When I lost my last job and didn’t find myself diving into a new one straight away, I spent few months “in between” and promised myself that once its over I’ll write about it, so i don’t forget what this time meant to me.
Not having an employment contract, monthly salary and daily routine is only one side of losing your job. Finding yourself on the edge of vulnerability, learning how to ask for and accept the help of others, having to deal with change, expectations, uncertainty, reinventing yourself and going far outside your comfort zone is what you really get. Here are few things I’ve (re)learned during this time and why it was worth not having a job to do so.
It’s not the end of the world.
As long as you have means to survival and can provide for your family for few months (luckily redundancy packages take care of that), there’s nothing frightening about losing your job.
Change is scary. You rarely however lose the job you love and the one that makes you happy every day. Unless your company closed down or suffered massive lay-offs, whether you quit or you are fired – there was something wrong with it and it had to end. I never understand people who stay in relationship or marriage where either of parties is unhappy, just for the sake of it. Its better to let go and move on. And thats what happens when you lose a job. There’s something better matching out there for you and it’s a sign that you should keep on looking. Lets be honest, it’d take you ages to update your CV and more so to start actively looking, if you still were employed full time. So your life did it for you. Here. Have some time to sort things out.
Job (or not having one) does not define you
You are not what you do from 9 to 5. As much as it is convenient to hide behind your day time job, there’s more to you as a human being than name of the company and title of your job. But sometimes it takes losing one to realize that.
First it’s really scary to answer questions like “what do you do?”. So scary I would rather not meet new people at all. But it pushes you to reflect on it first time in years. What DO you do if you do not manage/lead/coordinate people/projects/sales? Who ARE you? What can you give to people if you’re not a potential business connection? And you soon realize that your dreams are not the same as your employers goals, your skills is not only what you used to use at work, your knowledge and experience didn’t go anywhere after you became unemployed. And you’re so much more than that. So “unemployed” is not who you are and what you do, its just a status of your contractual responsibilities towards a company. And at the moment you’re not tied with any.
Its not easy though. Asking about your job is still the first question you hear when you meet new people, and you easily get invisible at professional events if you don’t represent a company, but thats the reality of social conversations – we stick to what we know, we keep it superficial. But its a great change, maybe its time to stop hiding behind all this and allow for real human connections to happen.
Fear of being unemployed
Let’s face it, employment is stigmatized in many modern societies. The biggest fear of being unemployed is created by our environment. Seeing how people react to losing their jobs or to that of other people, we are afraid of not having a job long before we even graduated highschool. Study-get-a-job-get-married is a life plan created for us and it did not include “career breaks”. As much as we talk about work-life balancing alternatives: taking time to travel, parental leaves, sabbaticals, part-time work etc. – it often assumes you got a security of job waiting for you. Not having it – is not a very acceptable option.
So we get scared and angry, because people assume we have to be scared and angry. That it’s shameful in any way to have an unlimited break between the jobs. You get pity looks and “I’m sure you’ll find something soon”s, while frankly there’s nothing wrong with not finding something right now or soon.
In life we often forget to take a minute to think where we are and where we’re going. Getting out of hamster wheel is refreshing. You get to ask yourself important questions (as much as it’s scary to face those) about what you really want to do in life, what you liked and didn’t about previous work engagements, set your future vision and your values clear once again. It’s time taken to get stronger, clearer, more determined than ever to do what makes you happy. Learn to enjoy.
Uncertainty and insecurity
The biggest fear of not having a job is insecurity and uncertainty of the future. In my case insecurity amplified with the place of residence, so I didn’t know not only what I’ll do, when I’ll do it, but also where I’ll be. I always thought that I am good with change, and I am. Its uncertainty what sorts of change it’ll be that I had a problem with. The biggest achievement is to embrace uncertainty and live with it knowing that one way or another it’ll work out. Maybe in unexpected way, but I will be doing something and I will be living somewhere. So there’s nothing to be afraid of. Changes open all sorts of opportunities for us and it’ll be silly to keep hiding away from them by sticking to the security of your comfort zone.
Free time management
Once you are out of nine-to-five routine, once you finally let go of your work and stop having nightmares about a missed deadline, once you catch up on all that sleep, – what DO you do from morning till sleep time? First of course you do all those things you never had time to do – catch up on reading, cooking, cleaning and maybe even sports. What then? Once you have a clean canvas of your day, what do you want to do with your one and precious life?
What did you love having a job for can still be done without having one. Be it talking to people, learning new stuff, helping others, making an impact or even earning money to pay bills – all can still be done now. Volunteering, starting your own projects, helping out your family or friends etc. You can learn new skills, new languages, pick up new hobbies. Its like asking yourself “what would you do if money wasn’t an issue?” except money is probably still a scarce resource and you’ll have to find a paid job at some point soon. But for a second, think about how short life is and what would you want to do while you have this opportunity. And try not to forget when you return to being employed.
Learning to ask
You’re lucky if new job opportunities will line up outside your door. But what if you decided to take up a new field or want to move to a new city? As much as you want to make this change quiet and on your own, sometimes you need help. There’s no reason to fall into pieces, but no need to pretend you’ve got it under control either (unless you have of course). This is the best time to learn how to ask for help, how to let go of unnecessary pride or shame whether its old friends or new people. Reality is you’ve got not much to lose and a lot to gain. And as much as I thought it might hurt my relationships, – it only strengthened them.
Know what’s important
When you lose what you thought is important in your day-to-day life (a job), when you’re forced to let go of few things you got used to having (your own flat, a car, excessive shopping, lifestyle?) you realize once again what wasn’t necessary and what you cant leave without. You also understand whats worth worrying about and what isn’t. On the other hand, when you have time to do anything, this freedom of choice is always a great reminder of your priorities. Maybe you finally get time to hang out with friends and family, do something special for those you love and for yourself.
As much stressful as it seems, it important to keep perspective and know that you’ll find a job sooner or later, and what you don’t want is to look back and think of few months of free time that you spent being stressed instead of enjoying your time with family, friends, catching up on things that make you happy, thinking and planning ahead. Embrace uncertainty and start enjoying yourself!