Tips for Surviving Unemployment

This post was originally published March 24, 2014.

Three weeks ago I was laid of from my job as a program manager at a small nonprofit.  Coming as a pretty big surprise, I did what most people would do in that situation and begin to freak out about those pesky concepts of paying bills and eating food.  Darn, why do they have to cost money?! 

Spoiler alert: I’ll cut right to the end of this story.  Today I start a new job and I have had a delightful and productive three weeks of networking, intentional socializing, and of course, sleeping in.  My first week of unemployment was fairly stressful, as I thought about money and my future.  However, at the end of the first week, I realized that I had been given the thing I have been wanting for months now…time.  I had all day every day to do whatever I wanted, and rather than spend it worrying I realized I should be putting it to good use. 

That mind shift from stress to productivity resulted in a great couple weeks off and ultimately lead to the acquisition of my new employment.  Looking back on the whole experience, I believe there are a few takeaways worth sharing. Thus, I present Levi Baer’s top 4 tips for surviving unemployment:

1. Don’t Panic

I know this is easier said than done for some people (shout out to my Myers-Briggs “P” types), but really, just relax.  Take stock of your situation and assets, I bet you have more going for you than you realize because you haven’t been forced to assess or use your full set of resources if you’ve been in the same routine for a while.  Focus on the future and what is possible, not on the past and what went wrong.  Sleep in, make some bacon pancakes or other favorite breakfast, and look towards what’s next.  I was able to double check my bank account, apply for unemployment aide, breathe a sigh of relief, and move on. 

2. Make the Most of the Situation

Time is arguably the most important resource each of us have.  It’s limited and we’re all given the same amount each day. Use it effectively!  It might be nice to spend the first day or two finally watching all the episodes of Freaks and Geeks, but after that get up and do the things you’ve been wanting to do but have been putting off.  Meet up with old friends, paint your room, take a community class, explore the city.  The list can go on and on of things you can do while your'e also applying for new jobs.  I spent a lot of my unemployed time at coffee shops, connecting with friends and collaborators. 

3.Trust Your Network

This is the big one.  Reach out to people you know, embrace the vulnerability of asking for help, and connect to the opportunities that are surely happening throughout your network.  Without asking, you’ll never know everything that other people, even your close friends, are doing for work, hobby, and play, and what those activities could mean for you.  Finding new employment is almost always easier through referrals rather than cold calls.  If you’re okay with any sort of job, you will probably be surprised by how fast you can get one through your network.  If now is the time for a career or location change, don’t just Google your dream city, ask people what they know about it or if they know anyone there who can give you recommendations for jobs and housing.  Really, talk to as many people as you can.  I sent out an email to 80 people outlining what skills I had to offer and where I thought they could be best applied.  A week later I was interviewing with a friend of a friend who received that email.  

4. Continue to Build Your Network

Ask your network for help, but don’t stop there.  Stay actively engaged with those connections and find out how you can give back to those around you.  Not only will you likely feel good about doing so, you’ll probably end up opening more doors for yourself.  You probably have a friend in the middle of a project that could use some extra brain or muscle power.  There’s likely someone running a volunteer program that needs a person with your skill set.  Take time to learn more about what the people you know are doing both professionally and for hobby.  All of these interactions hold not only the potential for your next job, but also can create fun and engaging opportunities you didn’t know were possible.  Not to mention, you can continue to strengthen your network for the next time it’s needed. 

I enjoyed my time out of the rat race so much that I wish it was lasting longer.  Perhaps one downside of this type of heavy engagement with your network, is that learning about a lot of good opportunities all at once might make you feel like some are too good to pass up.  I am glad to be getting back to work though and all the networking will just have to fit into nights and weekends, not stop altogether.  At least the bacon pancakes don’t have to end anytime soon either.

Levi Baer

Chicago, IL