You’ve lost that useless feeling

over-developed bodybuilder

They told me the girls would like me more if I got in shape.

I hurt myself at the gym the other day. The exact moment is still fresh in my head. There I was, back flat against the weight bench, two 400-pound dumbbells poised above my head. Nickelback played through the speakers, angering me to the brink of insanity at the unfairness of life. My muscles twitched; sweat dripped off my brow. Four spotters stood at the ready. I brought the weights down to my chest and pushed them back up with a loud grunt. The assembled audience clapped and cheered in adoration. Bob Costas expressed his disbelief to the home audience, using words too big for sports. Only I heard the snap in my chest.

Okay, so maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way. Mike Adamle was doing the play-by-play. Or maybe it was just that creepy gym guy who says random things until he ropes someone into a conversation. And the dumbbells were only 300 pounds each, maybe 250, definitely no less than 200. Fine, I was doing push-ups… lots and lots of push-ups. Are you happy? There are two details I’m sure of: Nickelback playing and being pissed off about Nickelback playing.

I didn’t really feel the injury when it happened. The workout, though a bit more strenuous than normal, was like any other. My chest was sore the next day, and not in a good way. By that evening I couldn’t lift my arms without shooting pain. Sleeping was near impossible, as laying down was just excruciating. So I watched what seemed like a full season of “That ’70s Show” on Teen Nick. The next day, it hurt just to have my arms hang at my sides. I considered cutting them off at the shoulder. But lifting a machete was too painful. The only comfortable position was sitting upright with my arms on the table or armrests, relieving any pressure on the injury.

I’ve hurt myself before, many times. I’m a boy, have been all my life. And I played lots of sports that involve helmets. But this time was different. I’d rendered myself completely useless. Not only could I not find a full-time job, despite my repeated best efforts, I couldn’t even move. I was officially just taking up space. It was a really bad day, one of the worst of my unemployment.

Prolonged unemployment makes a person feel useless. Take it from someone who knows all too well. When a hundred resumes go out and your phone stays silent, it’s easy to get really down on yourself. I fight this feeling everyday. A lot of my fellow unemployed do too. Please correct me if I’m wrong, if you’ve interviewed all 14.8 million of us and found the vast majority to be confident and well adjusted. I’ll douse my computer in honey and eat it piece by piece, starting with the sharp parts. Mr. Jobs, your name will taunt me no more.

Going to the gym is my outlet, my shield against that overwhelming useless feeling. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. It helps me validate my existence. Look at me, world, err… Jackson Heights, err… other sweaty people in this ugly building on Queens Blvd., I’m good at something! That something is lifting inanimate objects twelve times using proper form. Working out makes me feel good about myself, or at least less bad. And hard work yields visible results, unlike submitting resumes. I’m in pretty good shape for someone who spends too much time at his computer and eats too many cookies. Take away my workouts, and my mental state goes downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn.

The injury, painful though it was, healed pretty quickly. There is some lingering discomfort from something that happened months ago, when I was doing dips with a Volkswagen strapped to my back. But I am otherwise fine. I returned to the gym yesterday and felt good after. I went again today and feel even better. All the soreness is good soreness.

As if somehow connected, things have picked up on the job search front too. Some recruiters recently inquired about my resume and, even better, returned my calls. I have a few quality freelance opportunities, including an exciting month-long gig that starts tomorrow. I know deep down that I’m not useless. And it shouldn’t take a workout or some job search success to remind me. But I’ve been unemployed a long time. And keeping one’s confidence and spirits up is hard work in itself. A little validation helps once in awhile, no matter how it comes about.

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8 Comments

  1. Sassy Sundry wrote:

    Ouch! Nickleback only makes things worse.

    You should take comfort in the fact that you don’t look like that guy in the photo. Maybe this happened to save you from that fate.

    As for TV, I recommend “Doctor Who.” Much more engaging than “That 70s Show.”

    Feel better.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  2. junniemuffin wrote:

    I ‘ve been unemployed for 8 months now and I am in the best shape of my life. Working out at the gym is my outlet as well. I so know about little validation. I look at my mirror and think to myself, I don’t have a job but at least I look good.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Permalink
  3. Norm wrote:

    Glad to hear it, junniemuffin. As that old Billy Crystal character of “You Look Marvelous” fame used to say, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” Now if we could only come into some free training sessions, we could give up the unemployed life and become models.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink
  4. Dan wrote:

    I stumbled on to this site via Twitter, and I love it. I feel a lot like you do, although I’m lacking in the experience department. I’ve been trying to get part time work, full time degree and non degree related work, anything. So far, nothing. I had an interview with the public library for a lab monitor position which I am absolutely qualified for and even have experience in. However, I just feel that it won’t happen…again.

    Your blog reminds me that there are others out there just like me. And have it worse, I don’t have a wife and kids. I just have student loans. Which I guess are awful too.

    Glad to hear your back at the gym after a few days of rest. I thought you tore your pec! I work out all the time and if I ever tore a pec I’d probably lose my mind.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink
  5. Joanne wrote:

    Sorry to hear about your injury, Norm. When I read your “lost that useless feeling” headline, I thought maybe you’d finally got a job!

    Dan, don’t feel too bad if you don’t get the library gig. As an unemployed librarian myself, I’ll just say the competition for those types of jobs is fierce — at least where I live.

    Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 1:15 am | Permalink
  6. Hi Norm. I’d love it if you could link us on your blog. It’s a good little set up you’ve got here. We basically have unemployment information, particularly news, benefits and rates. Come check it out and let us know what you think 🙂

    Friday, February 19, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  7. kelby2012 wrote:

    I tend to like something a little bit harder than Nickleback when I work out, for me I need the heavy riffs and yelling, so I have 21 playlist of Slipknot that keeps me jacked throughout the workout. I have a balky right elbow that keeps me from doing a lot of dips sometimes, since I don’t have healthcare “it would cost my wife an additional $400 a month to add me, I take it easy can’t afford going deeper in debt by going to the emergency room. Glad to hear that you are healed.

    Friday, February 26, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  8. AnnaB wrote:

    I just discovered your blog after embarking on my third round of unemployment in three years. I have done the lying on the couch eating ice cream thing so working out sounds like a better step now! Also, can muscle man wear pants? They would have to be really baggy/skirt.

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Permalink