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9 Min read | By James Fellowes

Everyone deserves the right to employment. Why? Because unemployment sucks.

So, back in March 2018, when I was made redundant – unemployed – for the seventh time, I had my own ‘epiphany moment’ and decided to ‘exit right’ from the corporate world once and for all.

Let me restate that one more time in case you are in any doubt. Unemployment completely and utterly sucks. Take it from an expert.

I was born lucky. I started life with the world on a string, born into the ‘lucky sperm club, living a gilded youth and partaking from a whole draw full of silver spoons. Even educated at ‘that school’ (yup that one) in the same gambling ring as ‘Dave’ and a few years below a (polar) bear of a boy called Boris. Don’t judge me, I was just sent there by my parents. Mine was a truly charmed existence with untold access to opportunity and a ‘fast track’ career pathway, seemingly mapped out for life.

That is until 3pm on April 16th, 2009. When my senior sales executive role based in the US, was made redundant – well let’s cut to the chase – I was made unemployed for the first time. Prior to this life changing moment, unemployment was, well something that happened to ‘other people’. People who may be didn’t work as hard as me, people who perhaps weren’t as good at their jobs as me – or God forbid – people who had screwed up.  Bottom line, after 23 years of upward career mobility and continuous employment – for global leaders in the hospitality and drinks industries respectively – life was good, and unemployment was quite frankly, somebody else’s problem.

Then the music stopped and horror of horrors, there was no chair left for me. The fact that I had been made redundant purely as a result of the ‘Great Recession’ was utterly irrelevant. Suddenly, in the time that it took for a three-minute telephone call, my cherished ‘professional status’ went into freefall. I was no longer in the all-important ‘fast lane’ and I could forget about being considered as a successful corporate ‘player’ anymore. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, I had a new alter ego – a loser, an abject failure. In fact, pretty well no ego at all. Above all, I was utterly consumed by a visceral sense of appalling shame. Shame, as to how I had so catastrophically failed my own beloved family. The people I loved most and the children who completely and utterly depended on me.

Over the following decade (from hell) I was to find myself unemployed no less than seven timesYes, you read that rightSEVENMultiple redundancies, one excruciating firing (don’t go there), the agony of two – so close yet so far- entrepreneurial ventures and even being medically discharged having been unconditionally sectioned, due to a doozy of a nervous breakdown on the garden porch. A previously unimaginable nightmare, triggered by a potent cocktail of the above unemployment woes, blended in with a couple of swindlers, numerous sociopaths and topped up with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Ironically, a condition (manic depression in old money) that I now see as a huge competitive advantage – but more about that in a later article about the incredible untapped potential of the neurodiverse talent pool.

After my little sojourn in a charming psychiatric ward outside New York – a unique hospitality experience, inexplicably not featured on Trip Advisor – I returned to the UK and experienced what can only be described as a cataclysmic life crash, losing (almost) everything I valued on the entire planet.

As a white, (formerly) married, middle-class male, I had never previously experienced any form of job discrimination up and until this point. Frankly, I sailed over all the potential discrimination hurdles, well before walking through the door. But suddenly there it was. Gratuitous discrimination, staring me in the eye and strutting its fancy stuff. All of a sudden, I was too old, I was overqualified (WTF), and since I had a mental health condition, I was likely to start drooling at any moment. Not that any of these reasons were ever given. Just, well implied.

For the first time in my life I got a little taster of what it was like to be born on the ‘wrong side of the track’, to have the ‘wrong’ colour skin, ‘wrong’ religion, appallingly in twenty first century Britain to talk or behave in the ‘wrong’ way. A hideous, unjust world were actual talent and capability were well, nice to have or frankly irrelevant. It’s not what you know…

Back to my ‘journey’ and since no one would even consider employing me at the start of my long climb back from the brink, I took the only job I could get that was within biking range of my mother’s cottage in Suffolk: assistant cleaner in the frozen meat division of a local food processing plant. Zero-hour contract, minimum wage and all performed at a numbingly cold, minus 50 degrees. The extensive health & safety guidance – if or when your eyelids froze up, get the hell out quick, before hyperthermia kicked in! How the mighty had fallen. But at least it was a paid job and I stuck it out for five long, torrid and extremely frigid months until an opportunity to get back on the ‘career ladder’- naturally several rungs lower – finally arrived.

As anyone who has been out of work can attest, there are frankly ZERO redeeming features to unemployment. Forget the hackneyed clichés about spending more quality time with your family or using the precious new-found weeks and months as a God-given opportunity to learn new skills. Like painting. That – as us Brits like to say – is complete bollocks and frankly downright ignorant. If you think that, you obviously haven’t been unemployed!

If you want a real analogy, look no further than a ticking time bomb, because that is how it really feels. Your Mission (almost) Impossible – find a new job in a role that appeals, offering the right compensation, in a company that suits, at a location that works and all, before the tick, tick, ticking stops.

Until this point, I was guilty of being hideously ignorant – and I am ashamed to say – largely dismissive about the subject myself. Like so many, I took for granted that deeply under rated concept of a regular pay cheque. Until the money stopped arriving that is, and suddenly I could no longer pay the bills. Or feed my beloved children.

I also had no idea what effect unemployment would have on my own state of mind or psyche. Bottomline, losing my job was like a tsunami trashing my self-worth and obliterating my self-confidence to complete and utter smithereens. Little did I know at the time, that unemployment was also the ‘classic’ trigger for the downside of bipolar disorder. The dreaded depression bit; uncharted territory to an unswerving optimist, such as myself. Suddenly people crossed the street to avoid the awkward conversation, or they talked in muted tones when I walked in the room. Or was I just being paranoid?  The sleepless nights, the miserable rewriting of CVs, the uncaring recruiters avoiding my ever-more desperate calls and above all the soul sucking cycle of endless rejection. After rejection. Until when I looked in the mirror, I could hardly recognise my own haunted reflection. Which begged the previously unimaginable question. Was I simply unemployable? 

At times, it felt like finding myself in a petrifying street fight – strictly adhering to Queensbury rules – against an aggrieved Mike Tyson, packing a large baseball bat and a grudge. The odds seemingly insurmountable. It was not just a job search; this was a fight for the survival of everything that mattered to me in the world. I needed to find reserves of resilience and strength that I never knew existed. Failure was simply not an option. My rallying cry to my former self – staring hauntingly at me in the mirror. Dig deep. Dig deeper! In fact, dig deeper than ever before. Never let go of hope. Never, ever give up. And above all, stay in the fight. After all it takes just ONE punch.

And then, out of blue it happened. Seven times in nine years. Yup, I landed THE punch. Incredibly an astonished Tyson hit those cobbles. An actual job offer! Gainful employment. Miracles of miracles, an exciting new role checking the above boxes and signed on the dotted line, before the proverbial clock stopped ticking. There you go. Someone actually believed in ME!

The sheer unadulterated ecstasy, giddy euphoria, the newfound bounce in my step and above all the utter and total relief!!  I was BACK!

After all, a job provides for your family, a job nourishes your self-worth, a job is like rocket-fuel to hope. Bottom line a job changes everything.

So, back in March 2018, when I was made redundant – unemployed – for the seventh time, I had my own ‘epiphany moment’ and decided to ‘exit right’ from the corporate world once and for all. To move to the non-profit sector to try to ‘change the world’ and ideally give new hope to others.

How? I had no clue; although helping people find access to employment and regain hope was certainly going to play a central role. That much I did know.

Why? Because, everyone deserves the right to employment. Oh, and because unemployment sucks.

Take it from an expert.



James Fellowes

James Fellowes is the Founder of Bridge of Hope, a jobs portal dedicated to bridging the gap between progressive employers and a fresh pool of talent. James is a ‘corporate refugee’ - formerly a senior international executive at Diageo, Bass and Omnicom – after losing (almost) everything due to a combination of bad luck, bad people and undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He is now on a personal mission to make all employment inclusive.

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