The Recession in Australia
A lesson in adaptation
Have you heard the one about the economy? It’s not doing so well. Not even the land of “No worries!” and “Cheers, mate!”
I knew it was a risk quitting my job in the early days of a global recession, but I felt confident it was the right move at the right time for me. And while I was torturing myself over the decision with sleepless nights and pages of pros and cons lists, I allowed myself to be put at ease by my dad’s declaration that I would, as an educated and experienced professional, “always be employable.”
What neither of us considered, however, was the very specific situation of a young person with a one-year working holiday visa searching for employment in Australia during a downturn. Turns out, I’m not on the top of anyone’s list over here.
Admittedly, I didn’t hit the pavement right away. I was enjoying my extended vacation and the end of the Aussie summer. When I did finally get started, I realized I was fairly ill-prepared, a result of being quite spoiled in the job search arena. I scored my lucrative waitressing gig in college by walking into the restaurant – the Tiki Room – and saying, “I love Hawaii, so I’d really love to work here.” As for my PR job, I had interned in the office the summer after my freshman year and when I was graduating they happened to be hiring. No one remembered me so well as to offer me a job over the phone, but I felt confident enough to buy a one-way ticket to Honolulu.
So, deep in vacation mode, I suddenly had to reformat my resume to the preferred Australian CV and start writing personalized cover letters. I made calls, sent e-mails, spent hours online at seek.com.au and other job search sites. I was looking for casual work, PR work … anything. I networked my tail off; people here are as friendly as you’ve heard, and often eager to help. I had good feelers out there, including an e-mail to a guy I like to call the Godfather of Sydney Nightlife, known to everyone here as, simply, Mr. John.
But nothing happened. The low point came about a month after the search began. I was roaming around my new little town of Rose Bay when I saw a Help Wanted sign in the window of EcoDownUnder, an organic bedding store. I went in and asked the woman at the counter about it. While writing down the owner’s mobile number she told me it would be three full days a week, basically splitting the week with her. As I walked home to make the call, my excitement grew. Three days on, four off to travel. Although it would be quiet, I could write between greeting customers and probably earn enough to cover rent and groceries. At this point, it seemed ideal.
I got the owner on the phone and we began to chat. As soon as it came out that I’m here with a one year visa, he ended the conversation. “Our products are very unique, and so we’re looking for longer commitments. Feel free to be in touch if your situation changes.” I hung up thinking, “So you’re telling me I can’t even get a part-time job selling sheets?!” There was a fleeting moment where I wanted to call back and say, “Guess what – I’m engaged to an Aussie and staying forever! Now will you at least take a gander at my resume?”
That wasn’t a great afternoon; I was feeling idle and stressed. I went out that night with some friends and vented and started to feel better. In the meantime, a friend back in the States forwarded me the link to an essay by Paul Theroux on Concierge.com, the online home of Conde Nast Traveler.
It’s called “The Lesson of My Life” and begins with his years teaching in Africa in the 60s. It’s a great read, and a few sentences in particular grabbed me that day: “I don’t understand a recent graduate doing a mediocre job, finding an apartment, getting into a routine in the hope of advancement. I do understand, with Huck Finn, the wish to light out for the territory ahead of the rest.” And, on the new messages coming from the White House over the last 100-plus days, “[Obama] is urging us to get to know our neighbors, here and in the world, and not to lecture or do battle but to listen and work.”
So the next morning, instead of logging back on to seek.com.au to send more resumes into the oblivion, I registered on volunteering.com.au. In a few days I have an interview with a volunteer recruiter, who will hopefully find an organization in need to which I might have something to offer. I’m going to tighten my belt, make a few adjustments to my budget. I’m making peace with the fact that I might be returning home earlier than originally planned and with less money than I had hoped. And while I’m certainly keeping my eyes open for employment opportunities and will take any that come my way, I’m refocusing on what I came really here to do: travel, exercise, read, learn new things, do good by myself and others.
Yes, it’s still scary sometimes to watch the numbers moving steadily in one direction on my bank statement. But if not now, when? If not this, what else was I saving for? And I have to have faith that my dad will eventually prove correct, that I will be employable when I return home with no time limits or visa restrictions. For now, I won’t forget the amazing opportunity that it is to be here, and I’ll take advantage as best I can.
Read Megan’s last blog, “Mugged on Moving Day.”