Underemployment is tough. Unemployment is tougher. However, it’s a closer call than you might think. Underemployment wins, but just by a hair or two. In my view, there’s little to feel good about when you’re working a job that’s dull and uninspiring. I’m sure many of us have stared out the window of a job we disliked and thought, “there has to be something better than this.” The problem is finding that “something better,” and that’s the one silver lining about being unemployed. It allows you to concentrate on what you really want to do, and go after it. I speak from experience.
I was unemployed for the first time in 2013. Previously, I’d worked from 1995 to 2012 without any gaps in my work history. After seventeen years of steady employment, I wasn’t in a rush to get to the next gig. I felt like I needed some down time, and it’s fair to say I was a little burnt out. I had unemployment insurance coming in, a few bucks saved up for a rainy day, and wasn’t motivated to immediately start looking for another job.
“If you need a good cry, sit yourself in front of the television from 11am to 5pm. It’s a horror show of soap operas, insipid talk fests, fake doctors, court shows, and endless pharmaceutical ads. I get chills just thinking about it. I wonder if there’s a pill for that?”
There’s immense pressure in our society to work. To have a job. Without one, our identity feels in jeopardy. Even when we work jobs that don’t fulfill us, we can at least say we have a job. I think this is why a lot of underemployed people, including me, have gone from one average job to another. We want to get back out there asap, and tend to undersell what kind of job we can get. That’s primarily because of what jobs we’ve had and are used to. So we apply for the jobs we know we have a shot at-The crappy, but not too crappy ones. It’s a vicious cycle.
An important question surrounding anyone who is unemployed is how to handle all the extra free time. What I found about having all that free time is that instead of doing more, I actually did less. Instead of finally cleaning out my closets, getting in shape or catching up with friends, I kind of just hung around my apartment, web surfing. I was lazy, had no drive, and little motivation. I simply existed.
When you work a full time job there’s a predictable pace to your week. You get into a rhythm. You have specific times reserved for buying food, doing laundry, binge drinking yourself unconscious. That rhythm is interrupted when you have nowhere to be. Most of the world leads a life that’s heavily regulated due to their job. When you’re removed from that world, it’s natural to feel out of step.
I realized a couple of months into my joblessness, it would be smart to construct a life for myself resembling the schedule I used to have. Continuity during difficult times can be a stabilizing influence. Along with a schedule, I also knew I should create boundaries to prevent myself from becoming a full on sloth. I’ve also suffered from depression off and on throughout my life, and knew I needed to keep myself busy or I’d most likely spiral down into a heavy funk.
What I’m going to lay out is a plan for hanging in there during desperate times. I did some things when I was out of work that made my life better, and they were things I still do to this day. First of all, you will find a job. It may take some time, but you will. I’ve been there, and I’ve learned some great lessons on handling the stress of being unemployed for long periods.
One thing you should do; find something you always wanted to learn, but put off because you didn’t have the time. Maybe learn how to fix cars or how to make a chair or how to build a car made of chairs. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s something you’re interested in learning. What this will do is prove to yourself you can still learn, and gain a new skill.
I committed to learning how to play piano. I’d had a piano for years, but could only play a few songs memorized from my youth. So I bought a book of Beatles songs, and every day I practiced for at least twenty minutes. I also gave myself the permission to suck. That permission was taken. I was bad, but hey, playing piano is hard, and requires a lot of patience as well as tolerance for sucking at it. However, after a little over a year, I’d learned to play about 11 complete Beatles songs, and they sound good. Fuck it- they sound great. More importantly, I proved to myself I wasn’t too old to learn. Another side benefit was annoying the shit out of my awful neighbors who argue at 2am every night, and are now forced to hear the same 11 Beatles songs every day. Yay Beatles!
Another rule of thumb, and this is huge: impose structure on your days-Don’t get into bad habits that you wouldn’t have a chance to get into if you were employed. The structure is there to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Shower. Wear clean clothes. Get out of the house every day. Giving yourself structure will make you feel more aligned with the world at large. Again, shower. You fucking smell.
Along with structure, I recommend you set boundaries for yourself. Things you will, and will not do. If you usually shoot heroin at night, don’t deviate-keep doing it only at night. No daytime heroin for you. If you beat up hobos and steal their blankets, but only for fun, don’t start doing it to kill time. Make sure it retains its gaiety, otherwise you’re filling a hole that can’t be filled; especially with hobo thieving.
For me, the first and most important boundary: no television until 5pm or later. That one was ironclad. Daytime television is awful. The shows and the ads between the shows are uniformly soul killing and terrible. If you need a good cry, sit yourself in front of the television from 11am to 5pm. It’s a horror show of soap operas, insipid talk fests, fake doctors, court shows, and endless pharmaceutical ads. I get chills just thinking about it. I wonder if there’s a pill for that?
My last piece of advice is designed to keep you mentally balanced during long stretches between jobs. It’s simple, but effective. Find a trail or some nature nearby, and take a walk for 45 minutes or longer. I did this last time I was out of work, and it improved my frame of mind tenfold from where it was before the walk.
The nature walks gave my mind freedom to roam beyond the negative stuff I would focus on when I was cooped up in normal surroundings. Those walks will give you the chance to ponder what you want to do, and where you want to be in your life. Just a little walk, a few times a week, can be the start of creating a wonderful new plan forward.
Now, will all these bits of advice make everything better? Not necessarily, but they really had a positive effect on my life when I needed some uplift, and I think they can do the same for you. The one thing I can promise; when you are working again, you’ll want to look back on your unemployed days, and feel like you took the rare time and opportunity to be where you want to be. It’s your time. Don’t let it slip by.