When I lost my job, it was abrupt and without cause. It wasn’t like on tv, where someone sends a career-ending email using an inappropriate nickname for someone important. Someone decided my department shouldn’t exist any more, and they sacked me along with it. Collateral damage, but nothing personal. [Language NSFW if you’re still W]
Despite its reputation, unemployment is about more than sleeping in every day and eating directly from the refrigerator. This is my second stretch of it, and I’m using the lessons learned from my first gut-churning bout to make the time as productive and fun, yes, FUN, as possible.
Establish a routine
The greatest benefit of unemployment is your time is completely your own. Other than the lack of income, it’s the ultimate in autonomy.
To preserve your sanity, suitability for outside contact, and eventual re-employment, it’s important to maintain some kind of routine. Essential elements of a daily unemployment routine include:
- Get up a regular time every day. I don’t set an alarm, but I don’t sleep the day away. In a twisted way, unemployment time is a gift, don’t waste it.
- Make a proper breakfast. This is your time to enjoy the mornings as a person of leisure.
- Make the bed every day. It’s my one accomplishment every day.
- Shower every day. It’s tempting to loll around in your own filth if you’re not leaving the house for days at a time. You deserve better than that.
- Go outside every day. Beyond the mailbox. Walk around the block, get to know the dogs, retirees, and SAHMs in your neighbourhood. Networking!
Interact with people
As a world-renowned introvert, it may seem counterintuitive to encourage human contact during a time when it is mostly optional. Interacting with people is a terrific distraction from the potential gloom of unemployment, maintaining relationships, and even helping with the job search. I was fortunate to be laid off with a bunch of really terrific people, and it’s been helpful, comforting, and even fun to hang out together in daylight hours. The other day, I got to walk a dog, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had a job.
It’s good for the soul and great for the sanity to get out and have a laugh. Unemployment is a good time to network, re-connect with mentors and former bosses, and just catch up with people. I’ve enjoyed a lovely series of lunches, coffees, and after-work drinks with great people. A lot of them have had really helpful things to say (beyond, “You’ll find another job!” which isn’t helpful at all) and have shared their own stories of unemployment. Unemployment is a survivable condition, and interacting with people will prove it.
Keep track of the people who send you messages, offer support or assistance, meet for lunch, or improve your unemployment in any way. When your circumstances change, thank them, buy them a drink, or somehow return the kindness. People matter.
This is where unemployment becomes FUNEMPLOYMENT. For at least some of the time, you can do whatever you want. When I say, “In a twisted way, unemployment time is a gift,” I mean it. Treat yourself! Within reason, you’re on a budget.
- Binge-watch television shows and movies. A Different World is on Netflix. Get on it.
- Blog, particularly if you have a couple of blogs in need of attention. Ahem.
- Plan a trip you can’t afford to take. Or read your favourite travel blog.
- Spend a day learning everything about something on the internet. Make it work-related and put it on your résumé. This is how I became an expert in the major plotlines of Game of Thrones without having to watch any of it.
- Stay informed, read the news. You may be surprised to discover what is going on in the world.
- Read a book. Make new imaginary friends, off of the internet.
- Exercise. Dance like no one is watching! No one IS watching, I’m home alone.
- Clean your house and purge stuff, sell some stuff online. Cash is cash, baby.
- Do an at-home spa day. Do all of the personal grooming things you never have time for, but, like, all at once. Darling, you’re gorgeous.
This isn’t fun, but figuring out finances is Job #1 of funemployment. I maintain a spreadsheet with my financial status – analysts gotta analyze – which I update weekly. Among the things I track:
- Income: remaining salary, vacation, allowances, payments, severance (minus taxes!)
- Current state of all savings with cash I can access (cashflow!)
- Current state of all credit cards, lines of credit, other debts
- Current state of investments (this isn’t readily accessible cash, but good to know)
- Fixed monthly expenses (mortgage/rent, internet, phone, utilities, insurance)
- Variable monthly expenses (memberships, subscriptions, donations)
From the spreadsheet, I quickly figured out how long I can maintain my present lifestyle with the resources available and where I can make adjustments. I believe with limited or no income, it should always be a financial no-surprises situation, not just for my sanity, but my security as well.
Keep the job search in perspective
In practical terms, the job search is my job now. I use the most mentally productive part of the day for things like writing cover letters, writing blog posts, updating résumés, and submitting applications. I use the less mentally productive parts of the day for searching job sites, LinkedIn, identifying potential job leads, searching freelance opportunities. I learned the hard way the last time that, depending on the field, it can be easy to exhaust search leads and then have nothing to do the rest of the week. Now, I poke away at it, a bit at a time.
This is also the time to explore what you actually want to do with the next part of your life. What have you always wanted to do? When did you last ask yourself that question? I’ve approached this search as part of the midlife crisis I’m not really having: all options are on the table.
Whatever comes next may not be a direct transfer opportunity, but there’s a lot to be said for using unemployed time to consider the possibilities of life. I’ve found Up in the Air to have a surprising amount of wisdom in this area, and not because I used to collect frequent flier miles like a fiend and have a secret family in the Midwest. [Again, language NSFW if you’re still W]
Work is important to one’s sense of self, and managing the sudden loss of employment can be challenging. Use all of the resources available to you, take care of yourself, and focus on what’s ahead, not what’s in the past. As I write this, I still don’t know what’s next, but I know one thing: We’re all going to be fine.
What do you think? How do you make the most of this time? Survive it? Enjoy it?