Last month, the director of operations and the founder of my organization called me in for a Zoom meeting. By their mysterious, shifty ways in the days leading up to the meeting, I knew already that I was going to be laid off. I was riddled with anxiety beforehand—but the actual meeting was painless, and they even offered me a generous severance package. I was also burned out from this particular environment—the average tenure of an employee there was about 4 months. Plus, while I’m no means rich, I’m also fortunate in that I have enough savings to tide me over for several months. Also, I have other streams of freelance income. So all in all, I felt ecstatic that I’d been given a way out.
By sharing this positive experience of being laid off, I hope to dispel some of the stigma attached to joblessness and to encourage any dumplings to look at it with a different perspective. After graduating in the nadir of the Great Recession, I went through multiple points of joblessness; and each time, I struggled with shame on top of everything else. Now in my early 30s, I find that this isn’t the right attitude to have.
First of all, you’re not “unemployed,” as you are likely gainfully employed in a variety of productive and enriching projects, even if you’re not on someone else’s payroll. Your usefulness as a grownup citizen and an Earthling does not depend on a W-2 tax form. Second, this 9-to-5-jobless period is an opportunity to check in with your intellectual and professional path, and see where you want to go next. Here are some ideas on how to use this blank canvas to your advantage.
Have an idea of your worst-case scenario.
Before we get to the fun stuff, it’s good to map out some of the financial scenarios—after all, you can’t be dreaming up an exciting new career if you’re anxious about your health insurance or mortgage. Disclosure: I didn’t create an extreme budget or anything. I just sketched out a rough idea of my necessary expenses, and how to meet them with my savings and other income. Look up any governmental assistance programs, such as unemployment, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Obamacare, small-business relief, mortgage/ student loan deferment or forbearance.
I also figured out that in the worst-case scenario (freelance work dries up), I could rent out my house and move in with my parents or my long-distance partner. Lean on the resources provided by the government, family, and friends, whether that’s monetary or just a verbal offer of “sure, move in with us!” This situation is bigger than any individual, so it follows you can’t try to solve everything with your own bare hands. NBD.
Take an online learning course.
I had been debating whether to take an online certificate program since last year. This joblessness + pandemic-induced boom of online learning has created a perfect storm for continuing education. You can take free online courses at Harvard, from Pyramids of Giza (oooh) to Intro to Linear Models and Matrix Algebra (😬 is it taught by Orpheus?). The school also offers undergrad and graduate certificate programs for $5,640 and $8,700–14,500, respectively, in areas like Social Justice, Bioinformatics (??), Corporate Sustainability and Innovation, and Eco-Entrepreneurship (cool!).
Like to have choices? Not a fan of Schmarvard? I hear you. EdX is a platform that features courses from 140 institutions, and offers things like MicroBachelors program, MicroMasters program, Professional Certificates, and Online Masters Degrees. EdX seems to be geared more for business / corporate sector, while Udacity is great for people interested in switching over to tech and programming.
Tip: As someone who learned best in a traditional classroom environment, I do worry about the format. If you’re not sure how you’ll adapt to 100% online learning, try a free course to see how you feel before investing in a certificate program.
Meet with a career coach or a life coach.
You might be thinking, “a life coach? Isn’t that what your best friend is for?” But an experienced career coach or a life coach can offer you a new perspective without partiality. One of my former colleagues (who also left the same nonprofit, right before COVID hit) said working with her coach was an eye-opening experience. She had been thinking of starting her own business as a marketing consultant. The coach made her realize that what she isn’t passionate about marketing—it’s working with people that she truly loves. As a result, she changed her focus and is doing coursework in vegan nutrition and life coaching. Next year she will enroll in a Master’s Program in Applied Positive Psychology in order to prepare for her new career in coaching.
Learn a foreign language.
I mean for real this time!! Check out Lockdown Language Exchange, a platform that allows COVID-impacted native speakers to make an income while having (fun, hopefully) video conversations with you. I haven’t had luck sticking to Duolingo, although I have some friends who have mastered Dutch and Japanese using that app. One of my favorite ways to learn a language is watching shows on Netflix, because scripts do a better job of reflecting how people actually speak in that language. (Has anyone *ever* said où est la bibliothèque, in a real situation?)
Allow yourself true freedom.
You might be tempted to fill this period with goals and self-discipline. While feeling productive is healthy, do give yourself permission to relax and be free. Not only is self-care hugely important to growth, it can also reconnect you with your true intentions. Any time I have had these calmer stretches, I have turned to journaling—and re-reading these entries makes me realize how important they were to discovering my next steps. For you, this might come in the form of running, meditation, or taking a bath in the middle of the day and napping. Some days you may feel less motivated than you’d like, or super energetic—just let yourself find an equilibrium.
Also see: 5 Ways To Be Happier At Work
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Photo: Perchek Industrie via Unsplash