“You’re so lucky, you have so much time right now,” your employed friends say.
But it doesn’t feel like you’re lucky, does it?
The truth is, being unemployed is incredibly psychologically challenging. This is especially true for those of us who take pride in our work, because many of us draw our self-worth from our academic or professional achievements. When these achievements come to a stand-still, however temporary, it’s easy to become discouraged.
One way of coping is trying to job-search 100% of the time, but there are so many factors beyond our control in the hiring process — connections, luck, the economy — that the truth is, it’s important to just distract yourself sometimes. Positive distraction is something job-seekers tend to neglect, but it’s actually essential.
Here are four ways to distract yourself, and stay positive during this difficult time!
1. Stay Physically Active
Remaining physically active keeps happy chemicals in your bloodstream, promoting positive thinking and reducing stress. It’s also one of the things in your life you have absolute control over right now, which will provide you with satisfaction and optimism. You can’t control all aspects of your job search, but you can totally get a six-pack along the way!
2. Stay Social
One of the hardest aspects of unemployment can be isolation. Unfairly, isolation can also prevent you from making the contacts you need to advance. But most importantly, isolation can make you feel like you’re in a rut, there are no jobs right for you, or nobody cares about you—none of which is true!
Go easy on yourself, and get outside the house! Find something cheap and fun to do like:
• Make a regular date to play boardgames with friends.
• Cook with other people. In order to make this affordable, you can have friends bring raw ingredients over and then make food together.
• Go out to free events and museums. This is especially easy if you live in a big city with lots of culture like New York. Various websites compile free activities.
3. Learn Something New
Using your time to learn something new can enhance employability, but more importantly it can remind you that you are capable of improvement and learning no matter your external circumstances. It could work best to combine this with something social—go to free Meetup events where people explore museums, or join a book club, or become a language exchange partner. There are also lots of free courses available online, though again, consider taking one with a buddy so you don’t become isolated if this is your main distraction.
Ideally, choose something fun or professionally advantageous and highly rewarding. This should not become a source of frustration in your life—you already have enough of that from the psychologically draining job-search process. Take it easy! If coding is fun or satisfying, learn to code. If Spanish is fun and professionally advantageous, learn Spanish. Just because you aren’t working in your field doesn’t mean you can’t achieve, in ways that are relaxing and satisfying!
4. Don’t Make Positive Distraction Itself Into a Chore
If you’re working out 10 hours a week and going to networking events 10 hours a week and studying 20 hours a week, you might be taking this too far! Go at your own pace, take time for yourself, recharge, and go easy on yourself. This is a tough time that most adults have gone through. Call family or old friends to talk on the phone, watch some TV, and relax.
The second part of surviving unemployment is, of course, job searching. But no matter what your grandfather says, once you have 20-40 applications out, you absolutely should not spend 24/7 actively looking for jobs.
Sending out endless batches of unpersonalized applications isn’t actually going to help you that much. In fact, once you have a few dozen applications out, you probably shouldn’t spend more than 20 hours a week on this.
During any period of unemployment, your mental health is your greatest resource. Don’t drive yourself crazy!
5. Make Connections Through Alumni and Friends
It is an unpleasant fact that most people get their jobs from connections. These may be connections through school, past jobs, or family and friends. Let’s assume you’re not going back to school. This leaves several options.
First, there’s alumni events. Many schools will have alumni events which can serve as excellent networking opportunities. If it’s a presentation, plan to ask an intelligent question and say your first and last name beforehand. Then afterward, go and chat with your favorite speaker. This works best if you’re genuinely interested in the subject matter and can view it as a fun social activity.
Next, there’s your pre-existing friends and contacts. You probably already know people in your field or other job-seekers. You can reach out to ask advice, or ask for an introduction to another professional working in your field. This is a great way to get informational interviews, which is like a job interview without the pressure.
Finally, there’s cold-calling. You can cold-call or cold-email alumni from your school (or even random professionals whose jobs you want!) and ask for an informational interview. Be flattering in your request, and list their achievements. Use a small ask like “I’d like to hear more about your career path,” or “I’d like to discuss how I can improve my resume.” Just from conversations like this, you can both a) learn what employers in your field are looking for and b) learn how to communicate your existing skills more effectively. And, perhaps more importantly, you’re getting your name out there and expanding your network.
Remember: if you can do a costless favor for someone in this situation, always try and do it! Professionals more senior than you may need introductions, opinions, or social outlets just like you do!
6. Make New Connections Through Volunteering and Interest Groups
• Intern or Volunteer in Your Field. Interning or volunteering in your field can be thought of as a positive distraction, as staying social, or as gaining experience in your field, but the most important purpose it serves is making connections. People get jobs through their connections, and the best way to gain connections is to let people get to know you, get to know your work product, and realize through consistent experience that you are an excellent worker and a skilled professional.
• Join Professional Associations. Going to professional association events can introduce you to other people who are job seekers or looking to make connections. The most important thing here is to make a good impression. If you can do a favor for someone you meet there, that is an excellent way to sow good favor that will hopefully someday be returned. If nothing else, this is a time in your life when you have a lot of free (or at least, unstructured) time, and you can afford to introduce yourself to others in your field. This could lead to a great volunteer position or unpaid internship—or even a job offer!
• Have Fun! Educated people tend to do similar leisure activities, and this type of relaxed interaction can be the best networking opportunity. You will do best if you choose something you truly enjoy.
7. Send Applications
Sending applications is important—you will never get the job you didn’t even apply for. However, don’t let it ruin your life. If you find yourself losing sleep because you want to check a job site, it’s time to take a few days off job apps, even if you don’t have any interviews lined up yet.
Again: your most important resource during any period of unemployment is your mental health.
When you do send applications, take your time to send out high-quality applications. Have a friend or significant other in your field look over at least the first couple cover letters and resumes you send out. On any given day, you should not be sending more than 3-4 original applications (though of course you might wind up sending more like 10 of a certain “type” at one time, if the jobs are out there). Once you have 20-40 applications out there, DO NOT SPEND MORE THAN 5 HOURS A DAY SENDING OUT APPLICATIONS. You are probably not improving your chances much by applying to jobs you’re not really a good fit for, or driving yourself crazy.
AND NO MATTER WHAT, ALWAYS REMEMBER:
• Unemployment does not say anything about you as a person.
• You are a good person, you are competent, and you will get through this with a job you like that pays you the money you need to meet your financial goals.
• This is a temporary situation that most adults have found themselves in at one point or another.
• This is a marathon, not a sprint, so be gentle with yourself!