In the past four years, I’ve experienced three layoffs. I know how tempting it can be to fall into a downward spiral when the future feels unclear. However, if I’ve learned anything over the past five years since graduating college, it’s that the future is always unclear. Even my peers with stable positions find themselves yearning for more – perhaps more time off, more recognition, more money, more freedom. They are looking into next steps as well, making me wonder: Aren’t we all in places of transition?
That being said, we’re not always ready for the sudden abundance of transition time that comes with losing a job. I adjusted in a variety of ways after each layoff, feeling emotions ranging from elation to anxiety. After my last layoff in December, I knew I wanted to use my transitional time intentionally. I crafted 2013 around the opportunity to pursue something I’ve been craving since college: travel and volunteerism. Before I could think too hard about it and change my mind, I found a position with the Harpswell Foundation on Idealist and committed to three months of teaching English and leadership skills to a group of brilliant Cambodian women in college. I spent the first half of this year working a temp job and various freelance gigs to save the money to make this international volunteer experience happen.
So now I’m sitting in a dorm room in the middle of Phnom Penh, listening to Khmer karaoke float through my bedroom window, thinking once again about those omnipresent next steps. Even though I planned this time to “take off” from work, I find myself going through some of the same ups and downs I’ve been through each time I experienced a layoff. So with that in mind, I’d like to share some tips I’ve learned to embrace this transition time:
First, acknowledge the discomfort…then allow it to pass
The emotional ups and downs of losing your job are normal. So, be upset, confused, and hurt. Then let it go. Use this new found abundance of time to reflect and uncover your personal priorities. Journaling is always a good way to get in the reflective mood, but you may also consider blogging, sharing your experience with friends or loved ones, or pursuing a reflective hobby such as running or drawing. Additionally, your schedule is your own, so have fun with it! Take walks in the middle of the day, eat whenever you want, cook for friends, start yoga lessons with free tutorials on YouTube, do whatever you want to do.
Do those things you’ve been putting off and try something new
Visit your grandmother, write those cards to friends, clean out your closet. You could also pursue something new. This could be a language, a hobby, or a topic. My current focus is reading spiritual texts and participating in NaNoWriMo.
Keep an eye on your finances
While this might seem obvious, it can be quite easy to lose track of your finances and take on debt while in between jobs. Now more than ever, it’s important you have a realistic understanding of what you’re spending. After using it consistently for 6 years, I’m still a diehard fan of mint.com. After each layoff, I immediately turned to Mint to see which expenses I could cut (for me, it’s always going out to eat!) and which ones I could delay (for example, I overpaid my car payment for several months and could then skip a month of payment when funds were running low). Find a way to create a budget for yourself that is more realistic with your current financial situation in mind.
Freelance (or hustle—however you want to say it)
Do you have a skill someone will pay you to use? Think broadly. In the past year, I made money working a trade show booth, writing fun facts about vegetables for a corporate calendar, project managing a video with college students, babysitting, pet sitting, and even cooking gluten-free meals for a friend. Other friends have made income selling handmade items on Etsy, wardrobe consulting, bartending, and tutoring. In addition to keeping money in your pocket, you can pick up new skills and grow your network.
This may seem counterproductive, especially if volunteering costs you money (which it sometimes can). But it’s amazing what doing something for someone else can do for your sense of self and purpose. Focusing on others is a proven strategy to boost mood. Plus, you may meet someone who can connect you with a job. You can also trade work for staples to save money. For example, volunteering on a farm may be a pathway to free and delicious organic food.
Spend time with animals
OK, a little random, but hear me out: I would never have known the life-changing effects of a sweet animal’s presence had this little one not entered my life two months before my trip to Cambodia. While I’m not suggesting you adopt a pet during this time (as I ultimately did), I do suggest getting in as many stress-relieving pet snuggles as you can.
Attend networking events
This one seems obvious, and maybe slightly daunting, but with an open attitude, networking is actually quite fun. I was amazed to discover that a conference was happening in Phnom Penh just the week after my arrival combining the field I’ve worked in (technology) and a field I’m interested in learning more about (human trafficking). I signed up and met some great people all over Southeast Asia doing life-changing work. With any luck, these connections may lead to a job, but that’s less important than the opportunity to form new friendships with inspirational people.
Remember this transition is temporary
You will find another job. Your working life will resume. So until then, hold still. Listen to yourself. Once you settle into the new lifestyle of having no schedule, or only a schedule you create, the feelings transform from fear and confusion to calm and delight. After following the tips above, you may even realize that this gift of time may be all too fleeting after all.