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What To Do When You Are Unemployed

Recently, I shared a blog post about ten things that will make you whistle whiile you work. But this post is one that just might be a little more close to home for some of my readers. Whether you’ve experienced your first time of unemployment, or you’re weathering a long period of joblessness in this economy, here’s a few things that might make unemployment a little more bearable.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of unemployment, I want to name the elephant in the room: shame.  Many unemployed people have experienced deep shame in the nature of which they found themselves without work, termination of employment, the subsequent days, weeks, months, and in some cases, years of soul searching and pavement pounding in search of meaningful work. Unemployment can be coupled with a period of jumbled emotions, with moments of hopefulness, insecurity, excitement, and disappointment. It’s not uncommon to feel a mixture of depression and anxiety that is situational in nature (meaning, the depressed or anxious mood tends to fade when the situation changes and improves).  Despite how you feel about being unemployed, it’s important to march on a number of actions that are time-sensitive.

First Things First

1. If you got canned from your job, know your rights. If there is a severance package, back pay, or overtime coming to you, or you were fired without cause, you may want to have an attorney look over the details to see if there has been a violation or breach of contract. Don’t expect your former employee to remember what is still owed to you.

Next, consider whether it is in your best interests to file for unemployment. If you do, understand the conditions and obligations you need to meet to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Speaking of benefits: if your health insurance came from your former employer, check the dates when your benefits terminate. You may wish to consider Cobra, or purchase catastrophic health insurance coverage for yourself and your dependents.

If you planned for “that day” — the day of your unemployment — you have savings of three to six months of income saved up. Now is the time to touch the money you swore you wouldn’t touch, and make sure your basic needs for food, rent or mortgage, and your primary repeating bills are covered. If you haven’t been living on a budget, now is the time to organize your monthly fixed expenses in an Excel spreadsheet, and make sure those bills are covered before you make plans to blow your savings in an emotional decision to purchase an unaffordable vacation to get away from it all.

Now What Do I Do?
After the initial panic and shock from losing your job (or having work dry up) wears off, you’re probably asking, “What do I do now?” The answer: that depends on what you did BEFORE you were unemployed. Did you save up a buffer of money (three month’s worth of expenses)? Do you have savings you can dip into? Were you living conservatively, or spending frivolously?

If you prepared for a period of unemployment, congratulations: you have some breathing room. I suggest you take some time to do just that: breathe, take up some room, and get some wind back in your psychological and emotional sails. Get rest. Visit family and friends if you can. Go to school with your kids for the day. Bring a picnic lunch for your sweetie on his/her break [get permission first!]. When might you have a chance like this again? A brief change of pace might help you get grounded, refocused, and refreshed for a future job search.

2. Take care of your health. If there have been some medical or mental health issues that you need to address, consider this expense part of the necessary budget to get back on your feet.  When the initial euphoria of freedom wears off, you might find that it’s time to take stock of your health instead tolerating the aches and pains only partially numbed by working.

3. Sign up for workshops and classes that add more value to your skill set. Enrolling in webinars and online classes, as well as finding unemployment support groups or group coaching may help keep you motivated and reignite passion for the work that you did. It may also help you identify key areas of improvement that you can address in a future interview, i.e. “I just completed a three-hour course on leadership styles that helped me hone my skills in working with burned out workers”, etc.

4. Keep up with your meaningful hobbies, but put the draining ones off for a season. Meaningful hobbies will keep you engaged with the world and thoughtful about your time. Draining ones will simply keep you busy, leaving you with a sense that what you’re really trying to do is kill time.

5. Keep it social. While some introspective time is helpful for processing what just happened to you in the loss of work, it’s also helpful to get out of the house and rub shoulders with others. You may find networking circles helpful, or  as I mentioned before, a coaching group for unemployed people may help you take that next step towards finding meaningful work again.

6. Take inventory of what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t. Pity will only feel good for a little while; later on, that pity may turn to shame. Maybe your unemployment period has run for some time, and you have had to change your lifestyle. Do you have your health? Pets? A place to live? Friends? A working car? A sense of humor? When you list what you have against what you don’t have, you may realize you are doing far better than you thought.

7. Get creative. I have watched people create their own work out of the frustation of not being able to find available “ready-made” jobs that fit their skill set.  Additionally, you may find that your skill set applies to another kind of job that you never considered until you were without work. An book on just that subject, The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikelberry might be right up your alley.

8. Do anything but watch TV. There are few activities like reality TV watching that will suck the soul out of a person faster than TV. Why? Because reality TV is not reality, folks! It is highly edited, over-produced pieces created to give viewers the illusion of what like could be life, not what life IS. There is often pseudo creation involved, yet not the always the kind of creation that is positively stimulating If you must do something for an hour, run in place and do jumping jacks. You will get more out of the endorphins released in your blood stream than you will out of the content of most TV programing.

The exceptions are thoughtful films, documentaries, useful news, and educational programming that may speak to what you are currently feeling, thinking, and desiring. Netflix’ing a movie in those categories may be a fantastic reward to yourself for researching material in your job field on the Internet, or polishing a professional resume and cover letter. Watching the news and being in tuned with the rest of the world will help you keep perspective with your connection and response-ability to the world.

A good example of this is local news with a focus on the economic downturn and its effects on employment in your area. There are coaches and strategists available on television providing content and resources that could be critical to your plans, such as Seattle locals Sherrie Campbell and Bob Rosner, who have presented relevant content on the workplace on KCPQ13. Mr. Rosner continues broadcasting a segment several times a week on helping those who are making their way through unemployment and issues surrounding today’s workplace strategies.

I am of the belief that the world needs you. You are the world’s technology, housed in your body and mind. You don’t help the world much by sitting on a couch, watching the pseudo world go by with one more episode of Desperate Housewives. But watching something on TV that lights a fire under your backside towards positive movement in the right direction is priceless.

9. Pump up the romance and thwart depression. [If I need to expand much more on this, you are probably not depressed]. Let’s just say that maintaining a healthy and happy sex life will put a skip in your step and a smile on your face.

10. Find ways to contribute to your community. Most people miss the camaraderie and friendships of their former places of work as much, if not more, than the actual work itself.  We enjoyed giving of ourselves, personally and professionally. If the unemployment period drags on a bit longer than expected, you might want to consider volunteering in a related capacity, or even in an unrelated capacity.

11. Curate, monitor, and edit what content goes out on your Social Media platforms. What, you’re not on one? Get on one. Referrals can be made by friends and friends of friends. Potential employers may also scan your recent postings, so curate your content carefully. How you handle the loss of your job and unemployment in the public sector — and yes, Facebook is PUBLIC, not private  (more on that in a future post) — can help you or hurt you, depending on how you behaved.

During a period of under employment, I chose to volunteer in small clinic in Southern California, as well as travel with a group of doctors across the border into small towns in Mexico in need of medical and dental care. This experience led to later employment in one of the busiest community-based medical systems in the Greater Seattle area. I also honed my skills as a musician, and later played in a couple of bands.

OK, I’ve shared a few humorous and serious examples of things to do when you’re unemployed. While there are those who plan a period of unemployment to deal with the burnout of corporate life, most of us do not enjoy unemployment. Now it’s your turn. If you’re unemployed, what are you doing to help you during this time? What do you need to do to take the next step? Please share your comments here.

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, AIP Coach and PN1-NC, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 30+ years in healthcare (22+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is a two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018); she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for 100 Mile trail races and a backyard ultra. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, camping under the stars, and cooking real food.

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