A few months after graduate school I was unemployed and unable to find a job. Initially, I enjoyed having free time on my hands to catch up on some books, watch some television and basically have no deadlines to meet or meetings to plan or attend. However, after about three weeks of free time, including planning my 25th birthday, I began to feel the nagging pull of having no structure. I was no longer scouting for restaurants or shopping for party favors or trying to decide on a theme for my birthday. I was now 25, in my parent’s home and unemployed. Luckily, I had worked all throughout graduate school and had saved a good deal of money. Thus, I wasn’t worried about money, but knew I would eventually have to find a source of income.
Being unemployed is one of those interesting phases in life that provides an opportunity to learn about ourselves and about others. About ourselves because we are hardly preoccupied and there is ample time for a lot of introspection. About others because we are able to observe the perception some have of those who are unemployed, which can run the gamut from seeing the unemployed as lazy, complacent, or sometimes as individuals with little foresight or ambition. However, there are a good number of people who will show some empathy while you experience this challenge.
In reality though, unemployment can happen to anyone. George W. Bush became unemployed after he left the White House in 2009 and who knows what emotions he brooded over as he left the job he had held with so many rights and privileges for eight years?
Undoubtedly, being unemployed can be daunting, but having some reprieve from a job that demands so much of our time can be an experience to be treasured if we face the challenge with some perspective.
What to Do While Unemployed
Calm down and have some perspective
While being unemployed can be unnerving, take a moment to have some productive introspection. I would suggest making a list of things to be thankful for; housing, reliable transportation, good health, dependable and understanding friends, family, and even pets. Having perspective is certainly good. Understand that being unemployed is only temporary, regardless of how long the phase of being unemployed lasts for. Be reminded that seasons change and winter is not eternal.
Take care of your mental health
While facing the challenge of being unemployed, do not neglect your mental health. Listen to your body and make sure you pay attention to your mind. You surely might get into a funk while you wait for that job interview, so pay attention to your emotions. Is it a temporary brooding that lasts for a few minutes or have you fallen into a deep abyss and feel hopeless? Regardless of the duration of feeling in a funk, find someone to talk to and, if you can afford it, seek professional help. Also, be aware that life does not stop happening while you wait to find a job. Friends will get employed, take fancy vacations, buy new cars and celebrate milestones. It might be hard to not get blue or feel left out and this is why it is important to care for your mind and if need be, unplug from social media and focus on your needs and caring for yourself.
Have a support system
Remember that no man is an island. Surround yourself with people who are genuinely interested in your success and happiness. These people could be from your family or friends. Also, it could be just one person you can depend on that will hold you accountable and make sure you job search daily, arrange meetings, follow up on leads and mostly importantly are will provide a listening ear when you need to vent. Don’t approach the challenge of trying to find employment alone. You will need some support and do not refuse meaningful help when it is offered.
Plan, plan, and then plan some more
Approach everyday with a plan. Searching for a job can be a full time job. Invest in a notebook book or several notebooks that will serve as planners and journals. Have a weekly plan that includes a list of employers you are interested in contacting, names of people you meet, a quick summary of the outcome of the meetings, and a follow up strategy. If a notebook seems old fashioned, create an Excel spreadsheet, but visit your notebook or spreadsheet daily, make revisions to the plan, and journal your thoughts at the end of every day. Having a plan not only helps you stay organized, but it will help in answering questions about your search because you have had the time to organize your thoughts and formulate a plan. You will more likely be taken seriously than if you don’t have a plan and instead face each day without much thought or a concrete strategy.
Donate your time
Giving can be empowering. Find an organization with a cause you are interested in and find a way to give back. It could be a few hours a day or it could be a daily commitment. Volunteering while unemployed is empowering because it can provide some structure. It gives you a place to go at certain times during the week. Thus, the feeling of powerlessness is somewhat tamed because there is a task at hand to be done. I would suggest volunteering not because it benefits you, but because it serves the organization. Do it without the expectation of a reward and allow yourself to be surprised by what yields you gain. Not only will you have some structure and a sense of accomplishment, but it will also provide something to put on your resume for employers who might be wary of gaps in your employment history. I volunteered at an elementary school library close to my parent’s home while I was unemployed. All I did was shelve books (I love children’s books), check books out, and help prepare for the spring book fair. However, it was rewarding watching the little children come in daily and I gained so much decorating inspiration from the unique classroom arrangements.
Sometimes, the best things in life happen when we build our own doors rather than wait for others to invite us to walk through the doors they carefully crafted. Being unemployed can be a great opportunity to become an entrepreneur, providing not only employment for yourself in the interim, but creating something that could flourish and someday provide employment for others. Explore ideas and do not be afraid to start something. Worse case scenario, it fails and who knows, it just might succeed and prove to be the opportunity you have been waiting for all the while.