I was going to wait to write this until a.) I found another job and/or b.) I felt like an expert on being unemployed. Well, at the time of this post I don’t have a job yet and I’m still not an expert; but I do think I have learned a few things to share with those who might unfortunately find themselves in this position at some point.
It Happens To Everyone (or at least more people than you think)
One the hardest things I had to overcome about losing my job was the shame that came with it. People without a job are looked at a certain way. They are often judged as lazy, unproductive, or overall worthless to society. I struggled immensely with fighting against those thoughts but was too ashamed to tell people for fear of them thinking that way about me. But once I started to share my experience, I realized that it actually happens more often than not. Chances are that you reading this have experienced it or know someone who has. Suddenly being unemployed is a common experience that many people live through and overcome, often times more than once in their life. In an economy with ups and downs and lack of accurate predictability, losing your job is not as rare as we would want it to be. And though not an experience I would wish on anyone, it was comforting to know I wasn’t alone.
You will learn the actual means you need to survive
I thank God for the common grace of unemployment benefits. I have been very fortunate to be helped by agencies that are willing to assist people like me who need to keep afloat financially while looking for employment. Right now I receive about a little less than half of what I made at my previous job. The initial math on that was scary. I questioned how I could continue to support myself when I now only get a portion of what I once made? And yet, every month — so far — my bills are paid, my lights are still on, my rent is turned in on time, and I haven’t missed a meal. Not disregarding the kindness of friends to pay for dinner or lunch or the fact that I do have some outstanding bills that I pay when I can, for the most part I am doing just fine with the “little less than half” that I now receive. This was probably the biggest tangible lesson I learned so far. I thought I was living within my means when I was working full-time but this experience has shown me that I actually can live on a lot less than I thought. Being forced to account for how you spend makes you really notice what is necessary and what isn’t. It has shown me that I can make drastically different choices once I start receiving “normal” paychecks again, and I’m very much looking forward to that.
Unemployment is not your identity
As I mentioned earlier, shame was the initial feeling I had once I lost my job. The terms by which it happened were extremely unfair, and I found myself reeling from the emotions of betrayal and confusion. Amid the whirlwind of trying to figure out what insurance, Christmas, and life in general looked life, I also had to battle with the negative thoughts about myself. Was I not good enough? Was I ever good enough? Being fired is a form of rejection and rejection, professional or otherwise, always feels personal. I had many nights of tears, sadness, long phone calls with friends, prayer sessions that felt more like yelling matches with God. And in the moments when I was too tired to cry or yell anymore, I heard the whisper of God say “You are not your unemployment. Being unemployed is circumstantial; it is not a definition of who you are, only where you happen to be at the moment.” Being let go can feel like personal commentary on who you are. Instead, see it as just the next leg of your journey in life. And like all journeys, you grow as you go. The last place you landed is not who you are; it just happens to be where you are at the moment.
Rest and work
Being unemployed means a lot more free time than you’re used to. When you’re not pounding the pavement for interviews (read: submitting online applications) you will find that you have a lot of gaps in your day to fill. When I first was let go, I thought I would be super productive and read all the books I swore I didn’t have time or was too tired to read. Or that I would find volunteer work and get up everyday to do something impactful on the world. Or maybe I would start cooking for every meal since I would be at home anyway. The reality is that I did do most of those things — then I stopped. I got really tired of trying to find something to do all day that would replace the 8+ hour work days I was missing. It was mentally exhausting and sometimes expensive trying to fill up my days with something productive. The reality was that I didn’t have much to do, and I needed to learn to be ok with that. Being unemployed can be a reminder of your humanity: we are made for both work and rest. This is true of us even with a full time job. I was made to both create and to be still. In a society that blindly worships at the altar of busyness and movement, learning to be still is a hard lesson. And yet this is exactly what I had to and am still learning to do. Silence is ok. Having nothing to do is ok. Not having a packed schedule is actually healthy. For whatever reason, this part of my journey doesn’t have much planned. And if God is sovereign, then thats exactly what He wants for me. So instead of finding ways to fill up all my days with hurry and worry, I need to sit in the quiet sometimes. This doesn’t mean I don’t get out the house. I still need to be somewhat active and productive and in motion. But some days that looks like going to the gym and coming home. Other days it looks like an hour or two in a coffeeshop, or lunch with a friend, or a dance class later that evening. The point is that I do not cease to need both rest and work while unemployed. The way these two events manifest just look different in this current season; and that is ok.
These are just a few of the lessons I have learned and still continue to learn every day. I look forward to going back to work again and doing what I enjoy. But I also know not to rush the journey. This is where I am supposed to be. I do not know why, nor do I even like it or truly want it. There are days I am filled with hope at the possibilities before me and other days when the lack of opportunities weighs heavy on me. But the experience of highs and lows is not any different than what it means to live here on earth. Employed or not, there are good days and bad days. Hardships and victories. It is a circumstance, and circumstances change. And it is that reality that I fight to remember everyday.