Note: This will be a pretty long article as I've learned a lot this last year.
Tomorrow I start a new job. I've been unemployed for 9 months and its been an amazing journey from the end of my last job to today.
I wanted to spend a little time here and write some things I have learned over this 9 months and share it with you all in a hope to encourage, maybe motivate and help others in my place keep hope. Keep fighting.
Note: I'm putting non work finding related lessons as these lessons feel more meaningful right now and there's a billion great articles about finding a job out there.
Have a big picture plan of what to do with your free time.
My plan was to switch careers into programming and learning web development. That was a huge motivator in keeping busy. Since my wife was working I committed to spend at least 6 hours a day learning to do SOMETHING programming related. Not only did it keep me busy and focused on something but it also helped me keep depression at bay knowing that even though I wasn't working I was doing something productive.
Keep mapping out your time, even if you don't stick with it.
This sounds silly when your unemployed and have no schedule but I found that having a semi specific schedule at minimum helped keep me on track with my programming and also helped me find other uses for my time such as cleaning or connecting with family.
Try to do something really out of the ordinary that you've always wanted to do but never had the time for.
For me this meant learning how to play the harmonica. I've always wanted to play an instrument that was portable and with my newly tightened budget the harmonica was ideal. I jumped into learning music theory and everything I could about harmonica and it was such a great stress relief. When I was frustrated I could just stop a minute and jam. Plus it was a different type of creativity so I felt that even though I was technically goofing off I was developing a skill I wanted to develop anyways so win/win.
Actively be aware of and combat depression.
If your prone to depression or not its really easy to slip into a feeling of being useless, worthless, unwanted and less a person than others when you spend more than a month or so looking for work. Its really important to take control of your self talk and set the right narrative.
For me I've learned that boredom either leads to me getting into trouble or getting depressed. So I had to make an extra point of keeping busy. Doing something worthwhile and productive for me as a person and for my spouse.
I have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts in the past and was aware of what depression starts to look like for me and feels(or really lack of feels) like. The moment I started feeling down, I made a point to change my mental narrative and then go do something. I went hiking, I did some coding, I called my family and chatted. I simply made a point to not let that cloud get me and it worked. It wasn't easy and for a few months it was literally a daily chore, especially when I was rejected for amazing roles after multiple interviews or simply ghosted.
In spite of how I felt I kept getting up and fighting those triggers every single day. I was open about how I felt with my wife and people I trusted and was able to find support and encouragement and that made a world of difference. Don't let depression sneak in if at all possible because its a lot harder to fight being depressed while depressed.
Spend some time learning about yourself.
Some times we get so busy with work we stop listening to our own thoughts. I spent a lot of time contemplating where I was in life (In a productive way, don't let your internal narrative get discouraged, life is made up of thousands of little choices and rarely does a big moment define you. Don't get caught up in the I'm a failure narrative. You are not your unemployment. )
As a result I learned some really eye opening things about myself. One of the bigger learns was that I was really struggling with anxiety. I have ADHD and have handled that my entire life so working through the opportunities that ADHD brings has been normal. I however always denied that I had the anxiety that often comes with ADHD. All the signs where there, but my machismo (Self pride or arrogance that I'm strong and tough) prevented me from even looking at the possibility of having really bad anxiety.
I always thought I had this extreme drive for perfection and as a result was simply not supposed to be happy with achievements or moments in my life. Somewhere along this 9 month journey though something clicked. I realized that this drive and pressure in my core and mind wasn't ambition but heavy anxiety. This was really hard for me to admit as I had literally denied that I could even have anxiety my entire laugh.
I'm learning to separate my work ethic and standards from my anxiety and understand that the crushing anxiety is not what drives me but its whats preventing me from enjoying and finding peace in my everyday life and the achievements I work so hard for. I was unable to be content or happy with ANYTHING because of the anxiety and now I'm realizing that I can be happy and find joy in things and that I don't have to feel this tremendous drive to always do something every waking moment of my life.
I'm not there yet, I imagine that 30 years of overwhelming anxiety won't go away overnight but now when I'm in the middle of a panic attack or unable to breathe from anxiety I know that that isn't me, anxiety is just something I'm working through like an injured limb. Its frustrating and overwhelming but it can heal and in the meantime I have tools and help and other ways to solve problems. I can separate the anxiety from me and realize that even though, I feel the pressure, its just not me.
Take this time to grow a little as a person. Be honest with yourself
Read some books on some areas in your life your weak in, pick something important and focus on changing that one thing. I chose to work on my helping and supporting my wife. Between my childhood and my ADHD my housecleaning skills and such were pretty weak. This had caused some stress between my wife and I for years and I wanted to grow. I set schedules for myself and found ways to better remind myself or motivate myself to do things.
One of the huge advantages of being unemployed is that I can try crazy things every day. Sleep schedule changes, different reminders, new routines anything to better understand what helps me focus and remember to do things. Use your time to find out the best way you work and then find out how to harness that in a more traditional way for when you start working again.
I learned that caffeine and the right repetitive mix of music really helps me get chores and unpleasantries done. I can recreate a bit of that focus and feeling now when I'm coding or just need to pay attention to things. Big lesson for me personally, happier wife and a useful skill when I start a new job and have to grind through some of that unpleasantness I used to ignore or forget outright.
Relax, Enjoy this time.
I worked really, really hard at my last job, lots of hours, studying in my free time for projects. I never really stopped and enjoyed things (another lesson learned, work for something worth working for, companies go bankrupt sometimes ;) ).
I started getting up and drinking coffee on my porch for sunrise, going on walks and just sitting and watching a brook for an hour or so. Things that I rarely found the time to do before. I was able to spend a lot of unplanned time with family and wake up without an alarm for the first time in my life. Make sure to stop and smell the roses. Even if money is a stressor while job hunting you still are forced to have downtown. Use it well.
Hopefully this was able to encourage or challenge someone who reads this. If you take anything away it would be to actively fight depression, its so easy to get sucked into that trap and getting out is so hard. Get help, confide in friends, learn the harmonica and remember that YOU ARE NOT YOUR UNEMPLOYMENT