How To Thrive While Unemployed
I have a confession: I haven't always been thriving this past year. I have been struggling, like thousands of other Americans, with underemployment. Long term unemployment (lasting 6 months or more) has the potential to have severe, and possibly permanent, negative side effects aside from just having less "stuff". Ranging from a plethora of mental health issues to permanent damage to earning potential, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I too struggled with adhering to our mantra "strive to thrive". However, I tend to be a pretty tough cookie and while I'm not quite out of the woods yet (are any of us, really?) I feel I've been doing this dance long enough to have come up with a pretty good strategy to keeping my "crazy" at bay.
Everyone's situation is different, obviously, and I have been fortunate enough to fall back on other skills to bring in some income. But before my wedding in 2011 I was mostly just sitting around feeling glum because I couldn't lock something down in my chosen career. That's a really dark path to follow, if you let it, and it took a hold of me pretty badly until I made a choice to not let that happen the next time I found myself without a job opportunity on the horizon. Here are some of the strategies that have helped me the most:
- Patience. It's safe to say that job hunting, especially if you are already out of work, is one of the most cumbersome and nightmarish things a person can do... like moving. Which is why patience is HUGE. Be patient with yourself, with the job market, and with your loved ones who may think you have been in the same sweat pants for 2 days too long.
- Keeping busy and creating a schedule. I've discovered that there really are plenty of ways to fill a day if you put your mind to it. I have a propensity to want to lay around the house all day, so creating a schedule for myself while TH was at work was vital. I imagine stay at home moms sometimes struggle with this as well, so it's definitely a good skill to have if you aren't a naturally "busy" person, like my good friend Emilia. Some things I'd put on my schedule, that I treated set in stone to avoid putting a larger divet in my couch, were: going to the gym, taking my dog for really long walks, running most of the household errands, doing more of the household chores, dedicating time to searching for jobs and sending out resumes, having lunch with TH or another friend, etc. I would literally time these out, as the most structure set me up for the most success. Limiting my time browsing for jobs was key too, because that can really drain you fast (and there are only so many jobs posted in a day).
- Be flexible about employment options. I love kids (obviously) and actually have a minor in Child Development, but after college I knew that wasn't necessarily the route I wanted to go for the rest of my life. I also wanted to work in the apparel industry, and was actually quite successful in making that happen until my position was eliminated. But when it looked like another job in that field wasn't working out, and time kept ticking along, I decided to explore my other talents simply to make sure we could stay afloat. I was a nanny, babysitter, and mother's helper off and on, over the course of a year (with some random temporary interruptions in between) and while I absolutely loved working with those sweet angels, I longed to work in a professional environment with adults... and a health plan. I am SO lucky that I was able to do this, but I believe it's an option for everyone even if you don't have a degree - we all have multiple talents and the key is just exploring how to leverage any of those into a paycheck. It was during this time period I started taking my graphic design seriously, and opened my Etsy shop which not only gave me a creative outlet but some spending money too.
- Consider temporary or part time work. Related to the point above, being open to something short term or just part time is a great tactic while continuing to look for full time permanent employment. Even if it's not a very exciting job, at least you are staying busy and bringing in a little cash. You never know where those positions can lead, too - working with a temp agency can be your way into something even better down the line. Plus, if nothing else you can use this as an opportunity to explore some other industries you have been curious about. Years ago I temped as a receptionist for a large commercial real estate company and discovered that was an industry I NEVER wanted to work in!
- Stay Positive. Focusing on all the negatives that are happening right now will only make you feel depressed, and depression never leads to the increased focus and drive necessary for job hunting and interviewing. Instead, stay focused on all the positives you DO have right now as there are bound to be plenty. A loving family, good health, a warm bed, plenty of meals, clean water - even if you only have one or two of these things you have something to be positive about! If you have ALL of these then you really are luckier than you probably imagined at first. Keeping things simple is a great way to have a good perspective on life.
Even as things start to look up, I will never forget the valuable lessons I learned while going through this struggle. It has taught me to be even more resilient and confident in my ability to handle really tough situations. I hope that none of you are suffering through unwanted unemployment, but since it is likely some of you are, I hope that some of my words bring you comfort and strength. Remember that you are NEVER alone - if nothing else the Thriving Wives are always here if you need some support!