How Do I Respond To Being Called A 'Failure'?

Being unemployed can be extremely hard, and it can be quite a blow to one's confidence. However, being out of work does not necessarily mean you are a failure in life. But how can you explain that to someone who has never experienced unemployment? We received the following question from one of our readers:


"I was a copy editor in the Washington, DC, area. After my contract with NIH expired early, I did some volunteer work and then found myself doing eldercare duties in Michigan (one of my elderly relatives is also insane, making my "job" really awful!). Now that my elder-care duties are done, I want to move back to the DC area to live and work. "A family 'friend' from Fairfax County, VA, said, 'You'll never get a job in DC again. No one will ever hire a failure like you.' "My mom and his wife were quite appalled but didn't say anything. I resisted the urge to slap him and said calmly, 'We don't pick the paths in lives that we are given. So, I had to take a few years off because of a family emergency. That choice doesn't make me a failure.' He was the one to be appalled and would not speak to me for an hour or so. "I guess he didn't expect that reply... I think I handled the situation very well, but what else could I have said in response? Interestingly, the guy in Virginia has not been able to hold down a job for more than a few months since 1999." - D
Here's what our approved career experts had to say: "I've recently become acquainted with the phrase 'A man with experience is never at the mercy of a man with an opinion.' If you've been there, done that, got the t-shirt, then you know better than anyone who is merely guessing based on their own lack of experience. That describes your situation fairly well. You've been able to secure a job before, and you can certainly do it again. Don't let someone's negative thoughts rule your own perceptions of reality or yourself." (Ben Eubanks) "You are a compassionate person with skills that may require some polishing. With some networking, this could work in your favor should you decide to return to the world of editing. Your story could be an asset. However, before you decide to take the steps toward rebuilding your career, focus on losing the 'dreamstealers' in your life and concentrate on rebuilding your self-confidence. You can do it." (Shell Mendelson) "I agree with you. You did handle the situation very well. I think we often go through situations like this in our mind after the fact and think of others things we might have said. You can’t change history and you defended your actions in a straight forward, positive way. He probably doesn’t think too much of himself to resort to such outrageous behavior. I do think you need to avoid spending any more time with a person that doesn’t have your best interest or support in mind. Job search is tough enough all by itself but to add a person like that into your sphere isn’t in your best interest. You need people who minimally will cheer you on." (Dorothy Tannahill-Moran) "You did handle the situation very well... Sounds like you are not missing much if he won’t speak to you – with friends like that, who needs enemies. Resist the urge to tell him what you think about his ability 'to hold down a job for more than a few months.' You don’t know his situation, so avoid judging him as he judged you." (Bud Bilanich) “I think your response was appropriate. Many people respond to situations based on their own experience. Your friend has had difficulty finding a job and holding onto a job for more than 10 years. Your friend may be bitter about that and is responding to your experience based on what he may have heard from others about his experience. That is a sign that he is not a supporter for you. During a job search, you need to find champions to support you, who have confidence in you and your ability to succeed." (Robin Schlinger) "Simply say to the person (and put on your resume): Attended to urgent family matters now fully resolved. People and employers understand the need to take care of family whether it is a sick or elderly relative, or your children. I also think your response to your 'friend' was fine." (Don Goodman)

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