When your parents offer no ‘childhood story’ about the current state of the world; when your entire neighbourhood is full of parked cars that remain so; and when you worry about breathing the same air as the stranger in front of you, who, a couple of weeks ago, you were certain you shared the planet with; nothing is normal. Let’s not pretend so.
Sitting out on public life from my parents’ home, as some of you might also be, I am having trouble processing the reality of COVID-19. On the one hand, life goes on. I was one of the lucky few whose co-op job was not lost to the pandemic, where the only real adjustment that I had to make was to meet and work remotely. On the other hand, I need to do nothing more than look out into the world around me, check the news or talk to a friendless insulated from the public health crisis than myself — and what I find is surreal.
What I hope to provide in this short reflection is thus neither blind optimism that undermines the severity of what’s happened or happening as a result of the virus, nor offer ‘tips’ on how to survive this event from a privileged position—for the simple fact that I do not know, and I would argue no one knows. Rather, it is to share my own disorientation from the sense of relative security that I felt in those exact weeks preceding our public health orders for physical distancing—in being able to obtain a job later this year, versus the reality we now collectively face: a future in an already-precarious job market whose impacts from COVID-19 will surely be felt by many, including those of us in co-op, planning to join the Co-op program, or, like myself, finishing co-op and graduating altogether. We will all be looking for a job.
During the last major global recession of 2008, university graduates who couldn’t find a job but could afford grad school, went, while those who couldn’t remain unemployed or took on jobs far outside of their career aspirations or for which they were overqualified. What’s to come of the one waiting on the other side of this pandemic?
Anything that anyone says at this point in the crisis is speculative, and of course what I say is no exception. What I think we can all agree on, and be right about, however, is that the future certainly feels and is more uncertain than any of us expected to go into Co-op. And the most hopeful encouragement I can offer is this: as Millennials and Gen Zers, we were born into uncertainty. We live it day to day when we struggle to afford housing, and when we think about having children as an ethical decision rather than a passage of life. What this unprecedented experience tells me is that we, or at least I, will continue to feel disoriented by the gap between expectations inherited from a past that no longer exists and the ever-changing conditions of a future that all of us are eventually met with.
The coming recession is not outside of that reality. Instead, it reminds us at a critical time the brittleness of a society dependent on relentless growth and pushes us to find value in working on a better one where individuals are more than their circumstances, their job title or how much money they make a year in the marketplace-driven “meritocracy” that is our current world. You are more than your employment status. And I have no doubt that my fellow students will make it out of this crisis stronger, more resilient and able to view the enduring, complex challenges that our generations will, and have before, be faced with—as problems and not catastrophes.
To those of you who’ve lost your Co-op job placement, those of you unable to secure one, and for all those worried about what the future holds; you have every right to be upset, worried or disoriented, and you are not alone. Losing your job in a pandemic is of no individual fault. COVID-19 has been one heck of a less-than-gentle reminder that each and every one of us has a stake in what sort of collective future it is that we shape through and after this difficult time. And that is hopeful. So, from one to-be-unemployed student to another, please hang in there. The world needs you.
If you need emotional support during this challenging time, consider attending SFU Health & Counselling’s COVID-19 Emotional Support Group or accessing their free, immediate support 24/7 (chat or phone) with My SSP (Student Support Program).
SFU Career and Volunteer Services’ Employment and Career Support Summer 2020 page offers both consoling and timely tools and resources for today’s economic reality.
Your Co-op advisors are here for you, too. If you have questions or are experiencing any issues regarding your work term, see SFU Co-op’s COVID-19 FAQ page or find your specific program contact through their Contact Us page.