The 7 Stages of Unemployment

I recently lost my job, which isn’t the first time that’s happened. And it’s all starting to feel a little familiar.

Ever show up to work on a Tuesday, put in your full day, then get a company-wide email from the CEO telling everyone to not worry about coming in tomorrow because…well because the whole operation had shut down effective immediately?

Me either, until a few weeks ago. My time at LittleThings came to the swiftest of ends, but it’s certainly not the first time I’ve been out of work. In fact, whether by choice or not, I count this as the fifth time I’ve been unemployed (aka actively searching for new work without having any stable existing jobs) in the 11 years since I entered the workforce.

Turns out, I go through the same set of seven emotions every time.

If you’ve never lost a job, congratulations. That 401(k) must look dope by now. If you live the life of a freelancer — living, essentially, in a constant state of unemployment — I can feel your lack of sympathy through the screen.

But for the rest of us, do any of these feel familiar?

SHOCK

Stage 1: You get the news. Maybe you saw it coming. Maybe it blindsided you. You surely don’t know how to process it, though.

You don’t yet realize you have nowhere to go tomorrow. No work outfit to pick. No lunch to pack. So you call or text or tell the important people in your life in person that, hey, somebody has two thumbs and no paycheck!

And then I find the immediate coping to be the most fun part. I’m sure some people head home and cry or go yell at a lake or something. But I tend to visit a bar and throw my latest gig an Irish wake. Nothing helps you handle trauma better than postponing handling trauma with a beer and some friends.

DENIAL

Here’s the little window where unemployment’s amazing. I don’t have anywhere to go today! I don’t have a work outfit to pick! I don’t have to pack lunch!

Rather than immediately deal with next steps, you decide to “take some time and chill.” I’m single with no kids, pets, or any life responsibilities in general. So for the first week or so after losing or leaving a job, I’ve never had a worry in the world. Sleep in, watch Price is Right, eat whole pizzas, meet friends for lunch or midday happy hour, stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning on Netflix. I get to do this every day?!

Life is good.

SURGE

Alright it’s been fun, but now’s time to get back to business. The job search begins in earnest. If the resume or LinkedIn or this very website need refreshing, it gets done. You reactivate the job board subscriptions. Start reaching out to everyone in your network that might be able to help. Send out resumes and apply, apply, apply.

You’ll get a job any day now. These people would be silly not to hire you.

LETDOWN

Why has it been a month? Why hasn’t anyone hired me? Do jobs even exist anymore? Am I going to join the priesthood? Do you need a resume for that?

THE BOUNCE

Temporary resurgence. Forget the letdown; all this effort has been great! It just takes a few strikes of the match before you see a spark is all. Time to double down on the networking and the applying.

Person you haven’t talked to in 6 years but that has now risen to the boardroom at a place you want to work? ::Opens Gmail. Compose:: “Hey Susan- You might not remember me, but…”

Job five states away you probably wouldn’t actually move for? Hmm, wonder what rents are like in Indianapolis…

It’s only a matter of time.

ROUTINE

If you’re not one of the 37.2% of people lucky enough to nail a gig in the first month of looking, you settle here for a while, where an unemployed American sits for an average of 5.5 months.

What once thrilled you now bores you. When the San Diego Padres let me go, I enjoyed an incredible first few months afterward: Beach and lake trips every day. Matinee movies. Trips to Seattle and Vancouver and Oakland. In-N-Out multiple times a week.

And then the savings start drying up. And the gigs still aren’t coming. And the networking email replies vanish. And you wake up hoping something, anything, positive has hit your inbox. An entire day of promise stands in front of you, but from the moment you open your eyes, you’ve already mentally jumped to 12 hours later – still in your sweatpants, wondering how a day during which you do nothing can pass by so quickly. You hope — you know — tomorrow will be The Day something finally clicks.

It doesn’t. Repeat. Mondays become Saturdays; Thursdays become Tuesdays. Everything feels the same. Time is a flat circle. But something has to click soon. Has to. Except, again…it doesn’t.

WE BACK

Until it does!

Like anything in life (dating, house hunting, prom-dress shopping), the right job eventually finds you. Or at least the next job does, while the right one may come a little later.

The trick is having the resiliency to wait it out. When people say “everything happens for a reason,” I don’t think it’s because everything you experience presents some inevitability that needs to occur to get you where you want to be. It’s because things just happen and you need to learn from them. What you take from these experiences — that’s the “reason.”

And every bout of unemployment I’ve survived has happened so that I could learn how to save money, network better, maintain my resources more actively, and experiment creatively on more of my own time — all in order to make me a stronger and more valuable professional moving forward.

It all just takes time and patience, both of which I consider myself an expert in after doing this a time or five.

But I gotta go. Pizza’s here.

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