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Pieter Schenk: Carefree life in Hsin-yang (1702)

"We will never satisfy the formal definition of Hard Working …"

People ask me if I'm retired and I reply that I'm not, just Unemployable. I believe that unemployability has become a common state for people of a certain uncertain age. For some, Unemployability comes early and for others, later, but I dare suggest that it eventually comes for most. This amounts to no tragedy, for employability seems to be a self-liquidating state. The very act of holding a job undermines an incumbent's ability to hold that job. Eventually, this contradiction does in the job or the incumbent or both, often resulting in the incumbent's growing sense that he just can't bear to do that anymore, coupled with a conviction that to continue doing that might well prove terminal. Eventually, no amount of money in this world could properly compensate the afflicted individual. No "opportunity" sufficiently attracts. In other cases, more like my own, an individual simply grows to lack baseline skills necessary to successfully maintain employment. He becomes a buggy whip in an automobile world. I, for instance, cannot operate a PC or type with more than two and a half fingers, both terminal shortcomings in today's competitive job market.

Unemployability seems distinctly different from obsolescence, for the Unemployable are far from idle.
They employ themselves, sans paycheck, in whatever they might feel moved to employ themselves with, unencumbered by the contingent necessities of conventional employment. Regular hours need not be observed. None of the often mentioned onerous regulations really apply to the Unemployable. They may pull all-nighters to their heart's delight without fear of any OSHA inspector slapping a fine on anybody. They often find their life's work once they discover themselves unable to work for anybody else. They write a great or even mediocre American novel or become a master gardener. They often assume some role never even imagined by the Industrial Employment Complex, the one ruled by resumes, vitaes, and endless "opportunities." The LinkedIn Profiles of the Unemployables could not be completed because they necessarily included too many Not Applicables.

Unemployability demands perhaps much more discipline than does any employer. The role comes without an overseer, and no co-workers to twang guilty feelings over arriving late or leaving early. All the usual social boundaries are left up to the individual to manage, and enforcing those constraints often proves intolerable. Those who first took employment at an early age might have never experienced the self-discipline necessary to survive as an Unemployable. There's no HR Department to hear a grievance and no wellness program complements of your employer-provided health insurance plan, and no unemployment insurance. It some days seems as if the Unemployable are not full members of society since there's no social safety net or public empathy for their position. They have freedom in all its various manifestations. They have liberties to take but also to make something out of. Many wake up to discover that years have passed without leaving any evidence of their passage. No gold watch. No reunions. No employment history, either.

I was for many years rather self conscious about my status. Attending a meeting early on, a Chief Technical Officer there asked me who I was with. I replied that I'd come by myself. No, no, he replied, I mean who do you work for? You must have a job! Must I, I thought? I told him that I worked for myself, which was only a partial truth, for nobody ever successfully merely works for themself. Work seems an inherently social activity. Even the hermit builds a hovel partly for the bears he hopes to repel with it. There is no real work done in utter isolation. The employment contract seems to often amplify this notion beyond reason, to the point where it might well seem as though there's no work except that which is properly compensated. As a young professional, for instance, I easily prioritized my job over my family life, working long uncompensated overtime hours to better ensure that I would maintain my paying job. This decision turned out to be a really bad one. The employer couldn't care less. The family held grudges.

The Unemployable tend no bed of roses. We have our hassles hounding our existence, too, though we might not face an onerous commute. We must satisfy unreasonable expectations made even more oppressive by the fact that we make them ourselves. We have goals if not quarterly profitability targets, and points of reckoning where we're held accountable by The Gods or something. We have no water cooler around which to hold subversive conversations. We suffer from no executive committees raining down unreasonable expectations. No stock options. No cafeteria. No holidays or vacations, either. We're free to be anything except an employee and at liberty to possess anything but a job. We will never satisfy the formal definition of Hard Working because by definition, we have no work, being Unemployable. We have a life instead. No need to retire from this!

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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