One of the most frequent reasons why people hate to be unemployed is their dependency on social welfare. I believe that humans, generally, want to contribute to something larger than themselves. We want to belong, we want to be appreciated and we want to know that we are capable of surviving on our own. Being a part of the system of unemployment – however temporarily – is in many ways the antithesis to that want.

I am thankful that, in Germany, we don’t need to have existential fears if we lose our jobs. There is a safety net that is based on the idea of solidarity that I like. But we all know that that’s not the whole story. Receiving unemployment benefit comes with a host of other than existential fears:

  • having to obey official orders, such as writing a specified amount of applications to jobs you might not even want, regularly appearing at appointments made by the authorities, or not leaving your place of residence without official permission
  • facing sanctions in case of failure to obey these orders
  • feeling stigmatized
  • losing social and financial status
  • having a much harder time at finding a new job
  • feeling constantly under pressure to find a new job

Just to name a few of these fears.

Unsurprisingly, then, “to be free” of that system is the most frequent reason I hear why people want to work (again). But “to be free of” is not enough. We also want “to be free to”. We want to have meaningful work where we can use our talents, as well as exploit and expand our interests.

In theory and by law, we have all the freedom to find just that kind of work.

In practice, however, we are often caught in a prison of thought.

The most obvious answer to me (although I might be wrong, course) is the power dynamic that is inherent in the entire employment agency system, which makes it extremely hard for unemployed people to think of themselves as independent and free individuals. And maybe this feeling of being trapped, of only having one option, becomes even more intense when you have a charged history with (parental) authority to begin with.

So the question is: If we have to face the realities of being part of the employment agency system, how do we set ourselves mentally free?

Here are a few suggestions:


  1. Explore your options of pursuing your goal despite a potential lack of official support. This might be going out there to find clients by offering something within your expertise and field of interest that does not need certification.
  2. Have a goal to begin with.
  3. Take detours – for which you might actually get financial support. The most direct route is not necessarily the most rewarding one.
  4. Strengthen your inner adult and make conscious choices.
  5. Be aware of your agency at all times.
  6. Start a success team.
  7. Ask for appointments rather than wait to be asked to them.
  8. See your official in charge as a human being who wants to help, more than as a heartless representative of an evil system.
  9. Ask for another official in charge if you experience too much conflict with the one you’re assigned now.
  10. Strengthen your networks! Family, friends, but also former colleagues can help you keep or regain your sense of personhood and worth.

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