3 Key Ways I’m Approaching Unemployment Differently this Time


For the second time in a year, I am without a job. The details aren’t particularly important (although buy me a drink and I’ll tell you all about it), but I’m unemployed. Despite being thoroughly irritated that I yet again find myself in this unenviable position, I’m reflecting on what I learned in my first bout of unemployment and doing my best to allow it to shape this new experience.

While each day is its own journey – the high of a small victory followed by crippling inadequacy, repeated on a 24-hour cycle – there are three key ways I’m approaching unemployment differently this time.

Don’t Panic, Especially About the Money

I’m a planner by nature. My brain runs every possible scenario for every situation, creating a raging river of emotional and intellectual investment that runs day and night. While it makes me an excellent problem solver, it also means that – when confronted with a crisis – I’m in panic mode until things return to normal.

When I lost my job last year, the panic was immediate. Doubts about paying our mortgage, our bills, and our childcare. Concern that my work experience wouldn’t qualify me for the next job. Guilt about leaving projects unfinished and goals unachieved, even though it wasn’t my decision to leave. Immediately freaking out about ALLTHETHINGS was a really normal reaction to being laid off. But with a little more life under my belt and a little more experience in this exact set of circumstances, I’m taking an easier route this time.

I know I’m going to get another job – it’s simply a matter of time – so I’m doing my best to strategically evaluate my situation and react accordingly. One of the biggest sources of worry is financial, and with very good reason. I don’t have a career just because it’s fulfilling – we need two incomes to keep our household afloat. The last time I lost my job, our finances bore the brunt of my first wave of emotional reaction.

You know when the power goes out and you know you need to preserve your phone battery, but you feel immediately compelled to check all of your social channels and read the news? I did the same thing, but with money – making panicked purchases knowing that my last paycheck was on its way and I wouldn’t be able to spend money for the foreseeable future. By no means did it ruin us, but it certainly was not the best financial decision I could have made for my family.

This time around I took a more pragmatic approach. After giving myself a day to sob and sulk and watch television in the basement, I shut myself (and my dog) in our library and did a deep dive on our finances. A few hours and a new spreadsheet later, I was feeling better. The critical stuff – mortgage, utilities, insurance – we could cover on my husband’s income alone. It didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for the rest of our expenses (groceries, gas, diapers) but I knew I could put a couple financial goals on the back burner, put a moratorium on ordering anything from Amazon and going out to eat, and we’d be okay for a while.

[Side note: I realize that my family is immensely privileged to be able to squeeze by on a single income – many people and families can’t afford the luxury of time, adding an enormous threat to the already monumental challenge of unemployment.]

My strategy of derailing panic with a calm, reasonable approach set the tone for the rest of my processing.

It’s Okay to Take it Slow

When I started last year’s job search, I went in guns blazing. Meetings. Breakfasts. Website after website, article after article about cover letters and resumes and interviewing. With all of my front-loaded effort, I burned out. My momentum was gone before I even had my feet under me, and I was deep in an over-informed pit of crushing self-doubt. Quickly realizing that I was not following a sustainable trajectory, I adjusted my process.

One of the best things I did after losing my job – both times – was to make a list of projects I wanted to accomplish. Last year it was all about raking the yard, napping with my toddler, planning and hosting a Beatnik-themed Halloween party, learning to knit. I accomplished all of it, the highlights being the party (at which everyone wore black and there were multiple poetry readings) and my many awful scarves (all of which ended up looking like giant horrifying tapeworms because I refused to use patterns). This year’s list looks similar, although I’m trying to channel my creativity into storage solutions and home improvement rather than crafting.

The point is this: Nobody can spend 40 hours a week networking and looking for a job without going completely insane. So don’t try. Work hard, but go easy on yourself. Rushing through this chapter of your life – pushing, pushing, pushing until someone makes you an offer and you snap it up without a second thought – will do more harm than good in the long run.

Right now I make a to-do list every day. The list has easy things, and it has hard things. Toddler drop off, walk around the lake, eat lunch. Easy. Stain the deck, file for unemployment, apply for that job. Hard. I never have the expectation that I’ll accomplish everything on my list; I know it’ll all happen eventually, in whatever time it needs.

So while it’s scary to be in a state of transition for a minute longer than absolutely necessary, I find it to be a healthy part of my process.

F*ck Embarrassment

The first time I lost my job I was SO EMBARRASSED. I was embarrassed sitting at the conference table while the president and HR manager told me they were eliminating the marketing department. I was embarrassed on the phone with my husband, telling him why I needed him to pick up our daughter. I was embarrassed that night when I ran into the parents of my oldest friend and burst into tears in front of them.

As a person who outwardly appears highly capable and as though she more or less has her shit together, I was mortified by activating my personal network to help me find a new job. While I was enormously grateful to each person who helped me set up a meeting or emailed me a job to apply for, I was loath to acknowledge my need for assistance. Maybe it was ego, maybe it was youth (yes, I realize this was only a year ago – a LOT can happen in a year), maybe it was just a really crap stage of processing the experience.

Chalk it up to whatever you like, but I’m not embarrassed this time around. Does that mean I’m running around telling everyone I know that I’m unemployed? NO. I’m still a human with complex emotions working through a trauma that was equal parts heartbreaking and irritating. I get to roll out that news flash to my own target audience on my own timeline.

I have moments, hours, days when I feel terrible that I lost my job. Twice. I’m mad at the organizations that failed me. I’m frustrated by how I may or may not have failed them. I’m annoyed that I have to work and work and hustle and hustle to find myself the next right step. But as much as possible, I’m being kind to myself. See? A lot can happen in a year.

Where are you in your career? Have you been unemployed or stuck in a job search? Comment and tell me all about it!

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Kate Kearns is a Golden Girl masquerading as a millennial mom, chugging along with the best choice she ever made (her husband), volatile toddler, embarrassing dog, and diplomatic cat in Southwest Minneapolis.  She works in marketing and her hobbies are food.

 

 

  • You are clearly brilliant and I know there are many good career things headed your way. In the meantime I’m glad you’re making the most of this transition and being kind to yourself.

  • Wow this post really resonates with me. I was let go of my nannying job before I was suppose to (no hard feelings, the toddler started school) and it’s been an adjustment ever since. The plan was to nanny during pregnancy then once I had a baby I would become a SAHM. Now I am not working but simply starting to try and have a baby. Luckily, I am planning a wedding at the same time which is quite time consuming but I’m still left with a lot of free time. And I’m not sure if I want to start a new job when i’m hoping to start a family so soon. Every day I set tasks and it’s helped a lot with making me feel productive. But I wish I wasn’t so hard on my self. I know this time is really important and I feel so lucky but it’s been an adjustment none the less. And something that has helped me is to not think of this in terms of forever. I can work again down the road if I choose to!

    • I’m sorry you’re in a tricky spot, but I’m so glad my story resonated with you! It sounds like you’re approaching your challenging chapter in exactly the right way. The decisions you make today don’t have to be forever! And it seems like more and more there are fun opportunities to add in a “side hustle” if you’re not looking for a full-time professional path.

  • Hi Kate, thank you for writing this wonderful article. I think this topic can strike fear (and cold sweats!) in people’s minds, so it is important to hear from people who have gone through the roller coaster of unemployment in a job market that can be a roller coasters on its own. I believe the job market has changed significantly in the past 10-15 years and people no longer work for ‘XYZ’ company for 20+ years! Older generations sometimes see unemployment as unimaginable, or even an ’embarrassment’ while younger ones see it as an unavoidable fact of life.

    My partner went through a very similar experience to yours and searched 4-6 months each time. I’d like to add that friends and loved ones feel for you and would like to help; they see the heart ache, stress, and anguish, you experience and want to be supportive (even if we can only hug you and make tea…)
    I think the most helpful thing I could do for my partner while he was searching was to take care of him mentally. After 9pm I took away his computer and took him to a park LOL

    So a big shout out to you, from a small corner of the internet!! You can do it!!

    • Thank you so much for your words of support! It’s not an unusual journey by any means, but it’s certainly not an easy one. I’m always happy to hear people’s success stories – they keep me on a positive path!

  • This was exactly what I needed to read today. Yesterday was a bad day for me. I’m a planner like you and in my head as well as on paper I had 2019 planned. I was let go of my nannying job and it hurt because I wasn’t expecting it and also because I desperately needed the money. I just finished paying off the divorce that almost broke me to pieces emotionally and financially.

    Just one day in my unemployment I felt sort of lost. I kept thinking well school in January is definitely out and that vacation in March … that’s not happening.

    After reading your post I realized that I can move passed this and I will figure it out no matter how long the process. I have a great support system and determination! Thank you!

    • I’m sorry in a tough spot, but you’ll absolutely find the right path for you! It’s weird to balance the emotional processing with the practical problem solving when you’re unemployed, but it just makes us stronger in the end.

  • I stopped working 5 years ago to be a SAHM. For the finances, we are able to get by on a one family income with three kids. (11 year old and 2 year old twins still in diapers) mostly by shopping at Aldi (their diapers and baby food are very good and much cheaper), not eating out, and keeping a close eye on expenses. When something large breaks, like our washer just did, we used the store credit card with no interest for 12 months. Stores frequently have those deals. One income can be doable so long as you redefine what you do for entertainment. We do a lot through our park district and forest preserves. There are alot of low or no cost classes for the whole family that are excellent.

  • Thank you thank you thank Kate! I have been unemployed now for about a year after an unsuccessful grad application process to London and now 6 months applying for jobs. Your words of being kind to yourself and finding easy and hard accomplishments each day were a huge encouragement for me today and for the days to come!

    • It’s SUCH a hard journey. But we just keep pushing through because we are STRONG and also it’s really the only option! Keep working hard, and keep taking care of yourself.

  • I lost my job at the beginning of this summer. Aside from my internal calculator churning and worrying about whether we could weather the transition financially, getting let go felt like a relief!

    All that grief from the job and the burdens I carried for them was now someone else’s problem. If you watch Mad Men, that scene when Peggy Olsen (played by Elizabeth Moss) walked out with sunglasses on and carrying a cardboard box while smoking a cigarette with zero Effs to give – that’s how I felt!

    I had spent the last 18 years working full time non-stop (at 3 different places), never having a chance to enjoy the city I inhabited. During that time I went to grad school while working full time. It was almost 2 decades of go-go-go. I ate terribly at my desk for years,I had deferred medical and dental appointments, and compartmentalized everything I did for myself and everyone in my life into the few free hours I had outside of work.

    Summer was starting up and I embraced the chance to make it the summer of me! I could finally be those people who take midday yoga and Soulcycle classes, the ones who enjoy languid midday lunches and late afternoon naps. I cycled around town, took dips at the public pool in the middle of the afternoon and got to focus on me for once.

    The timing worked out well because we’ve been planning a major out of country move for the past year and a half. My spouse’s job started this September and I was planning to join him in 2019. Until getting fired, I didn’t have the time to focus on the moving details or a new job search, my focus on those matters wasn’t there. Now it seemed like everything happened for a reason!

    And now we’ve made the move together and resettled to Canada. Our house hunting /relocation prospect trips over the summer led me to a full time job. We’re on to our new lives, in a new home, new country, and new jobs.

    Long story short: things will work out. Take this moment to take in and nurture the blessings you do have: your family, your health, your self, your talents. Any job, no matter how awesome, takes away the most precious gift out there – the present of your presence! Treat yourself to take this time to focus on YOU, including doing the things you enjoy. The fondest memories during my *funemployment* were the most simple, priceless moments, some of which I didn’t do much at all. It felt awesome and I had zero guilt about it!

  • Thank you for this! I am in the EXACT same boat and you summed up the feelings perfectly. It was so nice to read that someone else is feeling the same way I am, and reinforcing the “making lists” helps! I am currently sitting in front of my list: “Apply for Jobs, Email Recruiter, Learn SQL, LinkedIn” I will work on making mine a bit easier on myself (thank you for the suggestion)! Today was/is one of those especially low days where I feel extra lost, so coming across this is was a Godsend! Thank you Kate! Best wishes to you!