What’s Good About Unemployment?

This weeks article comes from a reader, Allison Gamble, who read my article on “What’s Good About Work?” and felt I was only telling half the story.  Allison  has been a curious student of psychology since high school.  Her perspective on making the most of time “between jobs” is inspring and an important reminder for those who find themselves in this situation.

Unemployment is sitting at a stubbornly high rate of just over 9 percent. Add in the amount of people who are underemployed, or are just not looking for work at all, and you can imagine that there are a lot of people sitting in front of the computer, complaining about unemployment to any wandering ear/eye. Not having a job can be scary and intimidating, but are there any benefits to being unemployed?

Workers  will, on average, be unemployed almost a quarter of their prime years in the best of markets, so if you find yourself in this situation, breathe a sigh of relief and know that you are not alone. The key is to relax and not look at the overall job market. No one ever found a job by worrying too much. Enjoy the freedom that has been given to you and take advantage of it.

The real question is, do you have the discipline to put your new found free time to good use?  With the time you have on your hands, you can finally start to write that novel, or spend more time with your family and reconnect with the kids. There is time to finally think about what you want out of life and your career. Money can’t buy that kind of personal time away from the pressures and demands of a full-time job.

Even if you are unemployed, you still have a skill set. The key to getting ahead in any economy is to recognize your strengths and use them to your advantage. Use your spare time to understand your strengths better and work on your personal mission statement.  Knowing what you bring to the table is going to allow for more confidence and creativity when it comes to looking for work. It will also be a big help in determining what kind of work you go after on the next job search.

An extended unemployment might be exactly what you needed. Your former industry might have been the worst career choice that you ever made. If you were pushed into it strictly because you needed a job, it could have been something you regretted during your entire career. No matter how high up you go in a company, it is going to be tough to get by when you have no passion for your work.  This is a chance to level-set and decide where to go from here.

We all have dreams that we want to see achieved and we just need the proper opportunity. The silver lining to an extended period of unemployment is that there is now time to turn a hobby into a bona fide career. Everyone has at least one good idea. Getting that idea moving forward is the tricky part.

How do you get that idea off the ground? Good networking is one key. Networking is typically thought of as only something you can do only at job fairs or through office contacts. However, networking can also be performed naturally – have a barbecue and invite all your friends over for a night of drinks and dinner. You have time, why not have fun with it? What else are you going to do? Mow the lawn?

If you have an idea, take the time to develop it; if you have a product, you can use your unemployment time to test your product. A movie producer could shoot home video and turn it into the local film festival. The reactions from the audience can be gauged in a setting where not much is expected. The artist can learn while they create and work toward a future in the industry if so desired. You can build your resume, network and gain experience at the same time.

Unemployment is generally something that you don’t ever want to experience. The lack of financial stability not only affects yourself but your family as well. Just keep in mind that dwelling on only this fact can lead to depression and loss of confidence. The best thing you can do for yourself is to understand that your unemployment can be just as much of a blessing as it is a curse.

Take this rare opportunity to transform yourself from a working stiff into someone who is fulfilling a goal and following a passion. Opportunities don’t come around often in life, so take advantage of this one even if it might not seem like it at first glance. Life is about the things you accomplish, not the money you make.

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3 Responses to What’s Good About Unemployment?

  1. Sara Firman September 30, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

    ‘Take this rare opportunity to transform yourself from a working stiff into someone who is fulfilling a goal and following a passion.’ I think Allison has provided a good reminder of what can be opportunity disguised as loss.

    If you are able to remain calm and not rush into ‘solving the problem’, a huge review of yourself, your life, your chosen work, the culture in which you live is possible. The thing is that that review can be uncomfortable and dark for a while, which is normal.

    Old stories call this the underworld, the abyss, facing the dragon, death. In our society it’s not much understood let alone honored. It’s a period of restoration and it takes as long as it takes. It’s a depression period that has value.

    Recently, I came across a great story about the Water of Life and rediscovering what brings us alive. (Anything that has water in it attracts me!) It’s about the natural cycles of drying out and then getting watered again. Of the need to replenish our source.

    Here’s a quote that fits this discussion I think:

    ‘Human beings are creatures of loss and discovery. Our souls are designed to pulse between the tasks of seeking and the tasks of settling. This is a necessary rhythm, and denying either side of it denies the other. We must go out. We must come back.’

    (Read more here: http://ow.ly/1xNmiV )

    Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone took regular sabbaticals? What if losing a job or leaving a job were not shameful but considered valuable, not only to the individual but also to the society?

  2. Mark A McKenney @MarktheSpaMan September 30, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    Good points, Allison. There were many times when I was worried silly and now close to saying, yes I am glad I went through the whole ordeal and have come out of it so much wiser and more focused…. Excellent perspective from Sara!
    Mark A McKenney
    @MarktheSpaman

  3. Jeremy McCarthy (@jeremymcc) October 1, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    Great comments Sara,

    I think the challenge is that if you are unprepared and suddenly find yourself without work, you can slip down a rung or two on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You find yourself making decisions more based on your survival needs rather than being able to truly use the sabbatical to find yourself as Allison suggests.

    That being said there is an awesome and inspiring TED talk on “The Power of Time Off” http://www.ted.com/talks/stefan_sagmeister_the_power_of_time_off.html about taking sabbaticals, and I think if you are prepared to take some time off it can be a time for replenishment and re-birth as Allison and Sara both suggest.

    As we write this, one of my best friends and his wife are trekking through Africa on the beginning of an extended sabbatical (how jealous am I?) And another friend who is a hotel General Manager from Four Seasons (my alma mater) is in the midst of a year sabbatical as a part of that company’s new program that allows their senior GMs to take a year off if they wish to do so. This is a company benefit that I think more businesses should consider.

    I also think we should strive towards a shorter work week or at least experiment with ways of giving back time to people like Google does with their “20%” policy (see this blog from two days ago: http://bigthink.com/ideas/40392.) Also check out “Take Back Your Time” http://www.timeday.org a non-profit that fights for more leisure time in society.

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