4 Lessons You Can Learn from Being Unemployed

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The beauty of life uncertainties: we hate them and love them.

We want to know what the future holds for us, and at the same time we appreciate uncertainty. Not knowing what is going to happen keeps us in high spirits – we hope, dream, imagine. That’s for the good things. And for the bad? We say they won’t happen to us.

I’m smiling now, as I’m no different. I quit my last job and here I am… unemployed!

Staying at home with no income and not knowing what is going to happen is no sunshine and rainbows. I am not encouraging you to quit your job and I am not pretending to have found enlightenment and meaning of life by not going to work. I could write a whole article on what sucks when you’re unemployed (perhaps I’ll do that on a rainy morning), but this time I’ll go for the positive: 4 lessons you can learn from being unemployed.

Lesson #1 You see the bigger picture

When you work in a job that is full-time or very stressful (or both), you often lose the sight of the big picture. The big picture allows you to observe things from distance: you zoom out your life for a moment and see it with more objective eyes. When working, you’re engaged in daily routine, specific work tasks and problems related to particular things happening during your day. Rarely you take the time and effort to step out of this perspective and try to observe yourself – what you do and how you feel. That’s why other people around you might have a more clear-cut picture about your situation – they are the observers, outside of your little picture.

When you get fired, quit your job or take a long time off, you gain distance automatically and can review everything in a more “sober” way. You may realise that you’ve spent too much time at work and too few with your loved ones and decide to make a change. Or you realise that you have an awesome job, an awesome life and should be grateful and not complain too much.

Q: After you last holidays, have you felt pumped up to go back to work? Or was your stomach heavy when thinking of Monday morning? These are signals you were able to perceive by stepping out of your routine, by getting distance from the day-to-day. 

Lesson #2 You get to know yourself

This lesson has plenty in common with the previous one, but there’s a new dimension. While the big picture enables you to see your current situation in a more objective way, getting a profound understanding of yourself goes one step deeper. Realising what you like and dislike, what your limiting beliefs are, what your bad habits are, where your strengths and passions lie… all this is crucial to building a life that fulfils you. After all, how can you pursue your dream and create a life you desire if you’re not sure about what you really want? Observing and understanding yourself is one of the best and most difficult skills you can acquire. It takes time and effort, but you can get there. You can get to know yourself while having a job as well, sure. But it does make it easier when you have time for yourself and your mind is free and receptive.

Q: When was the last time you thought about your talent, strengths and skills? Does your job enable you to grow them? What kind of life do you imagine for yourself? Are you on the right track? I know that it’s easier to picture your dream life than to create it, but it’s essential to first know who you are and what you want. 

Lesson #3 You become friends with uncertainty

Left without job and income, no doubt you think about a positive change and get nervous every now and then. Most people apply one of these two mental strategies in order to get out of this awkward life situation.

Strategy 1: You search for jobs every day, get frustrated by the lack of good offers, picture yourself broke, hear your friends and family asking uncomfortable questions, freak out, cry in self-pity, get drunk every evening or envy all those who have a good job. You don’t want to accept the situation and hate this uncertainty. You’re nervous and upset and you probably don’t do any of those great things you can do when you have so many days off, like enjoying the sense of freedom.

Strategy 2: Regardless of the reason you’re unemployed, you just embrace the situation. Embracing means accepting it as it is, without resistance. This way you take off pressure, free your mind, strengthen your intuition and appreciate the good things. You do think about future and you do make plans and look for a job, but you don’t stress out that much. You sharpen the focus on your goal (e.g. finding a new job, improving your skills) like a predator observing a prey – patient and without losing nerve.

Now I hear you say that if you’re broke and have a family to feed this is a naive way of thinking. It’s certainly more difficult to apply the second strategy than the first one, as the survival instinct pushes adrenaline in your body and urges you to panic in order to find a solution n-o-w. But if you think about it, you won’t find a job faster or easier by freaking out and letting yourself go. If you become friends with uncertainty and you don’t resist it, that’s when magic things happen in life. I am telling you this not because I master the second strategy, but because I’m convinced that it’s the right one.

Q: How do you feel when you think about future and you’re unsure what will happen? Have you ever tried to just embrace it and feel confident that whatever comes, you’ll just master it? THIS is freedom. 

Lesson #4 You learn to handle free time

Yes, “handle” free time. Suppose you have a lot of free time now and can allow yourself to stay like this for a while. If you had little leisure time in your past months or years, it can make you feel awkward to have a day with no schedules and no obligations. That’s why people recently retired struggle to enjoy the big amount of free time and need to find a hobby to be at ease. The same thing happens when you go from 13 hours at work and travelling from/to work and 2 hours total free time to 0 hours at work and 15 hours free time (such as my case).

The first days you feel a great relief and do the stuff you had no time for, like cleaning the garage or changing your internet provider. You are energised and don’t hanging around, as your body and mind are still in the working rhythm. Slowly you get used to waking up later, feel no stress anymore and lose endless time just surfing the internet, watching TV and meeting friends. You may spend all your days letting yourself go, looking for ways to distract and live with no schedule, discipline and anything creative and useful to do. You start to feel extremely bored and become lazy with the smallest obligations like buying grocery. You feel empty, unfulfilled, dull and perhaps guilty for acting like this. This happens naturally when you don’t know how to handle your free time.

Our brains need to be engaged into something challenging. If it’s not paid work, you need to find unpaid work – no matter if it’s writing a blog, fixing your car or looking after your friend’s kids. To feel good you have to start with healthy habits and be disciplined. Do a bit of exercise every day, try 10-min daily meditations, wake up at the same (early) time each day, start learning a new skill or language… just find stuff you’ll do every day, even just for some minutes. Your mind needs that.

Q: Have you ever felt lazy, unengaged and bored when you had a lot of free time? If you ever have the luxury to enjoy so much free time, practice being disciplined and start with a healthy habit right from the first day. 

Being unemployed can teach you many lessons for life. Every life situation can do that. That’s the beauty of it.