Posted by: Ariel Leve | February 9, 2010

What Not To Say

Don’t get too excited. Just because The Labor Department reported the number of people out of work fell from 10% in December to 9.7% in January, that doesn’t mean the recession is over. It fell because fewer Americans were looking for jobs, not because jobs were no longer being cut.

Here’s a list — partial, not comprehensive – of things not to say to someone who has lost a job:

“You never know who will end up where.” I know this is intended as an optimistic statement: someone who likes you, values your talent, and sees your potential could one day be in a position to hire you.  But it could just as easily go the other way. Someone who dislikes you, doesn’t get you, and secretly longs for your failure ends up with the power to turn down your job application.  What’s the message? Be nice to everyone no matter how inept and unqualified they are. One day, that person might be your prospective boss.

“You’re not alone.” I’ve never understood how this is a comfort. So there are other people in the same boat, but if the boat is sinking, is that supposed to make drowning more enjoyable? Why is thinking about how other people are suffering meant to make me feel better?

Something else will come along.” Yeah, poverty.

“You should have/you should be…” Complete the rest of the sentence with anything as long as it’s totally unrealistic and unattainable. For instance, “You should have your own TV show.” Good idea! I’ll go out and make that happen. I know it’s meant as a compliment, but it generally reveals a fundamental lack of understanding as to how things actually work and therefore feels alienating. And it’s even worse when someone suggests a job that’s already taken by someone successful. “You should have Diane Sawyer’s job.”  Thank you. And you should have Bill Gates’ bank account. Good luck with that.

“You really have to milk your contacts now.” My heart starts to beat faster whenever I hear this. What contacts are those? The contacts I never kept in contact with so that I didn’t use up my free pass for a favor for when I really needed it? If I was the sort of person who was capable of milking contacts efficiently, chances are I’d be a lot better off.



  1. I’m not sure about aphorisms.

  2. All good advise. I can’t help but wonder if some, or even all of these statements were told to Ariel when she “left” Cassandra at the TIMES!

  3. When one door closes, another opens —
    wait one minute there : this room only has one door & it’s locked, how do I get out of here ?

  4. When someone says “You are not alone” it means, in other words “Hey, man, cheer up, a lot of people have been this way before, a lot of them were not even half-bright as you are (you wouldn’t think your object of sympathy is a complete idiot, right?) could find, after all, a job. So, with time and a little bit of luck things will be better. For the moment, enjoy your much wanted vacation, a couple of weeks or a month, then act and you will be fine!

  5. Having lost my job as a trapeze artist actually helped me get my feet firmly back on the ground.

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