number of other assumed failings. Pitiful though it might be, it’s unfortunately true.
This has caused me to realize honesty is useless in this regard. When I began my job search three months ago, I readily admitted I had taken time away from work to focus on writing projects and to spend a bit of time living without obligation—enjoying friends and family, enjoying life without the overhead worry, and so on. As the weeks slipped by and opportunities escaped me, all of which could be heard sinking right after I answered the question, I came to recognize “What have you been doing since you left your previous job?” as the pinnacle of human ignorance and a signal that I was being maneuvered into receiving its logical follow-up: “Oh, I see. Well, thanks for inquiring and we’ll get back to you.” That, of course, had a complementary notice similar to this: “We have no opportunities for which we think you are a match. Good luck in your search.”
After six weeks, give or take, I decided to change my tune. If the truth in fact meant slaughtering my own chances, a lie was in order. So I made one up. That time had been spent helping a sick family member who was suffering from some terrible ailment (usually cancer or something equally horrible) from which they had recovered, so I was back in the market for a job.
You know what? That accomplished nothing either. Most of the asshole idiots looking to hire saw that as a possibility that I would need to take time off in the future to again cater to some worthless, time-consuming, ailing family member who should have died the first time round. Pathetic. After trying that approach for several weeks, again I learned the hard way that it wasn’t helping but instead was hindering. Here in Texas, I suppose, tending to family is talked about as though it’s a respected practice while in truth it’s abhorred and shunned and seen as weakness. It’s almost as bad as a sabbatical from what I can tell.
So, months later and far too late, I finally realized dishonesty made for the best policy when it came to the time off. You see, in conservative areas, you’re not allowed to have a life, to want to live a little before you’re too old to do it (you know, when you retire). Doing so makes you feeble and cowardly, a spineless wimp unwilling to do real work like the rest of the world, a freeloader even. No matter how you spin it, you’re a loser for not busting your ass for 70 years and finally taking time off when you’re too old and weak to do anything fun. To add insult to injury, taking time off to care for a loved one appears to be of the same caliber. It somehow makes you less of a real person, a bad employee, a waste of effort by any possible employer. It’s sickening to say the least.
In response to learning all of this the very hard way, I got together with one of my friends and put together a cover story for my time off. Instead of a sabbatical or even extended leave to support unwell family, I have inserted a fictitious job into my résumé that states I’ve been doing independent consulting for my friend’s business. This covers the time since I left work earlier in the year.
What a pathetic world. You have to be dishonest to circumvent bigotry and discrimination based on a conservative mindset. What makes it all the worse is that it took me too long to realize the error in my approach, and now being honest in the beginning may well have established my downfall.