In recent history I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time on the rolls of the unemployed. A state of being I hope to pull off for as long as humanly possible. For someone of my lazy nature, long term unemployment is a balancing act, a combination of challenges and skills. The goal? Enjoy life to the fullest while combating sloth. And as is true for all of life’s finer things, to impress those that know you.
Working on the assumption that you’ve figured out the financial tangle and are living low cost, I have a few words of advice should anyone find themselves in similar shoes.
Tasks and chores must be parceled out carefully. No sense getting them all done in one day and running the risk of feeling useless the rest of the week. If you must get a haircut, go to the post office, shop for groceries and clean the apartment - that’s four full days for you! This way you continue to feel that you are leading a busy, successful and worthy life.
Other recommended activities are on a strictly voluntary basis but the more you do the better you will feel. And the more you will have to tell people about, which is an important consideration when unemployed. Without a boss, a job or a schedule to bitch about, your friends will only want to hear positive things from you. You are the envy of them all and if you don’t play to that, then you are not only dumb, but you are killing their dream of one day being like you.
When the weather allows, get a bit of nature. Surely your city has at least one lovely park? A grassy path next to a canal? An oceanfront? Reading a book or taking a nap in the sun is high on the list of desirable ways to pass the time. Actually any time you can take advantage of parks is a good thing, just try not to sound too smug when you let your friends know how you are putting their tax dollars to work.
Explore neighborhoods! Artsy, business, gay, wealthy, ethnic…they all have something to contribute to the keen observer. Consider sidewalk cafés a gift. People watching is one of the oldest and most satisfying of pastimes.
The art of unemployment requires not only positive action but avoidance of pitfalls. Be careful not to slip into the tar pit of television.
This is not to say you can not indulge your penchant for Charmed reruns or worship at the shrine of Oprah but keep other activities in the forefront. Try watching a bit of news first thing in the morning. This will increase your knowledge of the world at large, make you feel a vital part of it and give you conversation fodder. You don’t want to meet a friend for coffee and have nothing to add to the conversation but two hours worth of Frasier episodes.
Speaking of conversation - it’s vital that you have a varied list of tasks, accomplishments and topics you can put forth. When people ask what’s new with you and you answer “Laid around all day, unwashed and in my pyjamas watching a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marathon on the Sci-Fi channel” I can assure you the invitations will dry up fast. Always have a supply of meaningful ‘work.’
“I’ve been working on my music.” You needn’t have a shred of musical talent to make that statement work. This is a perfectly acceptable blurring of the truth. You may mean you’ve been making a lot of play lists on itunes, but worded vaguely enough it can be interpreted as actually creating something genuine. It helps if you can have a visible instrument in your apartment for others to see. A guitar is an easy enough thing to casually let lie around.
But if budget dictates, a harmonica will suffice. If you have a Mac you can always pat it and affectionately refer to it as “my personal recording studio.” If you have a voice then use it at the occasional Karaoke bar.
Similarly “working on my art” is easy and cheap enough to set up props for, though this gets a little dangerous because without any actual works, either in progress or completed, people will not buy this line for long.
“Working on my writing” might be the easiest of all. Any idiot can start a blog.
Unless you left your last place of employment screaming “Kiss my ass Mr. Walsh!!” try to stay in somewhat regular touch with your old job, especially whoever took over your responsibilities. This provides the kernel of truth to the statement you can give enquiring minds “I am doing a bit of consulting for my last employer.”
And now some practical advice that just may save you from despair. Try not to sleep all day every day.
Wake up early at least three days a week - it’s good to keep the body’s scheduling secretary guessing. Take a shower, whether you need it or not. Make sure you leave the house each day, even if only to check the mail. Whenever possible open the windows to let some fresh air in.
And finally, meet your working friends as often as possible. This will make you feel normal. Lunch dates, having coffee and happy hour are all good places to take the pulse of the working crowd, find out what’s the hot water-cooler topic. It’s also important to keep this most unpleasant reality tucked into the corner of your mind: you may need one of these folks to get you a job one day. Unless of course, you can make some money with your art.