We’re all living through a troubling time. You’re not alone. The rise in the number of unemployed workers due to Covid-19 is greater than the increase caused by the Great Recession. The rate of unemployment in the US in April 2020 reached 14.4%; the highest in the post-World War II era.
The economy has shrunk, and we’re yet to see how and when it will recover. Businesses have had to close their doors; some temporarily, some forever. There are fewer jobs for us to fill, and the competition is high.
What’s perhaps most frustrating, is that the current state of affairs is beyond our control. We’re patiently waiting for experts to find a solution.
Being unemployed is like being in Limbo. You exist in a state of uncertainty; not knowing which way to go or where to land. Finding a job can be difficult during the best of times, but you know this phase will likely be over soon. You just have to ride it out; apply for jobs, and do your best. But today, the wait seems endless. You’re riding the waves as best as you can, but when will you see results?
I’ve been here a few times. Never faced with this level of ambiguity, but I’m familiar with the ‘limbo’ feeling. I felt like I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I hadn’t steered my life in the course that I wanted. I blamed myself for leaving my job; how could I have been so naïve to think that there was something better out there for me? So, I decided I had to take this time work on myself, because –
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor Frankl
A friend of mine, who’s healthily obsessed with philosophy, gifted me a book by Ryan Holiday, titled The Daily Stoic. In it, I found several quotes from the great stoic philosophers that eased my unemployment journey.
At first, I saw unemployment as a misfortune. But I soon realized that this was only true in as far as it was my perception. And I could shift my perception, to one that saw being unemployed as a time rife with opportunity.
Here are some of the reasons why:
1. It’s time to self-reflect and learn self-acceptance.
“External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.” — Marcus Aurelius
For most of us, it’s our parents that shape us as we’re growing up. You have in theory been self-improving this whole time, in the sense that you’re constantly learning and evolving. But the direction is set by others; parents, teachers, carers. You’re self-improving in tandem.
When you grow older, it’s your turn to take your life in the direction you want it to go. You may be fortunate enough to have support, but ultimately, it’s up to you.
You have to decide what you really want in life. It requires a shift in perspective; from looking outwards for permission and recognition to looking inwards for reassurance and acceptance.
You can’t control everything that happens. All you can do is to make the best with what you’ve got, in the situation that you’re in. There’s no culprits, no blame, no shame. It’s about acceptance. Accepting who you are, and what your situation is. And taking the steps you need to take, to get to where you want to be.
2. It’s time to appreciate the small things in life.
“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” — Seneca
When we’re not where we want to be, we often look to others. What are they doing? What do they have?
Socially, we have a tendency to view careers as vertical trajectories; a ladder that we need to climb if we want to achieve a higher status, more money, and more power. But what for?
Even if your answer to that question is ‘to be happy’; even if those things really will bring you joy — do you really want to wait? We all have different ambitions. But some are harder to attain than others. If you’re relying on your long-term goals to be happy, that day may never come.
Look around you today and identify something that makes you happy. It can be a person, an object, a situation, a pet. Anything. You can find joy in the little things that you already have. Now’s the time to look for it.
3. It’s time to value your time.
“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.” — Marcus Aurelius
When I left my job, I did so because I felt constrained. I was spending most of my time every day doing things that I didn’t want to do. The opportunity cost on my time was increasing day by day. All I could think about were all the things that I could be doing instead; how I could be developing my potential otherwise, learning the things I wanted to learn, and doing the things that I wanted to do.
Time was precious. I valued my free time ferociously because I didn’t have much at all.
Now you have time! And you can invest it in however way you want. Don’t underestimate the value of time, because the day will come when you don’t have much at all.
4. It’s time to truly appreciate your options.
“Think of the life you have lived until now as over and, as a dead man, see what’s left as a bonus and live it according to Nature. Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting?” — Marcus Aurelius
What’s done is done. You can’t change the past; there’s no point in regret. You can only move forward, towards the future. And the opportunities are endless, truly. Why? Because even if the opportunity you’re looking for doesn’t exist, you can create it.
The internet has given us access to opportunities all over the world. For example, I recently watched an interview with Laura Sheehan from the Empowering Perspectives Community, in which she interviewed Mag Boron, Founder, and CEO of Pangian. It’s the fastest-growing remote community in the world, where you can apply for remote jobs in leading companies, including Dell, Visa, Apple.
We often fall into the trap of thinking that our options are limited by our previous experience; what we’ve studied, the industry we’ve worked in. To some extent that’s true. Of course, if you want to be a doctor, you need to go to medical school; there are professions that require a great level of training and a specific degree. But, you might be conditioning yourself more than you need to.
You have an array of transferrable skills that you could apply to a lot of jobs you didn’t even know you could do. I don’t have a degree in Journalism, or in English Literature. I studied law. Does that stop me from writing? No.
You really do have the option to move in whatever direction you want to go. And if it turns out you need to go back to school first, there’s no shame in that. Now could be a great opportunity to educate yourself, and open the door to even more options.
5. It’s time to set yourself a direction.
“If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” — Seneca
When you’re drifting without purpose, it’s easy to feel lost. Even when you’re in a job, if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, your days become meaningless, and it’s frustrating.
Part of your self-reflection journey is about finding out what your purpose is in life; the values that you want to uphold and the contribution that you want to make.
The difficulty with this is often that, as I mentioned above, you have too many options. It’s not easy to know which direction to go when you feel that there are multiple things you could enjoy.
This was always my biggest issue. I was curious about so many different things that the moment I started to work towards one thing, all I could think about was the opportunity cost of not doing another thing.
But remember that life isn’t a linear path, just like your career isn’t a linear trajectory. The direction you take can, and probably will change. You don’t have to figure out what you’re going to do forever. You just have to decide what the next right option is for you.
6. It’s a time to overcome judgment.
“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” — Seneca
The word ‘unemployed’ isn’t a nice word. Whenever we hear it in context, it carries a negative connotation. When unemployment levels rise, it’s bad for the economy. When someone is described as unemployed at a dinner party, the emotions that it tends to arouse are pity, judgment, maybe shame.
When you’re unemployed, you can feel like a failure; like you’re not moving on the same wavelength as the rest of society. You can feel as though you’re ‘less than’. Well, you’re not ‘less than’. Being unemployed is more normal than you think, and it’s a shame that it carries such a stigma.
But feeling somewhat detached from what everyone else is doing has its benefits. This is a time to focus on yourself.
Understand that nobody knows your situation better than you do. Nobody has more information about what you’re feeling, what you’ve done, and what your options are than you do. You’re best placed to make the choice for yourself. Also, this may not be what you want to hear, but — people will always judge you anyway. Judging someone for being unemployed is unfounded. It makes no sense. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, and ignore those who put you down.
7. It’s a time to learn to overcome the struggle.
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca
Being unemployed can trigger a lot of justified stress. Whether it’s financial stress, or you’re worried about a gap in your resume, the pressure can be overwhelming. It’s easier said than done, but try to find comfort in the fact that this won’t last forever. There are better days to come; all you can do for now is to keep working towards your goals.
Don’t underestimate the resilience that you’re developing. This is a time to proactively build your mental strength. Find the tools that work for you, because these will help you overcome future struggles. You’re learning to self-soothe, and it’ll only make you stronger.
8. It’s a time to network.
“If anyone can refute me — show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective — I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone.” — Marcus Aurelius
It may not seem like the opportunities are endless right now. But the internet has expanded our horizons more than we know. There are people we don’t know who have jobs that we’ve never even heard of, and talents that we couldn’t even imagine. And there’s a lot to be learned from these people. Maybe they can show you there’s a different approach you could take that will reap greater results.
You can start by looking around your immediate surroundings. You can speak to people you already know, ask them questions about what they do, and what their experience has been. And, if you feel comfortable, explore online. Find people who are doing things you might want to do. Reach out and learn about that avenue. Who knows, that option might just become the option.
You might not be having a great time right now. But you could be. It’s easier said than done, but it’s not out of reach to make this happen for yourself. You’re riding a wave that will eventually reach the shore. So try as best as you can to enjoy the moment, invest in yourself, and remember that this phase also carries great opportunity:
- To self-reflect and learn self-acceptance
- To appreciate the small things in life
- To value your time
- To truly appreciate your options
- To set yourself a direction
- To overcome judgment
- To learn to overcome the struggle
- To network
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?” — Epictetus