Friday, February 6, 2009

5 Principles for Surviving Unemployment

Take it from a guy who got whacked twice in 2008-- unemployment is scarier when you're employed. The threat of being let go, the insecurity of being below the cut-off line, the paranoia of every passing glance from your boss is paralyzing. But once the axe has fallen, the experience of unemployment can be liberating. It's pretty nice to wake up at 9:00 and blog in your sweats (ahem… cough).

Sure, unemployment can suck because the ego blow makes you feel like a schmuck. But this is no time to be a Debbie Downer. To quote our diminutive White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Once you deal with the setbacks of unemployment, turn your attention to the opportunities because they're everywhere. Here's my list of the top 5 ways to make the most out of your unemployment.

1. Revive your human network
You've amassed a database of friends, acquaintances, business partners and former colleagues. Take some time to consolidate your phone lists, refresh your social networks and sift through your back-log of Facebook and Linkedin friend requests. Find any means to connect with the people you've been meaning to catch up with for years, but never had time. Then meet up over a meal or a beverage to to pick his or her brain for career guidance. Three things usually happen over a casual meal: 1) Your contact will chatter away because people love spreading career wisdom, 2) You get new ideas about your career, and 3) You get a free pity meal (especially if you talk about the experience of being unemployed).

2. Learn to manage your money
Throughout most of my career I thought budgeting was for those goodie-goodies who studied on Friday nights in college. Now I've become a number-crunching, nerd. After my first layoff, I poured my attention into learning the essentials of personal finance and disciplined budgeting. Keeping daily track of my spending opened up new and creative ways to save money and to prioritize the value of each dollar spent. It also revealed how much useless crap I was buying. Thanks to my change in behavior, I created a strong safety net to deal with my second layoff.

3. Feed your brain
A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Feed your brain new meals. After years of sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day stale offices, you'll fall in love with your brain's ability to absorb new information. Explore new ideas. Read books. Watch artsy films. Take a class in a topic that you wish you took in college to get your gears spinning.

4. Get fit
This is crucial. Stagnation is the greatest enemy of the unemployed. Yes, it's great to sleep 10 hours a day, but lunch shouldn't be your first meal. To keep your body moving you need to move it. If you're not an exerciser start with modest stretching and introduce a daily walk around the block. For me, exercise is a welcome hiatus to recalibrate and gain perspective on my day. My afternoon run helps remove clutter from my deluge of to-dos. You've got time on your hands, so you might as well improve your health before plugging into your next cubicle.

5. Serve others
There's no better way to gain unemployment enlightenment than pouring your energy into something selfless. It's an innate human quality to give without expecting something in return, and it brings perspective on what really matters in life. On a personal level, I volunteer at a homeless shelter a couple Saturdays a year (not much). Having a conversation with people who are down on their luck is humbling and I learn a lot from every conversation. Here are some good sites as a starting point: Hands On Bay Area, Volunteer Match, One Brick, USA Service.


  1. Hey there - Marissa sent me over your blog link. I also got laid off twice this past year. I actually rather appreciate it now :-) I've got my own survival tips, I'll send them over another time.

  2. Hey Serena, thanks for the comment. I'd love to compare survival notes with you. Feel free to share them on this blog or I can even add you as a guest blogger! -Jim