41 Things I Learned During My Year of Unemployment

1 Apr

back-to-workIt’s a big day for me today: I’m going back to work!

(Insert obligatory Soul II Soul reference here.)

If you’ve been following along over the past 12 months, you know I left my last job at the end of March, 2012. Since today is April 1, that means I had exactly one year “off.”

During that time, I had some fun, took on some freelance and short-term contract work, and applied for more than a handful of jobs. Obviously, most of the jobs I applied for didn’t work out. But the one that did work out is one I’m really excited about.

And given the timing of when I was hired, it just goes to show you that things will work out when, where, and how they’re supposed to. It just may take longer than you expect it to.

In other words, you have to be patient.

That’s one of the important lessons I learned this year. I thought I’d take a moment to share some others:

1. There will be good days and bad days, and you can’t let the bad days derail you.
Easier said than done, I know. And you’re allowed to have bad days. Just remember: Tomorrow’s another day, and with it comes another chance to do something that will bring you closer to reaching your goals. (Oh, and don’t make it public knowledge when you’re having a bad day. Nobody needs to know that.)

2. You learn very quickly who your actual friends are and who was just a coworker.

3. The best time to go to the supermarket and/or a store like Target is a weekday afternoon.

4. It’s all about the network.
I can’t tell you how many people sent me job leads, volunteered to be references, vouched for me, passed along my resume to their boss, hired me for freelance gigs, and just showed their support in general over the past 12 months. And some of these people I’ve never even met! (Offline, anyway.) In the end, I got my new job at least partly because someone I know works for the company that hired me. If you’re not building your network in real life and on social media, then you’re just wasting time.

5. Joining the local library gives you access to free or heavily discounted passes to museums and other venues.

6. Social media makes a fine lifeline …
… but it’s no substitute for actual, offline, person-to-person interaction.

7. It’s important to have a routine.
Whatever that is, having a routine will give your life some necessary structure and prevent you from becoming a complacent sloth.

8. You’re not alone.
It’s good to know other people who are unemployed so you can commiserate and share war stories (and job leads) with them. Even better is doing fun stuff with these other unemployed people to take your mind off your job-search frustrations.

9. Signing up for daily emails from Indeed.com and Monster.com will keep job listings coming to you.
And fyi: Reading this email every day counts as a “job search activity,” according to the people at the unemployment office who track such things.

10. Always look forward.
Never back.

11. You should never refuse a free meal.
I owe a lot of people lunches and dinners, and I look forward to making good on those.

12. When you’re not working, there’s no rush to get home at a decent hour at night.
So you can do things like randomly wandering the city.

13. Independent headhunters and headhunting agencies are a waste of time.
Thank God they’re free.

14. The fact that you’re unemployed takes your parents’ minds off the fact that you’re single.
Phew.

15. It’s important to know what kind of job you want, so you don’t waste time pursuing the wrong opportunities.
For example, in my case, I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work in an office, not remotely out of my home. That meant I had to say “no thanks” to a handful of opportunities, which wasn’t easy, but it kept me focused on finding what I really wanted.

16. There’s a pretty amazing view of Boston from the top of the Blue Hills hiking trail.

17. No matter how promising a job opportunity seems or how well an interview goes, nothing is a sure thing.
A corollary: Don’t spend the money until it’s actually in your wallet.

18. The chances of getting the flu go down significantly when you don’t go into an office every day.
Of course, getting a flu shot helps too.

19. It’s nice to be able to eat dinner at a “normal” hour.
Brian Williams and the cast of Friends make excellent mealtime companions.

20. There are a lot of unemployed people out there, with varying levels of tech savviness.
… which makes attending the government-mandated career seminars even more of an annoyance.

21. Comella’s has a large cheese pizza for just $5 that is delicious.
It’s one of the best bargains around.

22. When you spend most every day in just shorts or jeans and a tshirt (and if it’s cold, a hoodie), you will look for any occasion to wear a shirt with buttons.

23. Human Resources people and headhunters who lead you on and then don’t call or email you back even though they said they would are the worst.
What happened to common courtesy?

24. Buying an individual healthcare plan is a much much MUCH cheaper option than sticking with COBRA.
In my case, it was about half the cost.

25. When you’re unemployed, it’s a great time to find and use all those gift cards you’ve been sitting on.
The pre-paid Groupons and Living Social deals too.

26. You will lose weight.
Not being in an office and around all the extra food left in the kitchen, plus just eating less for lunch every day, helped me go down a pant size.

27. It’s important to always keep things in perspective.
Being unemployed is tougher for some people than it is for others. I had some bad days over the past year, but they were nothing compared to what some other folks dealt with. Remember that when you get frustrated. Things could always be worse.

28. It’s a good idea to unfollow on Twitter and un-“Like” on Facebook your old employer.
Things are less annoying that way.

29. Taking on freelance work when it comes your way will keep you productive.
Yes, it will also earn you some extra money. But in some ways, that’s just a bonus.

30. Businesses take a long time to make hiring decisions, but universities take the longest.

31. You shouldn’t try to keep up with the Joneses.
Over the past year, I saw lots of other people find and start new jobs. It got frustrating at times hearing about their luck, but in the end, I knew they were looking for different things than I was. The less you focus on other people and the more you worry about your own life, the better off you’ll be.

32. It’s helpful to have goals beyond just getting a job, and things you’re looking forward to doing when you have a job.
For example, traveling. Or eating a special dessert.

33. There’s actually a lot of good TV to watch after midnight.
Jimmy Fallon and Craig Ferguson, for example, but also a nightly marathon of Friends reruns on Nick@Nite.

34. Every day needs an activity, even if it’s as simple as just going to the post office.
Any reason to leave the house is a good one.

35. My upstairs neighbor vacuums her floor even more often than I thought she did.

36. There are no new interview questions under the sun.
Everybody asks the same ones. Over and over again.

37. It’s possible to stay home all day and never turn the TV on once.

38. It’s better to be not working than working somewhere you don’t enjoy being.

39. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches still make for a tasty lunch.

40. There’s a reason why some companies take forever to fill their open positions.

And perhaps the most important one of all …
41. If you have good friends in your life who stand by you and encourage you and cheer you up when you’re down, and who then want to celebrate with you when good things finally happen, then you’re very lucky, indeed.

Today, I’m feeling lucky, happy, and excited about having a new job and getting to move my life forward again.

I hope I’m not unemployed again. But if I am, I know these things I learned, and others, will help me get through the time.

Have you ever been out of work for an extended period of time? What lessons did you learn? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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13 Responses to “41 Things I Learned During My Year of Unemployment”

  1. DJ Waldow (@djwaldow) April 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    There is so much I love about this blog post. So much. Most of all, I love that you are happy … and employed.

    Thanks for sharing your 41 “things” with us, Martin.

  2. JoAnne Lieberman April 1, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Very good Martin’s Musings today! Oh how true! Mom

  3. Deborah April 2, 2013 at 3:35 am #

    1) I confirmed what I’ve always known: I’m more of a night owl that early bird.
    2) You’ll be amazed at how much money you don’t need to spend on a daily, weekly, monthly basis! I realized that making coffee at home was just as easy as the DD drive thru. And man… I make a mean omelette!
    3) You’ll be equally amazed at how much cooler all the things you now can’t afford/shouldn’t spend money on appear.
    4) You need a purpose in your every-day life. Having little structure and no/few “must to-do’s” can be a real drag. At least for me it was.
    5) You can easily second-guess yourself and your abilities. It’s important to stay focused, stay positive and believe in yourself. Connect with people that make you feel good about yourself. Remind yourself why you’ve chosen the field your in. Or even evaluate if you’re still passionate about your profession.
    6) Change is refreshing!

    • Martin Lieberman April 2, 2013 at 7:18 am #

      Good stuff, Deb. I agree with a lot of that!

      • earthdreamssanctuary March 30, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

        I totally loved this blog! THANK YOU! 2 years down the line and it’s still relevant!

      • Martin Lieberman March 30, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

        Thank you, Janet. I’m glad you liked it. 🙂

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