The Most Important Lessons I Learned From Being Unemployed

Photo by Margaret Murphy

Photo by Margaret Murphy

As far back as I can remember, the people whose opinions I value most have always told me that life is filled with unexpected events we can’t anticipate. No matter how intently we plan for the future and build a strong sense of security, the safety net we create for ourselves can vanish — leaving us free falling through the unknown. That zone of unfamiliarity can be financial, emotional, spiritual, even all of the above, as we navigate an uncomfortable change in the state of our day to day lives.

Last November, I was called into an abrupt meeting on the first floor of our company’s headquarters. The Google Calendar invite simply read “meeting” and the guest list was hidden. None of it felt right, and my stomach started to churn with anxiety. I made my way into the conference room and looked around — at least 30 of my coworkers, some of them great friends, all sat patiently, nervously chatting and evaluating the scene. Once everyone was accounted for, our department head wasted no time with idle statements and simply said, “the company is undergoing a restructuring effort, and your positions have been eliminated.”

Ouch.

The company had been in a precarious state for quite some time, but I never imagined my position to be in danger. After all, I was a writer, the site couldn’t function without content, and our team was already stretched thin. The entire scenario felt so reminiscent of being dumped out of nowhere, for no reason by some ungrateful bro — I was nothing but nice to you and did everything right, how is this happening? I felt angry, betrayed, and, most annoyingly, duped. I woke up the next day and realized that for an indefinite period of time, my life was going to feel very unsettled.

One 15-minute meeting transformed my thriving lifestyle. Several years of living as a totally independent, self-sustaining woman vanished as I burned through my savings and turned to my mother (and the government) for financial support. This was my first experience falling through the foundation I had built for myself to stand on. It felt like a huge failure — and as I was living that sense of failure, it was impossible to objectively assess the positives of the situation.

Now that I’m once again employed, I was able to think back on those days spent floating through my apartment like a ghost. Some of these thoughts are helpful should you find yourself unemployed, and others are more universal in their applicability. I hope they’ll provide some guidance, if ever you feel like you need it.

Ignore the Peanut Gallery

A lot of people will have opinions on your situation, and because they care about you they’ll want to help by vocalizing their thoughts. Some of this advice will be fantastic, but most of it will just add to the noise already rumbling through your mind. It’s hard enough to make sense of your own thoughts when you’re in a vulnerable situation, you don’t need to absorb those of other people into the existing chaos. You’ll know a nugget of wisdom when you hear one — tune everything else out and focus inwards.

Do the Things You Love

Okay, if you love going to Neiman Marcus and spending a fortune on designer pieces, you should definitely stop doing so. But when you’re generally feeling a bit down, you shouldn’t let a little financial or emotional snafu keep you from doing things that make you smile. Love working up a sweat at the gym? Cancel that expensive membership and go for runs outside instead. Can’t get enough live music? Substitute expensive arena shows with performances at smaller venues. You don’t have to give up your hobbies now that you’re on a budget, you just need to find creative ways to continue doing the things you love.

Get Up and Get Dressed

Once your days just filter one into the next without any sense of structure, it’s easy to let yourself go. Don’t. At one point in time while I was unemployed, I realized I hadn’t put real pants on in three days. This was an eye opening moment. That magical feeling you get staying in your jammies until 2 in the afternoon on a Saturday is not at all the same as the lethargic sense of total laziness you will feel doing so on a Tuesday because you don’t have a job. Even if you have no plans for the day, put on some real clothes. It’ll put you in a better state of mind and ultimately motivate you to be more productive.

Lean On Your Loved Ones, Don’t Suffocate Them

In times of crisis, it’s completely encouraged to lean on friends and family for support. However, that does not give you the right to make your issues their issues. There is never an excuse for making every conversation all about you and wallowing to your loved ones to the point of bringing them down. When you start to sense that you may be transferring your negative emotions to those around you, it’s time to seclude yourself and work through the issues, on your own or with a professional. Your friends and family will always love and help you, but they aren’t your personal therapists. Don’t treat them as such.

Spend Time Outside

There’s a reason brilliant people like Henry David Thoreau looked for solace in the arms of nature — we have a strong connection to the lush environments that dwell beyond bright lights and concrete. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of an outdoorsy person, a simple stroll through a large, open park on a beautiful day can do wonders to clear your head. We’re often so distracted by the noise and vivacity of city life that we ignore our natural need to quiet the mind and soul. Nourish that need and you’ll reap its invigorating results.

Keep Your Chin Up

It’s so easy to let the frustration of a setback get the best of you, but it’s always important to remember that your situation isn’t permanent. Yes, in that moment, everything sucks. You feel like the world has unjustly sought you out and punished you for reasons you can’t fathom. But there will be plenty of small victories along the way, like landing a phone call, making an exciting contact, or nailing an interview. Be your own cheerleader! Ride the momentum of those small but meaningful successes, and keep your chin up. The next great thing WILL come, even though sometimes it feels like it’s not coming fast enough.

Like my mom always told me,this isn’t a failure, it’s a door waiting to be opened.

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One thought on “The Most Important Lessons I Learned From Being Unemployed

  1. Wow….touching, practical, gut wrenching at times as the author so delicately paints the picture of fear, desperation and difficulty. The message however is one of hope and this article give great real life advice on how to build it. I loved this honest and spot on assessment which can only come from the heart of one who has truly walked this path.

    Like

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