How to cope with being unemployed

I remember typing this phrase into Google some months ago, during a very bleak British winter which I was riding with an empty wallet and booming silence on the job application front. Google sent me back sometimes helpful, sometimes not advice. The thing I liked was the comfort of ‘here are the ten steps to…’ and reading what could prop me up in a numbered way.

I don’t really remember most of the steps, but I do remember the comfort of reading that what I was feeling was totally understandable. Like:

Losing a job is one of life’s most stressful experiences. It’s normal to feel angry, hurt, or depressed, grieve at all that you’ve lost, or feel anxious about what the future holds. Job loss and unemployment involves a lot of change all at once, which can rock your sense of purpose and self-esteem.

I did think that was a bit of an exaggeration for my own situation, because I had deliberately left a job, moved countries and started a new chapter. I hadn’t exactly been forced out. But as it turns out, after the first three months, the symptoms are pretty much the same as any other grief. Except your self esteem can wobble itself out of you 🙂

So what makes this so hard?

  • Jobs, whether we like them or not, give us a sense of place in society. We are part of the hordes of people moving through the days into post-work debriefs at night. You might hate commuting, but you’re still part of another group who also hate commuting. The shared community of misery is still a community 🙂
  • Jobs place us among people every single day. This is ALOT OF TIME. If each working day forces us to be with colleagues, whether we like them or not, it’s still 28 800 seconds of company. When you’re job hunting, that’s a whole lot of seconds by yourself.
  • Routine, routine, routine. As someone wise once said, too much choice is the modern day misery for us all. When you work, your days are organically structured and the most decision making you’ll do is what to make for lunch, how early or late you catch the train and whether to exercise at midday. Without work, every.single.choice changes the entire flow of the day. What time to wake up? Where to apply for jobs from? Cafe or home? Do you have a start and finish time? Etc etc.

    “Choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them” – Paradox of Choice.

  • Brain stagnation is tough. Instead of jumping in on the latest debate about corporate changes and gender inequality pay gaps, you’ll find yourself being able to contribute only on the topics that you have time to read about, between job hunts. Quoting BBC works the first few times – after that, you miss your own particular input on the things you learn through your work. This whole personal pronoun (me, my, I think) takes a backseat when you’re looking for work.
  • No one understand the stress. Of money. The identity. The reasons why you’re not getting a job. Until you’re in the same boat, it’s another divider between people, and as humans we shine with serotonin when we feel part of group norms.

I could go on and on.

In short, it’s rough. But it doesn’t have to get rougher! Below are my own overly-tried-and-tested ways of dealing with the in between time, until someone grabs you by the collar and hires you into their happy family 🙂

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Ten tools for unemployment and job success

  1. Turn job hunting into a job right from the beginning. I didn’t do this, and only started properly when the panic set in (month 2). Saying to yourself you are about to start your work day means that you need to get up on time, shower, eat breakfast and be working from 9am. You can choose your finish time and lunch time, but make sure every day it is roughly the same.
  2. Use the emotions of boredom, fear of rejection and total confusion as anchors reminding you of mindfulness. Sitting with the uncomfortable but doing it anyway.
  3. Dress smartly. Whatever your smart might be is up to you, but don’t wear pajamas and a hoodie. I did that, too, and it was not nearly as effective in my productivity.
  4. Make a goal to visit and work from 3 coffee shops a week. Bear in mind, this costs in flat whites but it saves your sanity. For two hours, travel somewhere cool and you’ll be inspired by the co-work spaces around you and the people you sit alongside. I even got a date by doing this and free CV advice 🙂
  5. Write out ‘where I am in six months’ free style and put it up next to your bed or desk. Write how you want to be feeling, the kind of job you want to have, the money you are making, clothes you are wearing and what you’re doing with your time most days. This might sound silly but on the days when your brain freezes up it’ll give you the wind behind your back.
  6. GO OUTSIDE. PLAY MUSIC.
  7. Do a weekly budget and figure out how long you have before you hit critical, and what to do if that happens. It will dispel some of the lurking subconscious fears about cash shortages you do have going on.
  8. Decide what your daily reward is. For me, it started a bit splashy and then went down to a free series or two, but I made sure I was saving up something to look forward to at the end of the day.
  9. Pay someone to do your CV for you. I didn’t do this, and it would probably have saved me 245 hours of rewording my basic template and getting me a job alot sooner than the six months it took. Sites like Visual CV and Enhancv are really good.
  10. See friends, see friends, see friends. Even if you don’t want to. Invite people to cheap vegetarian dinner parties, go and babysit for someone, plan a weekend run. This is key for mental health and pure de-stress. If you don’t have friends, go to a support group of sorts, because there are a whole bunch of wonderful (free) friends waiting there.

Above all, keep the faith.

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