Friday, February 13, 2009

Five Bad Habits for Unemployment

Last week I blogged about the Five Principles for Surviving Unemployment. Thanks for all the feedback! This week, I'd like to take the opposite angle and explore the five things you shouldn't do when you're unemployed. Let's return to the mantra that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Unemployment is an opportunity for reinvention, albeit a painful one. Free time has been forced upon you, so you have a choice. You can make the most of it, or you can squander it.

Here are some ideas if you'd like to choose the latter route:

1. Live like you're still employed
Wake up. You're no longer a banker making bank. You're a yuppie without the "P". You and the gentleman sleeping outside Port Authority have something in common. That's ok. We've been living in an age where we've over-extended and lost our sense of smart, frugal living. It doesn't mean you have to eat beans every day, nor does it mean you have to sacrifice the things that make you happy. It's time to make tough decisions to prioritize your spending so every dollar gives you the most bang for its buck (pun intended).

Here's my tip. First consider what expenses are most valuable to you. Then test your habits by maintaining your employed lifestyle for another two weeks. Where's your money going? Does spending $150 a week at bars and clubs make sense? If you're single and prowling, spending your cash on booze may be a worthwhile investment. But in this environment, maintaining the important elements of your lifestyle requires sacrifices. Cut back on frivolous stuff and invest in what matters.

(Plug: Try using It's a service that helps you track your expenses and calculate your net worth. It's free and easy to use.)

2. Obsess over job boards
Some reasons why surfing job boards causes depression:

a) Every job posting makes you feel unqualified
b) Job search engines are labor intensive
c) Sifting through pages of job results leads to insanity
d) Posting resumes feels as effective as setting them on fire

In my previous entry "Five Principles for Surviving Unemployment," the first principle is to reignite your human network. Job boards are important and they do yield results. But I find one-on-one conversations more valuable because you get feedback and you can develop relationships that pay-off down the road. You should spend some time uploading your resume and writing cover letters. But spend more time developing face-to-face relationships with people who will help and encourage you.

3. Eat fast food
You're on a budget. Great. You're watching our expenses like a hawk. Smart. But your solution to cutting your food expenses by 50% is the McDonald's drive-thru? Hmmm. Sounds like a good idea until one night your date keeps complaining about that strange scent of McNugget. Oh, and that bike tire around your waist has become a radial. Look, you've got more time on your hands, so spend it on better habits such as cooking and buying healthier food. Saving money forces you to be creative, and there's nothing redeeming about munching on your fourth In-N-Out Double-Double in a week.

4. Succumb to your vices
I'm a sucker for video games. One Monday during my first month of unemployment I flipped on my dusty PS2 and popped in a video game I hadn't played in years. Time warp four days later and all I had to show that week was a body count of a couple hundred digital terrorists and a grouchy attitude from a lack of sleep.

With so much free time in your hands and the stress of unemployment, it's easy to turn bad habits into worse habits. Pay close attention to your vices. Sometimes they're necessary to blow off steam, but beware of the slippery slope.

5. Retreat into seclusion
Benjamin Franklin once drew a cartoon of a snake cut into pieces with the names of the colonies printed on them. The caption read, "UNITE or DIE." Franklin's wisdom rings true in these times, especially during these dark moments of unemployment, financial collapse, etc. The surest way to get whacked by this crisis is to believe you aren't good enough to emerge stronger. Being alone and at the mercy of your brain will keep you down.

We can learn a lot from Ben Franklin. He was a master at gathering people with similar interests. He started the first nation's library at the age of 27 by bringing his friends together to share their favorite books. If you have a lot of former colleagues in the same boat as you, get together with them over a meal or a beer. Earlier this week my roommate Alex kicked off a new series of boozing events called "Recession Doesn't Mean Depression Happy Hour." His tagline: "Yes we can!" I love that. Thumb your nose at the face of this crisis and celebrate for the sake of being alive.

Got some tips of your own? Feel free to comment below.

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