In between jobs? Here are 8 ways to make the most of your transition

Photo credit: Gary Paul Lewis, Shutterstock
Photo credit: Gary Paul Lewis, Shutterstock

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 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.


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Shannon is an interactive media specialist who believes education and accessible technology will change the world. She recently returned from volunteering in Phnom Penh, Cambodia at the Harpswell Foundation, a leadership center for Cambodian women in college. Connect with Shannon on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterst, and
Finding purpose and meaning in your work: Interview with Robert V. Taylor Passionate about volunteerism? Check out these opportunities in honor of Make a Difference Day


    • Jennifer
    • October 23, 2013

    I (almost) NEVER comment on blogs, but I feel compelled to tell you how much yours about transitioning helped me feel so much better in my current situation. I really appreciate your writing style and your useful advice (that isn’t so very trite like the suggestions I have read elsewhere). I admire your volunteering efforts and am kinda obsessed with your dog. Seriously, thanks for making me smile when it’s not so easy to.

    1. Jennifer, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so happy this is helpful — I honestly wrote this post on a whim when I started feeling down thinking about looking for jobs. Then I was like, yeah, hold on, I’ve been through this before… and I am enjoying this time! I’m definitely obsessed with my dog too and miss him like crazy!

    • melanie
    • October 24, 2013

    I agree! I have never actually read any blogs on here before, but this one sounded relevant to me, and when I read it, it really was. I do most of these things anyway (would i love to adopt a pug if i could afford it right now!! – so i volunteer at the animal shelter until i can afford my own) – but it was really affirming to see that what I’m doing is helpful to me, and it’s just a matter of doing my best and waiting it out. Thank you for this!

    1. Melanie, thank you for commenting! I love that you’re volunteering at an animal shelter — that must be so rewarding! Best of luck with your next steps, whatever those may be. 🙂

    • Dara
    • October 24, 2013

    What a great blog post, Shannon!!

      • Cara
      • May 7, 2014

      Agreed! Bravo, Shan!

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    • Joshua
    • January 1, 2014

    Hello Shannon-

    I would like to also acknowledge that your post is full of very positive and really, really nice thoughts voiced in a really positive thoughtful way. Good on you!!
    However– I would also like to speak (in a positive way and with absolutely no intention of trashing you or your very nice post) for the thousands and thousands of other people who, because of circumstances often beyond their control such as race, class and/or just plain old luck of the draw… certainly do not have the luxury to take the very large amounts of time and space your suggestions embody–not to mention the added reality most of us have of not having the economic resources that are necessary to utilize the majority of your very nice suggestions. To many these plain (and obvious) differences are spoken of as “Privileges and Entitlements” outside of the rarefied world of “Tech”, what with it’s notoriously “wimpy constitution” and poor track-record in speaking truth to these issues and differences plainly and without apologetic double-speak or washed-out sympathy–or in the case of this blog-at all.
    In other words, or maybe in “more” words, it would ring far more wise and honest (for both you as a person and for idealist as an entity) if you where to mention and acknowledge that not everyone has the (to put it as nice as I may) choices that you may have as a white female living in a western society with access to college education. Additionally and perhaps most importantly (and going directly to what motivated me to write this response to you) is the added fact that you are working in the rarefied world of “Tech” which acts therefore to provide these amazing privileges that give you the sense of entitlement necessary to allow you to have permission to write an advice-like column (blog) in which these issues are not even mentioned or given voice.
    To reiterate: The issues facing most peoples are mired in Class and Race and the inequity of wealth; combined with where value is assigned in our markets and culture. Therefore, to display a blog that does not, at the very least, mention or address these issues is acting more as a catalyst towards separation and therefore gentrification, anger, isolation, etc. than as the positive force in which spirit it was obviously meant and presented by its author.

    I say this in the spirit of bringing people closer together rather than further apart and
    will not bore or spend time going through examples illustrating the ways in which “most” people have a very different experience and a very different set of options due to class and race issues and circumstances. However, I will mention that it is through the lack of these sentiments in your advice that acts as one of the major reinforcing factors or lack of sentiments which reinforce the very, very real anger, alienation, separation, isolation, disenchantment, and overall disappointment in those working in Tech that is felt by the majority of those of us who do not participate in the “Tech” world.

    • Shannon
    • February 11, 2014

    Hi Joshua,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I appreciate your thoughts and want to acknowledge that privilege of all kinds certainly plays into one’s relationship with a job, and with taking time away from a job. My next post is about planning for volunteering abroad and I will speak more in depth about how I was able to create the resources to travel for five months. I hope the tips resonate with people who are interested in taking this step and need some ideas for how to get started. Thanks again for your contribution.

    • Pat
    • February 18, 2014

    Love your article on transitions. Inspired!

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    • Patrick R
    • August 15, 2014

    Great blog! I’m employed at the moment but I can totally empathize with how depressing and frustrating transitioning between job can be especially if the length of time tends to drag. I’m almost toward the end of my contract and I’m actually relieved this time around because I’ll be using the extra time to consider my options and see whats the best fit for me. 😀

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