Having been a full-time unemployed American for nearly six months, I feel I am qualified to share this list of do's (and some don'ts) for those struggling to keep our heads above water. And by heads, I mean our mental sharpness, motivation, and readiness.
1) Stay aware of your surroundings. This is always Survival Tip #1 no matter which incident, natural disaster, or crime you are trying to protect yourself from. In the case of being unemployed, this simply means being plugged into your community. Libraries and community centers are terrific - and free - resources that are offering useful information sessions, Q&A's, and workshops for job seekers, among other resources. Public universities often offer career services to the general public, not only alumni or students. All it takes is a trip to their website to find out. Reading the events section of your city's newspaper will also keep you abreast of opportunities to tap into while you search sans prix, and also often lead to networking opportunities. The main idea is to assess your area's built-in set of resources while being aware of how you can best utilize them.
2) Keep up regular contact. You're stuck in open waters with no rescue boat or shoreline to be seen, and you're pretty sure those dark figures below are ravenous sharks waiting to chomp you to pieces. This may be an accurate description of unemployment for many, and if it is, it probably means you've got to come back down to Earth for a while because you're losing it. Part of staying motivated and realistic about your job situation means you have to be talking about it to people. Lots of people. As much as your schedule - or really, their schedule - will allow. Being unemployed is not something to be ashamed of talking about, especially lately; and really, when there's honest, frank discussion going on about work in this day and age, why shouldn't there be the same for those not working? Rather than hiding your circumstances from acquaintances, make it known. Make the fact that you're actively searching known. Even make your frustrations known (but beware of sounding 9-year-old whiny). That way, the woman you met at a conference or at your weekly book club is much more likely to remember you when she hears about an opening in the field you had mentioned looking for work in. Never underestimate the power of people. Even if it doesn't lead to a job, talking to people on the other side can help greatly in staying focused and grounded when you're worst fears and doubts take hold of you.
3) Give yourself a break. Just like we strive for a work/life balance when in regular 9-5 work, we should be striving for the same when working full-time to find a job. The ratio may be somewhat different than what it was when you were working an office gig, but you need to have a day off every now and then. Give yourself the time to do the things you love, and even better, things that you're good at. Taking on a non-search related project from start to finish can provide a healthy sense of accomplishment that those in long-term unemployment are often starving for. You'll be invigorated when you return to treading water - and if cooking is your productive activity like it is mine - you'll have a delicious meal to enjoy!
4) Be resourceful. Another classic survival tip. Translated for unemployment purposes: explore every imaginable avenue for sharpening your skills and talents. Even if it means you won't get paid. There are a million and one opportunities to get involved with organizations these days as nonprofits are being forced to stretch their budgets even thinner than usual. And gone is the one-dimensional model of volunteering you experienced in high school. Nowadays, organizations want skilled professionals who both identify with their overall mission and are interested in sharing their cultivated knowledge and highly particular experience, no matter what sector its coming from. Websites like Idealist and Hands On Network are great national search tools for finding an opportunity catered to your interests, while more local opportunities can be found no further than coffee-shop bulletin boards. And it goes without saying that these volunteering gigs are hot beds for networking with other professionals from across sectors and fields of work. Many individuals who find themselves unemployed mid-career are quick to scoff at the idea of doing non-paying work, but if those individuals have a better idea for keeping their computer/communication/management skills sharp, staying abreast of local/national issues, all while expanding their network - let me know and I'll post it here.
Just because you haven't found the organization that will pay for your skill set doesn't mean it's not worth anything, and furthermore, that you shouldn't continue to cultivate and expand upon it. You'll be much more attractive - and successful - as a candidate if you've displayed a continuing commitment to both your professional development and a worthy cause, even if it was in a volunteer capacity.
Note: I realize that my four tips-approach for succeeding at unemployment might seem a little off to some, meaning they might find it a little weird that I'm glorifying the situation of having no work. Which is way off.
What I'm hoping to say with both this post and this entire blog in general is that given the actual state of employment (and unemployment) in our country at this time, it is a very real and yet very challenging thing to find yourself without work. With that, I am convinced that there is a right way to go about being unemployed, if indeed it becomes your long-term reality instead of the temporary stint you may have expected. And that right way doesn't involve self-pity, misguided or half-assed attempts, but can be just as calculated, intent-filled and learning-intensive as any other career move. And I am figuring out the rest as I go.