This post is going to talk about an unpleasant topic: unemployment. Better yet, how to survive unemployment. I’ve gone through this ugly phase twice in my life so far but both situations were very different from each other. The first time I was laid off myself and the second time (which happened earlier this year) my wife was laid off. Since I was a full time freelancer at the time, it impacted both of us very strongly. I’m not a pro at this type of thing but I have noticed a few things that helped me cope while doing the dreaded job hunt and I’ll list them out below:
Don’t go it alone.
This is not a time for the lone wolf approach. Yes, you might feel embarrassed and angry about your situation and the temptation may be to hide away from friends and family. Sometimes answering their questions of “are you okay?” “how are you doing?” “what’s your plan?” can be overwhelming. But this is the time when you’re going to need to lean on friends and family. If you’re a member of a church, lean on that community as well! This network of people will not only help give support in various ways, they may even help generate job leads! More on that in a bit.
The two times my family faced unemployment it felt very much like a marathon. It feels like a race where you have no idea where the finish line is or where you are on the track. Perhaps it’s a guy thing but I wanted to get the problem fixed in 2-3 weeks time. Heck, I sorta expected it! But the reality is most people find work in about 3 months or so. In my family’s experiences, the first job hunt took about four months and this last time it took three months. Don’t expect everything to be fixed by a certain date. You cannot throw everything you have at this problem 100% of the time. You’ll burn yourself out. You also can’t avoid it completely and pretend it will go away. So pace yourself by working on the job hunt for chunks at a time then relax by watching some of your favorite DVDs or playing a video game/board game/etc with a friend or family member. Trust me, you’re going to need some down time.
Cast a wide net.
Job hunting, especially in a flooded market, is very hard. So you might have to look at fields that orbit your skill set or look at moving to locations you’ve not considered before. Consider new options that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. If you have the time and resources, also consider adding new skills or certifications to your resume. Depending on your situation you might have to cast a wide net right away or you could search for your ideal job fit for a while. More on that later.
Keep a balance.
When my wife and I were facing unemployment the last time, our initial reaction was to cancel everything that wasn’t essential to our lives. We were, basically, in full on freak out mode. But after speaking with our financial advisor (strongly recommend you get one if you don’t already have one!) we realized some of those “extras” could really help us look for work. For example, our gym membership was going to be cut because we felt it was an extra thing. But as members we had 2 hour daily child care for our son at no extra cost. We realized that if we wanted to, we could drop him off at the gym daycare then use the free WiFi to surf for jobs and network in the gym’s cafe area. Plus we found going and working out to be a GREAT way to deal with the physical side of all of the stress unemployment brings into your life!
Pick your battles.
One way I deal with stress is by eating, honestly. And I told my wife that while we were looking for work, I wouldn’t police myself as strictly as I normally would. Now I’m not advocating just letting yourself go and gain a ton of weight. But I am saying the routine of your normal life when you were working probably can’t exist while you’re in unemployment. I knew that I would be stressed enough as is, so a few cookies here and there helped me cope some. Again, not advocating super poor health but let’s be realistic. When people are stressed they seek comfort and, to a extent, I think that’s okay to let some things slide when searching for work.
Maybe your thing was having a super clean house? It might be that only 2/3 of the rooms are spotless and one gets chaotic. Maybe the whole house does! Maybe you fall behind on some of your other chores. It could be anything! My point is to give yourself some extra grace during the period – you’re going through a lot.
Be careful with social media.
Just know that people ARE watching what you do. If you have a meltdown or a rant session, keep it with someone you trust and away from “printed” social media. That stuff follows you everywhere. Talk with someone who knows you and won’t think less of you if you’re letting off some steam. Too often I’ve seen people completely lose it on social media and this doesn’t help attract the kind of positive attention you want from possible employers/recruiters/peers.
Find fun things to do at little to no costs.
The web is filled with great lists of free or really cheap things to do! Give yourself some days off with your spouse/family and go do some fun things. This will really help get you refocused on the tasks at hand later.
Make a plan.
Earlier I mentioned getting with a financial advisor. When my wife was laid off, the first thing we did was meet with him and he talked us through our budget. This showed us our timeframe. He was excellent at giving us the large picture while also helping us see the tiny tasks we could do right then to help with immediate needs. We made a plan that for X amount of time we’d look for ideal jobs (i.e. jobs that were directly in our career paths and/or in locations we really wanted to live in). Then after that time, we’d expand our search out to include other jobs somewhat similar to our careers and additional locations. If nothing worked out in that time period, then we’d take whatever we could find just to make ends meet. All of these milestones were mapped out according to what our savings and resources could manage. Without a plan, you feel so hopeless and might make foolish decisions.
Ask, ask, ask!
In both instances where we were unemployed, the jobs we ended up getting were from friends in our network. Remember that earlier point about leaning on your friends and family during this time? It really does help. Don’t harass your friends and family daily but let them know about your situation. Ask around to see if they know of any openings.
Closing – Unemployment Sucks!
Unemployment is super scary and stressful. It sucks! But you can and will make it through. It may not be in the manner or timeframe you’d want but literally everyone I’ve seen go through unemployment has made it out alive to the other side. These tips above have really helped us and perhaps they’ll help you. Best of luck! Keep your chin up. Good hunting!
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands. On the weekends he likes to sit and watch the grass grow.