There’s nothing like being in your pajamas at 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon that can make you feel liberated and pathetic all at once. In 2010 I was unemployed and job hunting for several months, and at my lowest point I was feeling like a worthless turd.
When you’re unemployed, everyone and their mother will share tips about how to find work. (Trust me, people will give you advice whether you like it or not!) So I don’t need to tell you how to tweak your resume or how to score an interview. Instead, I want to address how to handle all of the messy emotional stuff that comes along with unemployment — the stuff that those resume writing how-to books don’t talk about.
Don’t be surprised if you experience some symptoms of depression and anxiety. Heck, I did. But there are ways to contain your discomfort during unemployment so that it doesn’t evolve into complete misery.
So. A few tips…
- Remember: You are more than your career. Many people would agree with this statement, but fewer truly understand what it means. A fulfilling and meaningful career can certainly add to someone’s level of happiness, sense of purpose, and sense of worth. (My work on A Brave Life does this for me.) However, if these three things are entirely wrapped up in an unpredictable external factor such as your job, you’re in trouble. The truth is, you are a person of value simply because you were born, you’re here, and you’re part of our community. What I’m trying to say is that if during this month of your life you are not able to enjoy the stability, income, and sense of accomplishment that a full-time job brings, you are not a loser. You’re simply an incredible person without a job. And there’s a BIG difference.
- Worry about today and chuck the rest. There are two things that mess with my sanity: dwelling too much on the past and worrying too much about the future. (Therapist’s note: The former creates the experience of depression. The latter creates the experience of anxiety.) Do you know the adage, “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional”? Well…WORD. So while it’s tempting to say “I should have started applying to jobs earlier,” or “Where will I live if I’m still out of work 6 months from now?,” it doesn’t really help you find a job today, nor does it ease any symptoms of depression or anxiety you may be experiencing. If you’ve sent out resumes, or networked, or made follow-up calls, or found some promising job listings today, you’ve done all that you can do. You’ve had a good day. Be satisfied with that or you’ll literally worry yourself into cardiac arrest.
- Expand your definition of “work” and know that any form of it is a valuable use of time, whether you’re being paid or not. One of the main reasons I felt so depressed during my first month of unemployment was because I felt useless. On top of this I felt guilty that my husband worked so hard to pay our bills and feed us. My sense of productivity was completely tied up in my career — and with that kind of limited thinking it’s no wonder I’d been feeling like a turd! So whether you’re spending your weekdays at home learning how to cook, running errands for your loved ones, working on a creative project you’ve been putting off for years, cleaning and organizing your basement, exercising daily, babysitting your nephew, or volunteering somewhere, you can pat yourself on the back – you’re being productive and useful. This period of unemployment is temporary. You are experiencing a season in your life in which you have time to be who you’ve always wanted to be. And that’s quite awesome if you think about it.
- Check in often with your partner (or best friend, or therapist, etc…). One morning as I was driving my husband to work, I had a mini panic attack. A lack of calls back from prospective employers had gotten me pretty discouraged and nervous about the future. But sharing all of this with the hubster made me feel a LOT better, not just because I got it off my chest but because he helped me work through my anxiety. (I was making poor job hunting choices due to a sense of desperation…but he reminded me that financially, we were not quite doomed.) Basically, my husband gave me one of those sanity-saving reality checks that he’s so good at, and as a result I began feeling safer, more confident in our financial game plan, and more focused with my job hunting decisions.
- Stay connected to other unemployed people. One thing that helped me stay sane was checking in with people in my graduating class who were also looking for work at the time – it made me feel like I was not alone. We encouraged one another, vented, and shared job postings. But the best thing I did for myself was talk to my older friends, particularly a long-time unemployed one who had some great sanity-saving tips to share, like:
- Don’t job hunt everyday- it brings down your spirits. 2-3 times per week is good enough.
- Establish a routine every day and keep busy.
- Don’t take things so personally. There are probably dozens, if not hundreds of people applying for the same jobs you are, especially in this economy. So don’t assume that you’re not good enough at what you do; it’s just that there’s tons of competition out there.
You may have lost your job but you don’t have to lose your sanity. Best of luck to you!