Waterstones; How They Went From My Dream to My Nightmare

When I finished University I spent the following three years unemployed. I won’t for one second put all of the blame on other people. I was not in the right headspace to move to London to pursue a journalism or editorial job (given that my degree was in Creative Writing) and so my options were limited. They became even more limited when I moved out of East London and further into the countryside (my parents moved and as I was unemployed I went with them).

My list of jobs that I could do became considerably smaller given the rural area I was now living in. I was overqualified for the factory and cleaning jobs that were the mainstay of the area, in fact with a degree I was considered overqualified for most of the jobs in the local area.

But I want to tell you a story of a time when my ideal job opened up for me. It was working in a bookshop. More specifically it would have been working at Waterstones. For those that don’t know Waterstones, it’s possibly the largest book retailer in the UK (I’m unsure of it’s status outside of the UK). At face value you would see this as just another basic retail position, and in essence it is, unless you actually love books like I do. To be surrounded by books, to have people come in and want to talk about books with you, it’s a dream for me. There’s just something about books and literature that I can’t quite explain to people who don’t get it.

So, back to this job opportunity. The briefing said “must be knowledgeable about books, confident to give recommendations and talk about books” and “have experience in a retail environment”. Tick and tick. I had both of those given my three years studying literature to degree standard and my six months retail work before University. I was a shoe-in for this job and I actually spent an entire day tailoring and crafting my opening letter and CV because I was that excited about working in the store.

I submitted my application and waited. It wasn’t long before I got a reply.

“We’re sorry, your application has not been successful.”

Not my first rejection letter but definitely the first one I couldn’t understand. Did you mean to tell me I hadn’t even made it to an interview? On paper I was the perfect candidate for this job yet I’d been turned down. Thus I pursued the company and followed up with them, phoning them to find out just why I had been turned down without even an interview.

After waiting on the phone I got through to the department that would have deemed me unsuitable for the job. I enquired as to why I was rejected at such an early stage in the process, given my experience, and they couldn’t offer me an explanation. We spoke on the phone for a while and then they told me they would try and find my application to see what exactly happened.

I waited while they searched.

“Oh yes, here it is. You don’t have any retail experience in a book sales environment. That’s why you would have been turned down.”

Hold up. Hold up. So I couldn’t work in a bookstore because I had never worked in a bookstore before? It was a horrible circle that wasn’t all that strange to me, I’d encountered a lot of these “must have specific experience AND specific degree” adverts before (journalism being one of the worst culprits for it). But I had a Literature degree AND retail experience. Surely a three year degree could fill in for the “spent time around books” section. And who is more comfortable and confident talking about books than a Literature student/graduate? Nobody.

Now, I’ve been in Waterstones a lot both before and after this application. The people I have encountered (not naming names or stores) aren’t exactly passionate about books, they aren’t literary enthusiasts and they probably couldn’t tell you the difference between The Divine Comedy and The Odyssey without looking it up on the computer.

So this is what I took away from this experience; two weeks work experience in a second-hand bookstore is more valuable and appreciated than a three year literature degree.

It still makes me sick to my stomach that Waterstones rejected me based on that stupid and juvenile criteria. I want there to be an investigation into every single Waterstones employee and anybody who didn’t have book sales experience before they joined should be let go because they don’t fulfil the criteria for which I was apparently being judged.

It’s a sickening state of the world when companies can give honest and genuine people the runaround when all we are trying to do is find a job we are comfortable in. Literature has always been one of the most important things in my life as far back as I can remember, but because I’ve never worked in a bookshop apparently I can’t work in a bookshop. But add on top of that I’m not experienced enough to go into journalism or editorial positions (because like hell are they giving people a chance these days) and it sort of makes me feel like my entire degree was worthless.

No wonder I find myself disillusioned in this world when companies are more willing to take a sixteen year-old school-leaver with no love of literature who has done two weeks work experience in a bookshop over somebody who has lived and breathed literature for most of their life and studied it to a degree standard.

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If Merle Would Sing My Song

 

This is probably one of my favourite songs. It’s a bitter-sweet song about how somebody is looking for success, trying their hardest but isn’t getting the breaks or the opportunities that they feel they might deserve. It’s also a nice commentary on the world today when it says “But I still could be an overnight sensation / It would only take one sympathetic ear.” Because as we all know, with viral videos and trends these days, one person’s life can literally change overnight.

I perhaps relate a bit too much to this song. Perhaps not in the realm of music and playing a guitar on the streets of Nashville, but I have been writing content since I was eighteen and I have been applying for literary/journalism jobs since I graduated University. I’ve yet to find that sympathetic ear and it’s not for lack of trying.

I find this song to be quite alarming in the idea that it can literally take just one person to change your entire life. I’m also not sure how much other people realise that a simple act can change somebody’s life. It may not be a secret, I’m not sure how many people realise it, but I have written off and written open letters to people in positions of celebrity and high profiles asking for that “one sympathetic ear”. A chance to prove myself and to prove that I am good enough to put myself forward as a viable person with something to contribute to society (something which I don’t often feel currently in life). However, I have received no replies. Even those who I viewed as borderline infallible and practically perfect in every way didn’t even send me a courteous “acknowledgement but sorry” reply. It’s times like these that I feel invisible in the world.

The way I see it is that I’m in a huge hole. Probably about ten, maybe twenty feet deep. And I’m stuck there shouting for help. My friends are there and they know I need help but don’t have the resources to help me get out of the hole. Occasionally people walk by with a rope or a ladder and I try to ask them for help. Just to throw down a rope or ladder and then they can be on their way. They don’t have to jump down into the hole with me and stay with me, all I ask for is a rope.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that it’s not an obligation to stop and help somebody out of a hole. There is no law that says they have to help me out just because somebody is in a hole and they have resources to help the person out.

Some may call me selfish, some may call me ungrateful for what I do have in life, but I’ve reached my end. I’ve been stuck for so long that I no longer know what to do without other people’s help. I no longer feel capable of getting out of this hole on my own. I’ve even been told that “that’s life” and that “dreams aren’t made to come true” but the only recurring positive I’ve had in my life is my dreams and I’m not sure what happens to my life if I decide to throw them away and give up on them. There’s an old adage that says “it takes a lot of strength to admit you need help” so I don’t believe asking for help is selfish, I believe it’s just admitting that perhaps you can’t do everything alone.

I’m probably not the only person in this position, in fact I can almost guarantee I’m not. But I’m asking for help. From anybody who has the resources/connections to help. I learned, from my time unemployed, that many people refuse to give “handouts” to those that need them. It’s no secret that a lot of people believe that a person should be able to “get themselves out of their situation” be this unemployment or purely mental health, however I have to say that sometimes it’s beyond your own capability to progress from your current situation to a better one, that’s when we need to ask for help.

Sometimes people don’t need a handout, sometimes people just need a hand.

Chasing The Likes

When I was very young and somebody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would tell them I wanted to be a lawyer. Then they told me that required lots of hard work and studying so I changed my mind and pursued the dream of being a writer.

I was asked the same question again when I saw my first psychologist (two years ago). My reply was simple; Actor or Writer. When she asked me if I could see myself doing anything else I replied with “I wouldn’t be happy though.” At the time I thought nothing of it but a few weeks later we had been talking more and more and she had come up with the suggestion that perhaps I find myself wanting the validation of other people more than I want the validation from myself. It was an interesting thought although I didn’t dwell on it for very long at the time. I had spent too many years wanting to be a writer or a journalist to just let that dream die.

It wasn’t until last week when I watched a viral video circulating the internet that I realised just how right she might be. The video explains about the current generation and their social media addiction. Now, I don’t believe myself to have an addiction to social media. I will quite happily leave my phone in my room while I go downstairs to watch TV. I turn the phone off when I’m at work and don’t have it with me at all. I can play games for hours on end and forget to check social media for a long time. That is, however, unless I’ve done something.

By “done something” this isn’t even specific. I could have updated my Facebook status or sent a tweet on Twitter, hell even when I share a blog post I find myself becoming slightly addicted to social media. I didn’t know why this was, I thought it was just because I wanted somebody to like and share my thoughts and ideas, turns out I was a little off the mark.

The reason my social media addiction flares up then is because the brain releases dopamine when people like, share or favourite your things. I will lunge for my phone every time it makes a noise if I think somebody might have subscribed to my blog or liked something I posted on twitter.

It’s probably not news to most people who don’t “chase the likes” because they are removed from the situation and can watch it from the outside. For people like me, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. We argue with friends when they don’t like or share a status or something. Because, to us, it means you don’t value me and I get my validation from what you think of me. I become addicted to that feeling when I see my work shared and liked or commented on. It’s an amazing feeling that actually shoots my happiness way up the charts. However, like any addict, my mood crashes when I don’t get my “hit”. When I don’t get the likes I want or the shares I expect, my mood crashes and I get depressed. These are some of the times it hits the hardest as well because I feel worthless and devalued.

The problem? I don’t know how to not “chase the likes” because it’s all I’ve ever really known. My personality was formed around social media and the internet. It is pounded into us daily that the more followers you have on Twitter the better you are. Viral videos make people celebrities. Overnight fame is achievable. It may be fickle but it’s achievable much more than it was for previous generations.

But this doesn’t help depression. When YouTubers hit a million subscribers, when vloggers get invited to television shows, this just hammers home that I’m not good enough for this world. There is a female YouTuber named Zoella who a lot of people assume I hate. I don’t hate her. I hate her celebrity status? Why? Jealousy. I need the validation that she is getting from other people. I need that following to feel worthwhile in life. It sounds sad to actually read the words back but I can’t argue with how my body reacts to things. For the record, I don’t hate Zoella. Like all YouTubers I claim to “hate” or even “dislike” it’s just jealousy. You have something I want and I’m eternally chasing the validation you get on a daily basis.

I don’t particularly even have a solution here. I’m not going cold turkey from social media because my whole life is built around social media. In my spare time I’m on YouTube. I connect with my friends through Facebook. I check my Twitter when on my break at work. I can’t cold turkey it but I do have to admit I’m an addict for the likes. I don’t know how to not crave that validation or how to find the validation within myself. I just don’t know how to do it.

I’m sorry this is another blog post that doesn’t end happily, but it’s sort of life at the moment. They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem and so please consider this my admission. However, without help, I don’t know how to quit. But, as far as I know, they don’t make chewing gum or patches for quitting others validation.

Mental Health and Unemployment

My mental health was already skewed from the moment I began secondary school, but long term unemployment definitely did not help this. Not only does everybody look down at you as useless and lazy, but very very few people are actually willing to help you unless they get some direct benefit out of it.

I was unemployed for three years (from 2011 till 2014). I aspired to be a journalist and as such was looking as ways to boost my experience because I already had the University Education, it was just the experience holding me back. I decided that I wanted to start a YouTube channel focusing on interviewing people. I wrote off to a number of well known (and at the time lesser known) YouTube personalities asking for an interview (I figured they would be the most down-to-earth and contactable people rather than Hollywood Celebs). I explained that I would be willing to travel to them (if they were in the UK) or we could do it over Skype if they preferred that. I didn’t hear a single thing from any of the people I contacted. No acknowledgement at all that I even existed. This, for an unemployed person with mental illness, did nothing to help my self-esteem and I believe was a factor in my prolonged unemployment. I’m not saying everybody needed to agree to the interview but people need to realise their actions (or inaction) have consequences. Had they agreed to an interview it may have only taken 10 minutes out of their day and changed my life completely. Had they even acknowledged my existence it might have had a different outcome. By totally ignoring a perfectly innocent and professional request it made me feel like I wasn’t worth anything, like I wasn’t important enough for their time.

This may not seem like a big deal to most people because most people don’t wish to be journalists or work in the entertainment industry, I do. This was my first step onto a ladder. It was an inventive way for me to get myself out there and gain the experience I had been told I needed to get. Nope. Nothing. And on top of that I was turned down for internships at Newspapers and Radio Stations for no real reason other than “we don’t take people” and no explanation as to why. I was devastated after these interactions that sometimes I didn’t leave my house for weeks on end.

On top of this the Job Centre did absolutely nothing to help my predicament. In the three years I was unemployed I received absolutely no help in getting a job (which is what their job is). They decided that finding a job would be easier if everything was mandatory. I went on three different CV courses that they told me I had to attend. Every time I went to a new course they told me my CV was wrong, which was odd because it had been professionally written by another person working for a CV course. Eventually I ran my course in the Job Centre (12 months I think it was) and then they threw me over to a company that wasn’t even part of the Job Centre. There was no communication between the Job Centre and this new company and as such I spent a lot of my time there repeating stuff I had already done at the Job Centre and whenever I tried to explain that I had done it they simply replied with “But it’s mandatory”. This is the Job Centre’s way of helping. They don’t actively help you, they just make everything mandatory. It really became too much when, having told them I suffer with mental illness, depression and anxiety, they told me that I would have to work full time at a recycling plant (a dump) for free or lose my benefits. This is a horrific notion – how was working full time at a recycling plant supposed to improve my prospects of getting a job in journalism? The answer? It wasn’t. At this point the Job Centre had stopped caring about finding me a job that was relevant to me (or even paid) and just wanted to force me off of their books and into an unpaid role.

Fortunately for me a vacancy opened up at a supermarket near where I lived. I applied for and got a job working there (although this didn’t come without its problems). I feel sorry for anybody unemployed now because the world has taken a dramatically sharp turn towards “It’s not what you know but who you know” and unless you know people in the right places you could be looking at years of unemployment and mental health problems.

Please, as always, if you know anybody in a similar predicament please feel free to share this link with them. This blog is set up to make sure that people don’t feel alone and know that other people have gone through similar things and come out on the other side.