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I Lost My Job Too: How to Make the Best Use of Your Unemployment

By Heather Levin

During the 2008-09 recession, my freelance business took a huge hit. In the early part of 2009, business was down 70% from the year before. Clients were going out of business left and right, and the ones I had left were drastically curtailing their spending.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009 unemployment stood at 9.5% nationally (not seasonally adjusted). In my home state of Michigan, 14% of the population was unemployed. And in my home city of Detroit, unemployment was a shocking 50%. Nevada suffered from the overall highest unemployment, at 14.4%.

This unfortunately meant the one thing no one wants to face: I was out of work. Seriously out of work.

Being unemployed, or underemployed for that matter, is an incredibly scary prospect. You’re suddenly faced with an enormous hole in your life. After all, we spend the majority of our time working. What do we do when, suddenly, there’s no more work? What are we supposed to do with all that time? How are we going to find another job (or another pool of clients, or a new pool of customers) when so many other people are after that very same thing?

How to Cope

When my work dried up, almost literally overnight, I went into a grieving process. For several days, all I did was mope and feel helpless.

Experts say this is normal. When we go through a dramatic life change, like losing a job, we need time to grieve and cope. And, most of us will go through the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Keep in mind that you might not go through all of these, or go through them in this order. I skipped denial and zoomed straight into depression. Then I backtracked into anger, skipped bargaining, and finally just accepted the situation.

So, don’t feel you will have to endure every stage to get back on your feet.

It’s also important to realize that although this grieving process is normal and necessary, we have to resist the urge to remain in grief. Throwing ourselves a pity party might feel good, but it’s not going to better our situation one little bit.

My advice: Grieve. Cope. Deal with the feelings of anger and depression and helplessness.

And then?

Straighten your back. Square your shoulders. Pick up your head. And DO something. What you do with your unemployment will not only help you recover financially in the long run, but it will also help you emotionally.

Your Experience Is Up to YOU

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you. They’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” -Bernice Johnson Reagen

The wonderful part about life, in my opinion, is that we always have a choice in how we experience it.

We can look at our job loss as “the end of the world,” or as the disaster we always worried would come. We can berate ourselves for not being good enough or smart enough to hold onto our job. And we can wallow for weeks or months in self pity, picking apart every tiny thing we did wrong.

OR

We can look at our job loss as an open door. We can choose to view it as an incredible chance to do something new and challenging in our life. We can embrace this adversity because of the lessons we’re surely going to learn as a result. We can choose to see opportunity instead of calamity.

How you experience your unemployment, and what you do with this time, is entirely up to you. And no one else.

Strategies for Making the Best Use of Your Unemployment

What you do with the amazing amount of free time you now have can dramatically influence how quickly you find a job, or even how you live the rest of your life.

Think I’m kidding?

Several of the “unpaid” projects and career development seminars I devoted time to during my own period of unemployment have led to considerable financial gains today.

You just never know what, or when, it’s going to pay off. So it definitely pays to do what you can to enrich yourself, both personally and professionally, while you have the time.

1. Enhance Your Skills

What can you do to make yourself more desirable for an employer?

Are there certifications that would enhance your technical ability? A degree you need? An industry seminar that might lead to important contacts or skill enhancement?

Work on doing whatever you can to make yourself more marketable in the job market and to gain valuable industry knowledge.

2. Volunteer

Now that you have of time, there are plenty of non-profits that would love some help. Volunteering is not only fun and rewarding, but it can also enhance your career skills.

For instance, imagine you’ve volunteered to help plan your high school reunion. The event is so successful that you decide to start your own business as an event planner. Or perhaps you volunteer to organize and a local food drive. You discover, in the process, that you’re great at managing others, which you were never aware of previously.

Volunteering not only helps your community, but it’s also a great thing to bring up in interviews. You can also put it on your resume, as proof that you were doing something worthy (and educational) during your time off.

3. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

Getting in shape is one of the best things you can do with your unemployment. The reason is because exercise is proven to make you feel happier and more positive about your life. Daily exercise will help you avoid sinking into the depression that many people fall into after they lose their job.

Plus, exercise makes you look great. You exude a positive personal energy when you’re fit. And potential employers will pick up on these subtle cues.

And don’t think you have to waste money on a gym. There are plenty of ways to save money and exercise at home on a budget.

Other Tips…

I took part in all three of the above tips when my business dried up. And, they paid off. I stayed positive, I got into the best shape of my life, and many of the skills and projects I devoted time to are still paying off today.

What else can you do? Here’s are some other strategies I implemented:

  • Read. There are hundreds of excellent business and personal development books available (my favorites: Linchpin, by Seth Godin, and The Art of Non-Conformity, by Chris Guillebeau). Learn how to interview better. Learn how to be a better leader. Learn how to negotiate, how to sell, how to market a product. Take your destiny into your own hands.
  • Change Your Life. With my free time, I built my own rain barrel. I started a garden. I learned how to cook. I literally changed my life to become greener, and more frugal, with all this free time. What have you always wanted to learn how to do? Go do it!
  • Reconnect. Working a full time job means you’ve probably missed out on plenty of soccer games, birthdays, and leisurely lunches. Well, now’s the time to reconnect with your friends and family! Call your grandmother. Take your dad out to lunch. Take your kids to the local science museum. Reconnect with those you love.

Last Word

I know how scary, frustrating and intimidating unemployment, or undermployment, can be. I was there. And I know plenty of people who are going through it right now.

Keep in mind that it’s entirely up to you how you use this time. You can use it to better your life or your circumstances. Or you can waste it moping around and feeling bad for yourself. It’s up to you.

I’d love to hear back from all of you on this. Have you gone through unemployment? Are you going through it now? What are you doing with your time? Do you find the time a curse or a blessing?

(Photo credit: Peter Kaminski)

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Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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