I’ve been (self)unemployed for 17 months, and despite the challenges it presents, I’ve been able to thrive.
After I quit my career in the corporate world, I planned to take two months off and find another job. However, the plan failed, and I’m delighted it did because I’ve had the best time of my life.
I’m well aware that being unemployed can be a challenging and dark time for most. Quitting, getting fired, being made redundant or graduating to a recession market is a shock to the system that no one prefers us for. We’re taught how to work, not how to live, and 2020 tested us real hard on our life skills. This, for many, included trialling their ability to cope with not having employment.
The bad news is that we might be tested this way more frequently if the grim statistics turn out to be true. The good news is that being between jobs doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. I believe it can be great if you choose to see it as an opportunity.
Here are three things you can do to thrive when unemployed and use it as a springboard to the next level of your life.
Clean your slate
Work tends to define us. When you meet someone new, often, the first thing you say about yourself is what you do professionally. When you lose that anchor, you can lose the sense of who you are. Or, you can choose to see it as an opportunity to redefine yourself. I recommend the latter.
The first thing I did after quitting my job was to leave London, where I lived at the time, to fully detach myself from the life that my previous career dictated and to gain a new perspective.
I took a few weeks off to spend time with my family in Poland and, most importantly, to be alone. I borrowed my dad’s car and drove to some of the most remote places I had ever visited. There was no plan, nor did I have a goal. The point was to simply be with myself, my thoughts and my feelings and see what emerges: to see who I was becoming.
So before you jump into a new job, clean your slate. Change your environment, establish fresh routines and, most importantly, create space to tune down the noise and get to know your new self. You don’t have to go abroad to do that. Regularly carving out some space free of distractions will be just as effective.
Design your ideal lifestyle and give it a try
Every job comes with a lifestyle. Often, it is that lifestyle that you hate, rather than the work you do. Being unemployed is the perfect time to figure out what your ultimate life would look like and try living it.
For example, if you do a 9–5 in an office downtown and you live in the suburbs, some lifestyle elements that you might want to consider are:
- You’ll be spending a lot of time away from home.
- There will be more opportunities to socialize with your work colleagues.
- You’ll have to eat out or prep your lunches.
If you work from home, on the other hand, these are example things you might want to take into account. You need to be able to:
- Wear your lounging clothes while working or do laundry during lunch break.
- Eat home-cooked meals.
- Be more self-disciplined and avoid distractions.
Are you ok with this?
If you don’t know where to start, look at the lifestyle your previous jobs dictated and analyze what you did and didn’t like. Once you’ve have a “draft design,” put it to the test to see whether you’d enjoy living this way.
One thing I wanted to incorporate into my career and lifestyle was to be able to live abroad a few months a year. Having returned from my trip to Poland, I concluded that, although I loved it, being away for an extended period was not so easy on my relationship. Now that I’m aware of this, I narrowed down my list of potential careers. I no longer want to work on a cruise ship.
Another way to thrive when you’re unemployed is to try out new interests and things that you might want to do as your next job — and treat them seriously.
I’ve tried different things over the last months, which were quite far from what I used to do when I worked in the construction industry. Sketch-noting and podcasting to creating YouTube videos and, of course, writing on Medium. Every time I pursued a new interest, I told myself, “This is my job for now.”
Exploring different professions has helped me achieve a couple of things. Firstly, I narrowed down my interests. I went from “I’ve no idea what I want to do” to “I know the area I want to focus on.”
Secondly, I widened my skill set and portfolio of experience. I don’t have to worry about having a gap on my CV, and I can now apply for jobs in fields I previously had no access to. In other words, rather than waiting for someone to allow me to gain the experience I wanted, I created an opportunity for myself.
While you’re between jobs, use your time to experiment and invest in yourself. This will set you apart and make being jobless feel like a job. It will prevent you from slipping into unemployment depression. And if you’re worried that upskilling will cost you a fortune, check out the video guide below compiling top free online courses out there.
I read once that “we regularly update our devices but we rarely update ourselves”. Being unemployed, whether as a result of your own or someone else’s decision, is no doubt a challenge, but one you can thrive in. But remember that you have the choice to interpret it the way you want. You can see it as a failure. Or you can also view it as an opportunity for a “system update.”
When you’re unemployed, don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. Go out and create the life you’ve always wanted to live.