I remember sitting in a car, driving the 730 km to Berlin with a bunch of strangers. I had finished college just a couple of days earlier and my decision to move to Berlin was just as nascent. I had no friends and no close family waiting for me, not even a place to stay beyond the first two weeks. Above all, I didn’t have a job.
Looking back, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend it. I did not yet understand what it would take to get settled and find work. My naive 25 year old self should get a medal for moxie.
My first interview wasn’t for a job, but for financial assistance, at the “Agentur für Arbeit”, the employment agency. I settled in for a grilling.
“You know, there are three state universities alone, not to speak of the private institutions. Let’s see how many graduates that makes each year… Frau Schulz, what makes you think that anybody has been waiting for you here in Berlin?”
I solemnly tried to hide that I was crying. What was I doing? Nobody was waiting for me. Everybody was better than me. And all those other graduates had better degrees than me.
Casting my mind back to that room makes me battle the tears. Being unemployed is not just a situation you are in. It is more or less what you are. It is a strong feeling. And there is a stigma attached to it: that you are judged as a loser.
After steamrolling for an hour, my counsellor asked for my resume. I handed it over and he finally fell silent. “I am sorry to say, but judging by your resume, you are highly overqualified. I have no jobs to offer you. But…” he continued, snatching his scissors and cutting away my picture and address, “I will keep your resume and your cover letter for demonstration purposes, if you don’t mind. They are really well done.” I almost laughed out loud at the surrealness.
I was one of thousands with the same qualifications and, infinitely more scary, the same dreams, hopes, expectations. That man, thoughtless as he was, had one very loud and clear message for me: You are alone in this big city. If you want to make it, you are on your own and it’s not going to be easy. But it looks like you are equipped for that.
It helped me put things into perspective, to go out and grab life, the proverbial bull by the horns. Five years later, I am in the privileged position of working in a role I enjoy, sitting at a very nice desk, in my rather lovely apartment, waiting for my boyfriend to come home and read this over. I am in the privileged position of expressing my opinion on a blog for the very first time and grateful that somebody else might take an interest in it. I am in the privileged position that I became strong enough to do new things and to be confident that I will be OK, no matter what.