Career Advice

Five Tools For Coping With Long-Term Unemployment

Wall Street is happy about the midterm elections because a divided Congress is not likely to get much done. Business prefers gridlock in its governments. While some hiring uptick is possible, high unemployment is here to stay.

Really, it’s a part of a larger trend away from the idea that all personal income comes from employment. Think about your friends and family. Chances are that many of them have non-traditional employment. Currently, only 58 percent of the population has a job that produces a paycheck.

The rest of us are contractors, freelancers, temps, business owners, home makers, handy men, gray market workers. We juggle multiple streams of income. We don’t have unemployment insurance so they don’t count us.

The only people with unemployment insurance are people who work (or used to work) for companies big enough to pay into the pot. Again, that’s only 58% of us. Barely half. Not much better than a banana republic.

Learning to live without a reliable paycheck requires that you do a number of things differently. Here are the five most important things you can do as you adjust to a life without a paycheck:

  1. Always Have a Job
    Just because you don’t get paid doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work. Start a project that you would be proud to put on your resume. You could research local businesses to understand their problems. Develop a plan to change the face of your downtown. Build something. Create. When you are done with the first project, make a second bigger project. Long-term unemployment is an opportunity to choose the work that you do. Build your skills in your profession (if your profession just died, learn the next one.) No company ever refused work offered for free. Go ahead. Show up somewhere and start working. (If they try to get rid of you, you can always say, “You can’t fire me. I don’t have a job here.) In the big picture, working is far more important than income.
  2. Get To Know Your Family
    Without the rushing around associated with always having to be at work, there’s time to learn some new things about your family. The old saying goes, “On their deathbed, nobody ever wishes that they had spent more time at work.” Total control over your time is one of the primary benefits of unemployment. Use it to change your relationships. Go to those teacher meetings you missed. Take walks. Read your teenager a book. Babysit the grand kids. Ultimately, the requirements for money will take the luxury of spare time away. Use it or lose it.
  3. Join A Social Organization
    Red Cross, Kiwanis, local choir, sports team, hospital volunteer, business coach. It doesn’t matter what the organization is. Join something and get really involved. Having a social foundation outside of your employment is a critical cushion against the devastating loss of social context that comes with unemployment. If you ever get another job, do not let it interfere with your social organization. The feeling of being unemployed comes from the idea that your job was somehow permanent in the first place. The only permanence in this life comes from the relationships you make that serve something bigger. Find your place in a neighborhood group of some kind.
  4. Cultivate Your Familiarity with Uncertainty
    Once you’ve gone a while without a job, it’s normal to try to figure out how to stabilize things. Jobs provide membership in a social group, reliable revenue and a host of other benefits. The easy to believe illusion (fostered by companies who would rather pay less and infer long-term loyalty) is that all of the aspects of the job will last. They don’t. While you are unemployed, practice a few things that interrupt your routines. Try shaving a different way each morning. Stop wearing socks for a week. Keep changing things up. If you don’t, the universe will. That’s how you got here in the first place. Learning to remember that things are transient makes you more effective in the long run.
  5. Develop a Meditation Practice
    Meditation doesn’t have to be a part of a religious tradition. I like the scientific tools offered by the Heart Math Institute. They integrate computers (or a hand held device) into a technique that reduces stress and increases your ability to relax in the face of anxiety. It turns out that you can learn to manage your heart rate and the degree to which it changes. This, in turn, leads to healthier adjustments. Whether you use their tools or take a stress reduction class, meditation is a key asset when you are making a big transition.