Career, Career Advice, Now + Beyond

3 brutally honest lessons I learned from three months of unemployment

Spoiler alert: There's no newfound appreciation for the job market, because everything still sucks.

I stare unblinkingly at the Word document open in front of me. My Garamond-styled résumé stares back at me, almost accusingly. It silently asks why my unemployed self is not utilizing it, questioning why it still sits within the confines of my computer rather than making the rounds of potential employees inboxes.

I sigh and do one of two things. I either begrudgingly log in to my LinkedIn account and start scouring pages of postings, or I knowingly distract myself with other work.

It’s a hellish feedback loop.

This was the case back in December, the first month of my chosen unemployment. Now, nearing the end of three months of unemployment, I took time to reflect on the past weeks.

Unemployment is a heavily prevalent topic of our times. Rates are high, morale is low, and jobs are few and far in between. Society equates unemployment with a shit ton of negative emotions – unproductive, sad, a waste of time, a massive stress-inducer.

I could go on.

I felt every one of these. They sat in me, festering, growing into a tight ball of anxiety and depression. I didn’t want to see anyone, talk to anyone. I’d wake up yet not get up. My phone would be in hand first thing, swiping through my social feeds. I would see people moving around, living, and I would roll over in bed and switch over to Netflix to numb myself. 

As days passed, I began to hate myself.

What did the past few years of work even mean if I couldn’t even land a measly interview? I became increasingly unkind to myself and then one day. I just couldn’t. It was eating me up inside and I needed an outlet for my negativity, so I turned to my journal, the bearer of all my bad shit. 

I practically exorcized myself. I wrote and wrote, every day for a month, jotting down every thought, feeling, and situation I’d suffered being unemployed. I pushed myself to get back to my routines, to my hobbies, to my life. In the end, I came away with three lessons.

Lesson #1: Rejection is a part of life.

A man in a suit stamps a document with the word 'REJECTED' in red.
[Image description: A man in a suit stamps a document with the word ‘REJECTED’ in red.] Via GIPHY
It hurts when you’re rejected. It’s especially frustrating when you feel ignored. It’s the norm practice anyway among employers when it comes to rejecting an application. There are few gems out there who take the time to turn you down and it was within those moments that I found some solace. 

The more rejections you collect, the more you’re putting yourself out there. The more you’re out there, the better your chances of hearing a yes. And while I may not have landed a full-time job, I landed several freelancing opportunities and a fellowship. 

With each rejection also came an opportunity for growth. Why was I rejected? What skill am I missing? The more I mulled this over, the more I became aware of areas I could build upon while I continue to hunt.

Lesson #2: You’re worth more than simply being unemployed.

At a carpet interview, a black woman answers the interviewee, saying “There’s no prerequisites to worthiness. You’re born being worthy.”
[Image description: At a carpet interview, a black woman answers the interviewee, saying “There are no prerequisites to worthiness. You’re born being worthy.”] Via GIPHY
We tend to become consumed by our work. Without it, many of us have no idea how to handle all this time that’s on our hands. And as we disconnect more and more from the workforce, you might begin to wonder – what am I doing with my life?

I, at least, held the same sentiment. But does unemployment make you worthless? That’s a pit that many fall into in between job-hopping but there’s a rocky road nearby which takes you to self-discovery. Just being human makes you worthy, regardless of where you stand.

Lesson #3:  Being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely.

A young Asian girl with black hair is seated in the passenger seat of a car. She emphatically sings the lyrics "All by myself."
[Image description: A young Asian girl with black hair is seated in the passenger seat of a car. She emphatically sings the lyrics “All by myself.”] Via Tenor
It’s funny. There are so many places to go and people to see when you’re working. Meetings and impromptu hangouts. All of this disappeared when I left. Suddenly, there was no one but me. I was lonely.

And it was hard dealing with it. Growing up, I’ve consistently been surrounded by people for the better part of a day. Family, school, university, and then straight into work. It was hard to accept that the only buddy I’d be seeing would be me. And I learned a lot about me.

Soon loneliness turned into simply being alone. That itself is an experience to be had.

With these three lessons in hand, I refocused my goals. They are not new to the world or the land of internet career advice, but reading them is different from learning them. It’s how someone could repeatedly read about discrimination but until they suffer through it, they won’t ever walk away with an understanding of it.

Today, I’m fine. Unemployed, happy, living and searching for work. I will undoubtedly find work and then lose it and then find and lose – it’s a jarring cycle. Next time though, I’ll be prepared with my learnings and maybe walk away with a few more.