A few months ago, unemployment hit me like a ton of bricks. The day I was laid off, it was a rainy, cold Friday afternoon in January. It felt very cinematic as I walked home with tears welling up in my eyes and no umbrella to protect me from the elements. Admittedly, I started crying the minute I called my husband to give him the news. I barely slept that night. Then finally, after allowing myself the time I needed to process and grieve (yes, grieve) the loss of a position at a company I’d been with for seven years, my appetite started coming back. I woke up Sunday morning, a little tired, very hungry, and ready to face this new challenge with resilience and imagination.
At first, it felt like I was on vacation. I kept thinking that they would never be able to survive without me and that eventually they would call to ask—no, beg—for me to come back. Needless to say, that did not happen, nor do I know any cases of that happening. Friends and family kept telling me to remain confident, that sometimes world-shifting change was what was necessary to make bigger and more lasting improvements in life.
Luckily, I was fortunate in my last position to work for and with people I truly cared about, who also cared about me. Although being let go came as a surprise, in retrospect I agree with the co-founders’ line of thinking. I did outgrow my last position, and the company was not expanding fast enough to support my growth. My time there was a wonderful experience and the skills I developed and leader I became were a result of the endless opportunities I had to take risks and be creative. It was time for a change. I left on excellent terms with my colleagues and the co-founders and still keep in touch with them. Knowing that I continue to have their support has made this transition less daunting.
My confidence still waxes and wanes, but I know deep down inside, there is something better on the horizon. I also know that I am in a very fortunate situation where I don’t have to worry about my expenses, since my in-laws have graciously allowed us to camp out in their beautiful apartment while I job search and continue to challenge myself with a freelance consulting career. I’ve realized that this change, while I didn’t choose it, is actually a first step on the path to what I’ve always wanted but might not have been brave enough to seek out on my own. I now view this as an opportunity to rediscover the activities I once loved doing. I’ve been learning and honing new skills by volunteering with DonorsChoose.org, advising college-aged women at NYU, consulting for Incarnation Camp, being more creative with cooking and crafting, doing lots and lots of writing, and getting through a stack of unread books. Overall, my mindset has significantly improved. Through each new experience I make new friends, achieve goals, and most importantly have fun.
In an effort to openly discuss unemployment and how I have been handling it, I’d love to share a few things that have helped me.
1. Ask for help. You will be amazed by how much your circle of friends and family are willing to help. You just have to ask! I sought help from my friend Kate, who is an excellent writer and coach. Through working with her, I have gained confidence, found a direction, and begun exploring new areas of professional interest.
I’ve also asked for help from my wider network. Whenever I see an interesting job posting or read a thought-provoking article, I immediately check my LinkedIn profile and look to see if I have any connections with the company or to the author. You will be surprised by how far-ranging your network is. Additionally, I was lucky enough to reconnect with a former camp counselor who has had a tremendous amount of success in her career. She has put me in touch with extremely interesting and friendly people and has helped me remained engage with meeting new people.
2. Pursue the things you love. One beautiful aspect of being unemployed includes the gift of free time, which I refuse to squander. When I am not job searching or working on projects for my freelance consulting career, I am working on my writing skills, volunteering, knitting, knocking out my reading list, rekindling my love for NYC, and testing out new recipes. I recently agreed to be a co-advisor for the NYU chapter of my college sorority and I joined a book club. I attacked my practice of strength training even harder than usual, and am seeing improvements in my squat with a 200-lb personal best and deadlift at 210-lb. Just get out and do things! They don’t have to be expensive things either—take a walk in the park, soak in a long luxurious bath, call friends you’ve lost touch with, go through your pantry and be creative with dinner, take a class at your local library. There are lots of fun and excited things waiting for you—don’t sit at home all day, do something!
3. Get on a schedule. Part of being able to appreciate the gift of the time you’ve been given involves not letting it become a vast ocean of time. Most people who are unemployed say that the hardest thing is being without a schedule and feeling like they don’t have a purpose anymore. We all want to be useful—so force yourself to be useful and disciplined by scheduling out your week and taking specific slots of time to rest.
This is one of the areas that I found the hardest in the beginning. Most mornings, I wake up and eat breakfast with my husband and get my day started right away. I write a to-do list and stick with it making sure to schedule some “play” time for the activities I love. My day will typically involve a search of the job boards, researching any interesting job posts and writing cover letters, working on content for my website, emailing professional contacts and/or responding to emails, exercise, and social media work. I use various tools and services to keep me on track: HootSuite is great for managing your social media accounts; Google calendar for managing your appointments; and I’ve recently started exploring Microsoft One Note for managing projects and ideas. But the thing that works best for me is good old pen and paper. I find nothing more satisfying then being able to literally cross items off of my list.
4. Allow yourself to feel sad, mad, uninspired, misanthropic, whatever. You will likely take a ride on a serious emotional roller coaster (I still am!). You will send out resumes and cover letters with confidence, and you’ll smile thinking how impressed the hiring manager will be to read yours. You’ll think about all the clever things you will say during the interview. Then you will check your email and sit by your phone waiting for contact. And, you’ll keep waiting. It might start to feel similar to waiting for contact from alien life forms. If you’re lucky, you may get contacted right away. Great news, run with it! But if you are like the average person, you may be waiting a very… long… time…
When this happens, or when you receive a rejection letter, give yourself time (kept it short 10 to 15 minutes) to be upset about it. This was one of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received from a college professor. He told me that he allots a certain amount of time to be upset, stressed, and angry over an incident to the extent that he even puts a timer on it. After that allotted time is up, he moves on to something else. If the thoughts begin creeping back, he writes, “worry about X” on the bottom of his to-do list and makes a concerted effort to get everything else done before giving himself more time to mull it over. This little piece of advice had made a huge difference in how I approach disappointment. Yes, I still get trapped mulling over situations more often than I wish I did, but I also try to put everything into perspective and keep chugging on. And again, this kind of discipline is essential to moving forward.
5. Get LinkedIn. This is a standard recommendation found on many unemployment help-based websites, but it really is one of the most important things you can do. In the first few days after I lost my job, I connected with EVERYONE I knew in some capacity—old college friends, former co-workers, workout buddies from the gym, professional contacts I’d previously made, etc. I was not embarrassed to connect with people I only knew as an acquaintance. I doubled my Connections just by skimming through the “People You May Know Section” each day. This has been tremendously helpful. I have been able to connect with people who work at companies that I am interested in. Most importantly, I have met lots of new people through LinkedIn contacts. After I speak with a 2nd or 3rd connection, I automatically connect with them. Don’t hesitate to reach out to people and ask for help. See, we’re circling back to my first point!
The most important thing is to not get discouraged. Being unemployed when you want or need to be working is a stressful experience, but your own thoughts and emotions can become your worst enemy. These tips are intended to help you get through the tougher parts of this experience. Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to chat further or need some encouragement.