I suppose this story is better suited for a personal diary, however considering the current status of unemployment in America, I feel like my story applies. I came home from Japan in August 2010. Since then, I have been unemployed or underemployed. I have suffered upsets and disappointment many times. I have been humbled to a point that has taken a toll on me mentally. My pursuit for a job and really, a career, has been a rocky one. However, on March 14, 2012, I officially became employed. NO MORE PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICHES FOR DINNER FOR ME! IT’S ALL TOP SHELF LIQUIOR AND FILET MIGNON FROM HERE ON OUT! Since my journey was as long as it was tragic, I have decided to split it into chapters. My tale of woe, starts almost two years ago.
When I came home from Japan, I was aware of the plight of America. I knew that unemployment was at an all time high. This was all book knowledge though. Since I hadn’t yet experienced my unemployed hell, I figure, “Bah, It will never happen to me. I have a degree after all!” I mean sure, my degree was in Asian Studies, but that didn’t matter. My parents had told me, as did others from their generation, that with a degree you can get a job and write your own ticket. At this time, my goal was to move to the east coast and work for a general contractor. I wanted to learn how to build houses from the ground up. So, in the beginning I wasn’t really looking for a career, I was just looking for a job that could sustain me until Spring when the building season would start again. Like I said, I knew that no one was building houses at the time but for some reason I thought I was impervious.
I got a job as a taxi driver. The enjoyment I received from this job wore thin after about a month. I spent many hours just sitting in a taxi line in a parking lot waiting for the next train to come. Since I was a night driver, they only came once an hour. Weekend nights is where you make the big bucks. Coincidentally, it is also when friends want to hang out. So, during my employment as a taxi driver, I rarely saw my friends which was part of the reason I had come home to begin with. It was a month or two into driving a taxi that I found out what general contractor companies actually did. I stupidly thought that a contractor was just some guy or company that just built a house. I had no idea that they usually have several groups or other companies that they work with and specialize in every part of house building. I know how retarded that sounds. I really do not know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t. It was at this time though, that I started getting into organic farming and sustainable building.
I hate the idea of paying more for something than I have to. I also am a hippie concerning certain things. The idea of paying half a million bucks for a house just seemed ridiculous to me (I realize a large chunk of that is just for the property itself). I started reading about straw bale houses, earthships, shipping container houses, and other sorts of sustainable building practices. To me, the benefits for these forms of housing greatly outweigh any benefits you’d have from the typical cookie cutter house. I usually find them more esthetically pleasing as well.
I found a web page that allows you to connect with organic farmers. You can work their land as an intern. You only get a small stipend though but room and board is covered. I figured that this would be my next big adventure. It sounded great. As luck would have it, I got into contact with an organic farmer that also built straw bale houses. It was a perfect match. The only restriction I had though, was my loans. When he chose me to be an intern, I was happy for about a day. Then reality struck There was no way I could swing my loans and go into this line of work. I am already in debt up to my ears. To go into a line of work that requires even MORE loans just to start up just wasn’t feasible.
I emailed the farmer and told him that I had to decline his offer. This is also when most of my deep depression set in.
Come January, I had quit being a taxi driver. Winter is a slow time for a suburban taxi driver. The lack of customers with high hours did me in. I had to quit. At this point I was applying to anything. I had found several different Japanese recruiting companies and given them my resume. This period of my life was filled with interviews and turn downs. I would go to an interview and feel like it went really well, only to be turned down a bit later. The recruiters gave me some comforting information. One said, “Yea, if you had come to us five years ago with your experience you would have been hired by now.” Awesome…
The jobs that I was vying for paid little, and usually were temp to hire. On top of that, they were logistics jobs. I had no idea what logistics was until that time (my ignorance is vast). After I learned about it though, I knew I had no interest in it. At all. In fact, the only way I could picture myself committing to a career in logistics was if it were a Japanese company. At least I would have a tie and a solid reason to go back to Japan. I remember one company that I had interviewed at, while I was still a cab driver actually, just sold screws. It was a Japanese screw company. That sounded comically boring. All I had to do was change my name to Ned, buy myself an “I hate Mondays” coffee mug my transformation would be complete (that’s what I picture a screw salesman like). Didn’t get that job though, and ended up searching for months more.
During this time, the only reason I was able to survive was from odd job work from friends, including my old painter boss. That on top of the fact that I was still living at home. Come Summer though, my dad had to lease the house out and I had to find a new place to stay. Thankfully, my friends are way more successful than me. I shacked up with one of my good friends who had an extra room. He has let me stay here for free up until now (I’ll never say this again but I can’t wait to finally be able to pay rent!).
Moving in with my friend was the last thing I wanted to do. I was a full fledged charity case at this point. I felt like scum. I applied to any job I could but nothing came in. I went to unemployment classes to up my game and meet new people but still nothing. Something had to change, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was contemplating going back to school for Forestry. YES, I know that Forestry isn’t a strong industry at all and it would just throw me deeper into debt, I DIDN’T DO IT ALRIGHT? I was desperate for change cut me some slack. It was at this time though, that my friend suggested to me a far cheaper path. I live close to College of Dupage. He told me that I should just start learning a trade. If he had said this a month or two earlier, I would have said no. I really didn’t want to go to school again, but I had already succumbed to the idea for Forestry and this path made more sense. We checked out the strongest service industries on the Better Business Bureau and I decided to start learning about HVAC
A New Start
I had been a dick in my school days. I was a slacker. I never studied till the last night. I always waited till the last minute to do my papers. This was my last chance at success though. I had to make it count. I made sure to study harder than I ever did before. Which turns out, isn’t really all that much. If I had known that getting straight As took only slightly more effort than I was willing to put forth back in the day, I would have done it. Also, since I had been a teacher myself, I know how frustrating it is to have students that don’t try. I wasn’t going to make the same old mistakes.
School gave me a momentary lapse in my crappy feelings. At least I was doing something. I was moving towards a goal. I didn’t have that before. It was also at this time that I was employed by a small farm and my brother so I at least had some money, albeit very little. My urge for employment did not subside though. I started going to special HVAC meetings called RSES meetings. HVAC guys meet at the Dupage airport every third Wednesday to talk about new stuff coming into the industry. I went there to meet contacts and whatnot. I also met with career counselors and advisers at school.
One career advisor, would just send me random leads. I really do mean random. She didn’t research them at all. She would just send me a place and be like, “maybe this is good?” Most of the time, they had almost nothing to do with my field. She was a career advisor for the tech school but I was never really sure if she knew anything about the HVAC field. One of her leads was United Cold Storage in Lyons, IL. I asked her, “Why this place? Are they hiring?” She said she didn’t know and didn’t know anyone that worked there. I was confused but I called anyways. I got to talk with the head engineer there. I told him that I was a student and I was looking for part time work or an internship. He told me that they didn’t have any positions, so I asked if I could just get a tour of the place and he said sure. This was around Thanksgiving though and they have this huge load of work around that time so I would have to wait until after Thanksgiving. I said that was fine.
I called him the week after Thanksgiving, but he said that they were having this big inspection and I should call next week. But the next day he called me at 6 in the damn morning. He asked if I still wanted to take a tour and if I did, I should come over at 7 the next day. At this point, I knew it was no tour, and this guy was probably going to offer me a job. I fixed up my resume and set out the next day. Sure enough the guy was ready to hand me a job. He was sincerely impressed that I just showed up on time, which gave me insight into my competition and what he is used to seeing. As we took the tour, I asked him questions and he couldn’t believe that I already knew so much about refrigeration. I was just spouting off basic crap so I was surprised that he was impressed. It turned out though, that these guys needed me to work 60 hours a week and I just couldn’t cut it. The position was for an entry level maintenance worker. Not an HVAC guy. I would mostly be doing clean up and changing batteries on fork lifts. I couldn’t sacrifice my schooling for a job that wasn’t even directly related to where I wanted to go. It didn’t work out, so he told me that I should go to the next RETA meeting. RETA is like HVAC meetings only for industrial refrigeration. They use ammonia instead of typical freons.
Well, it turned out that the next RETA meeting was a formal dinner and it was expensive and not really a good time for shmoozing. So I had to wait another month before I got to go to one. It was here, that I probably was led to my greatest upset. It started off way better than I could imagine. At the meeting, we were required to introduce ourselves. There was about 30 guys there, and I introduced myself as a student. After everyone was done, the guy running the meeting said that he was glad that a student was here and that they needed more of me. Everyone gave me a round of applause I shit you not. After the seminar, we all mingled. I purposely wore my SIU hoody to see if I could catch any fellow salukis. It worked. It was the perfect icebreaker. With this, I met a guy that worked for a company called AMS Mechanical Systems. We got to talking and it turns out that he was an engineer for them and he liked what I had to say. I had brought with me some resumes and business cards, so I gave him one of each. He told me he was going to give my resume to his boss. Two days later I called him to follow up. He told me that he had given my resume to his boss and that he was interested. I got the vice president’s phone number and gave him a call. I set up an interview with him, the vice president of engineering, and also the vice president of service. Things seemed to be looking up
The next week I went to the interview. Actually I had no idea if it was an interview or not since it was never specifically stated. I wore a suit just to make sure. It went fairly well, and I had expressed interest in learning the service side of things. The vp of service said that she would try and get me a ride along. Afterwards, the vp of engineering took me on a tour of the office and warehouse. When we finished, he took me aside and without hyperbole, said, “You are too good for service. You will be wasting your time there. You should become a refrigeration engineer.” My head was spinning. I never had imagined myself as an engineer. I thought for sure I was too dumb, and uneducated to do the job. He told me that refrigeration engineers really don’t have formal university programs and are almost entirely taught on the job. He said that I had visited at the perfect time because they had been discussing the hiring of new trainees in the engineering department. The department is old. Most people are middle aged in it and there isn’t much new talent to replace them. He said that he was going to give his boss my resume and that I should call him next week to see where we should go from there. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had gone from nothing, to potentially something that was better than I had imagined.
Much like Scott Salem though, it seemed as if I had a black cloud over me. I called the guy the next week.
“Oh sorry, my boss went on a sudden vacation. Call again next week and we will get this sorted out.”
So I waited another week. When I called him I got:
“Yea, my boss is back but we are just super busy right now. Could you call me back in a week?”
So I waited again and I received the EXACT same response. At this point, I am getting kind of frustrated. The man seemed apologetic, but he wasn’t making things easy for me. Then a few days later he calls me and leave a message on my phone saying, “Call the VP for services. She wants to talk to you about a few things.” I was confused so I called him back. I asked him if he was still going to talk to his boss about me or what? He then confessed to me that he hadn’t talked to his boss but after crunching the numbers he could not take on any new workers. He said he was really disappointed that he couldn’t help me. His disappointment couldn’t compare to mine. Later, this led to anger. If it was a matter of him crunching some numbers to know if he could hire me or not, why the fuck did he make me wait for his boss? Why hadn’t he crunched the damn numbers first before eluding to me that I had a good chance at being hired? Good time my ass. He either was lying or he was an idiot.
Regardless, I wasn’t too dissuaded by this. I wanted to do service to begin with anyways. Maybe they would keep me in service till they could hire me in engineering, which is how the vp got to his position. So I call the vp of services and she tells me that she was very interested in talking to me about a few things but she wanted to conference call me with a field manager. She said that she’d call me at the end of the week. She never did. So I emailed her with my schedule, more as a reminder than anything. She got back to me on Monday and said that she wasn’t trying to blow me off but that they were just really busy and that she would try to call me sometime that week. It never happened
By that point, I said fuck it. These people were either being disingenuous, or just plain rude. Either way, I was tired of this phone tag bullshit. The whole process took about a month and a half to go through. I was more miserable than ever. I had grown numb to my situation but these mouth breathers had just given me hope, only to tear the rug out from beneath me.
The Catalyst for Victory
At this point, I am reaching a new low. I am nearly out of money. I need a job bad. After my last defeat though, I feel incredibly unmotivated. I just feel like there is no point. I start doing the old grind on the internet again for jobs. Looking for a job on the internet is the most demoralizing process you can imagine because you know that every job you apply to has at least a hundred or more applicants just as thirsty, and most likely more skilled than you are.
It was about two week ago, when I received a call from my dad. As it turns out, my “step brother” has also started to try his hand at HVAC. He is only in his first class of his first semester though. So, he decided to go to one of those RSES meetings himself. While there, he had helped some guy in a wheel chair into the conference room where the meeting was held. That guy, then proceeded to offer him a job. Now, I don’t think I am smarter or better than my “step bro”, but what the fuck? I have put in way more time, I went to a bunch of those meetings. I talked to people. I was cordial. My damn teacher was there, with whom I made sure that I was associated with. And this guy, walks off the street and gets handed a fucking job? I’VE DONE MY GOD DAMN TIME! At first, this news nearly brought me to tears. I was so fucking full of self-pity and hatred. This phone call transpired while I was driving. From the car, to the door of my apartment, I went from a sad sack, to a fucking pissed off maniac. I deserve better than this! I’ve paid my dues! Time after time! I have gotten nothing in return! If this guy is gonna get a job like that, then I deserve just the same if not better.
The fire had been fucking lit and I was ready to explode. I looked up the best businesses I could find in my area, particularly focused on commercial refrigeration. I wrote a cover letter MY way. Up until now I had been taught to write, dry, professional letters basically just restating the achievements already expressed on my resume. This time, I wrote a professional, yet personal letter that more described who I am as an employee. I didn’t cover any particular achievement but just two defining experiences that I had. The next day, I went out and canvassed the area with my info. I knew it was a one in a million shot, but it had to work. It was MY TIME DAMN IT!
Bad Times End
I did this for two days that week. One of those places was called Great Lakes Services. As I pulled up to the office, hail started to fall from the sky (seriously). A bad omen? NOT FOR ME! BAD OMEN FOR MY BAD LUCK STREAK GO FUCK YOURSELF. There was some guy working there who said that his boss wasn’t in but he’d leave my resume on her desk. I figure that it was a bust. I hadn’t had good experience with bosses on leave.
Not one week later, I get a call from a nice lady. She told me she was from Great Lakes Services. She had read my resume and cover letter and was interested in talking to me. They were interviewing for the next two weeks. I had no idea any of these places were interviewing. I just went there on my own. She said she particularly enjoyed my cover letter and felt it gave a great representation of who I am. She had also found it pretty funny at one part and showed it to her boss who also got a kick out of it (I am a comedic genius!).
So, last Friday I had another interview. My last interview I hope for a very long time. I wasn’t prepared for what they had in store for me. It was a panel of five people. I was expecting two… Two of the panel were actual technicians and they intimidated me the most. I knew they would be the most scrupulous in their questioning. Sure enough, they asked the most hard hitting questions about my experience and what I brought to the table. I gave them only what I could, which was the truth. Everyone seemed to like what I had to say. At the end of the interview, before everyone left I said:
“I know I do not have a lot of experience. I am green. However, that just motivates me more. So if I have to work harder than everyone else to get the job done then that is what I am going to do. If I have to give 110% to give a satisfactory job then that is what I will do. That is all I can do. That is what you can expect from me”
Theeenn, they made me take two tests. BLINDSIDED. The lady told me beforehand that most newbies do terrible on the test and that I shouldn’t worry about it. Comforting but I don’t know if I trust her at this point…. I am also told that I need to take a drug test which I figure is a good sign since that has to cost them money and they aren’t going to waste their time on it if they aren’t considering me. I made sure to take the drug test right after I was done with my written tests. They had told me that since they were still interviewing people that it would probably be a week before they called me back.
I waited about….. 5 hours before I got a call. They said they liked what I brought to the table and so long as my drug test and background check was in the clear, I had a job. I told no one about this (minus roommate and girlfriend) even though I saw people over the weekend. I was terrified. I was too close. I had been burned before. What if for some reason my background check is screwed up? What if I pull an Elaine and somehow fail the drug test? All rational thought went out the window as I waited for Monday to arrive. Monday came, I waited patiently for the call. It didn’t come and I had to go to class. Oh god, not again I’M TOO CLOSE TO FAIL AGAIN! It turns out, she actually did call me after 6 but the results were not in and she was just calling me to let me know. She has proven to me twice now that she is way more reliable than that bitch from AMS. Well, today at 1230, she called me confirming that I passed the background check and drug test and that I had the job! She also informed me that I did way above average on the written tests and that they were impressed by it. I start next week Tuesday. The wait is finally over.
This whole experience has of course taught me a lot about life and myself. During my time as an unemployed drifter, I had a very bad string of luck and timing. I also was my own worst enemy at times. Without going through something like this, I don’t think I could have ever fathomed what it was like to be unemployed. Being in a situation like this is like being in jail. You can’t do anything. Everything seems to be out of your hands. Time stands still. There were times where I was probably eating less than 1000 calories a day for weeks at a time. I just couldn’t have fun without feeling great guilt. I mean, who was I to have fun? I am leeching off a friend and I am not working like some common bum.
There were plenty of times where I felt such despair that I would just lay in bed not wanting to get up. I would sleep all day just hoping that something would happen. Of course with that attitude, nothing was going to happen. It took me getting pissed off at life to get me into action again. When I got the call on Friday, it all was slow to hit me. The relief slowly came over me as I listened to Queen – We are the Champions. My body literally shuttered. I never felt such a heavy burden come off of me in my life. I was overwhelmed by it. It was a mixture of relief, happiness, and even sadness although I’m not sure why. All I know is that I have a new chapter in my life ahead of me. I can finally start hoping for the best again.