Seven Habits for Highly Unemployed People

Due to longstanding dissatisfaction with my last job, I finally decided to quit back in January of this year. It was a leap of faith, as I did so without having something else to jump to or even a plan of action. I did have a financial cushion, though, so I was taking a very calculated risk (and one that I had deliberated on for quite some time).

Little did I know, however, the extent of the difficulty I would have in procuring a gig elsewhere. It’s been over 125 jobs applied for since, and a total of 11 in-person interviews (with a 12th lined up for tomorrow!) for 9 different jobs that I have been – or in this most recent case, am currently being – considered for. No offers have come my way thus far, but I remain optimistic about this latest prospect.

I will assume that if you are also unemployed and seeking work right now that you are already doing your best on that front, and that surely you can find better advice elsewhere than what I might have to offer on that particular subject.

Rather, my purpose here is to present some suggestions on how you might make use of your unemployed time outside of all of your job-seeking activities. Because – let’s face it – even if it were possible to spend every waking moment searching for work, and even if you did so intelligently, you could still end up with the same results as if you had spent no time at all doing so. Or, as someone recently said to me, “You can make no mistakes and still lose.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting you give up searching altogether just because the job market appears to (still) be utterly atrocious (although, if you have the entrepreneurial spirit, starting your own business just might be a better way to go). I am suggesting, however, that – in addition to all efforts made in the name of securing income – you seize this opportunity to take care of yourself in ways (or to an extent) that would likely not be possible while employed full-time.

Here are seven things I have personally done, while job-hunting, that have given me some positive results to show for the depletion of my savings (which apparently was going to happen anyway, whether I made time for these things or not!). Note that all of the following are activities that cost little-to-nothing, so they are perfect for the budget of the unemployed or the underemployed:

1. Meditation (or “Don’t just do something…sit there!”)

I had experimented with mindfulness meditation in the past, but had never been able to get myself to do it with any real consistency until this recent stint of unemployment.

Mindfulness meditation is deceptively simple. All it requires is that you be still and focus on your breath. When your mind wanders (and, um, there’s about a million percent chance it will), you simply internally acknowledge that this has happened in a non-judgmental way and return your attention to your breathing. That’s all there is to it. Do this for 5, 10, 15, 20, or even 30 minutes at a time, on some kind of regular basis (e.g., daily). Simple, right? But quieting the mind in this way is often far from easy. Especially for those of us (aka, nearly everyone in the “developed” world) who have been culturally conditioned for constant busyness, and who are inundated all day long by endless distractions and calls for our attention. It requires discipline and intentionality to make a regular practice of it, and may not come easily even after extended practice.

So, why bother? Why bother “doing nothing” at all? Because the potential benefits, it turns out, are many and varied. Among them: relaxation, stress reduction, building your concentration muscle/ability to focus, boosting your immune system, and getting more acquainted with the workings of your mind and its relentless tendency to dwell on the past or anticipate the future rather than notice what’s actually happening in the present.

Odds are you will be astounded at how often you are not “here” and, if you make a habit of meditating, this awareness will likely bleed into moments of your life “off the cushion”. Each time you become aware of having not been aware, you create a reprieve from the prison of endless (often circular and unhelpful) thinking and open up to the possibility of appreciating the actual experience of the moment, whether it’s really tasting the food you are chewing, or noticing the beauty of something directly within your field of vision because you are actually paying attention to it.

When you meditate, you gain experiential (as opposed to just intellectual) knowledge of the inherently temporary nature of all things, including your own inner states and sensations. This can result in your ability to cultivate more calmness and resilience in the face of a noisy and ever-changing world (internal, external, or both). It can become a useful tool for more skillfully navigating your own emotions and life challenges.

What I have found particularly helpful (essential, even) to my own meditation practice has been the use of guided meditations in the form of audio recordings.

I recommend trying these put out by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I have used his Series 1 and Series 2 (haven’t yet tried Series 3) audios. The “Body-Scan” meditation (in Series 1) is incredibly relaxing, but requires 45 minutes of your time (it’s done lying down, though). Jon has shorter audios in Series 2 so you can choose one based on the specific amount of time you wish to sit for. As a novice meditator, I find that hearing his voice (or bells) come in intermittently is especially helpful in bringing me back to awareness when my mind has gone off for a prolonged wandering.

Even more so, though…and if you take nothing else away from this blog post, I most highly recommend an audio program by Jack Kornfield called Guided Meditation – Six Essential Practices to Cultivate Love, Awareness, and Wisdom. The first of Jack’s six guided meditations on this recording is a mindfulness meditation practice, very similar to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s. However, some of the other meditations he includes (particularly the ones focusing on “Lovingkindness”, “Forgiveness”, and “Gratitude”) are truly heart-opening. I have found them to be immensely worthwhile, even transformative and healing. Be prepared to have your feelings stirred up, though, and perhaps even have yourself a good cry (don’t say I didn’t warn you!). Guided Meditation is a great entryway for starting a meditation practice, and an incredible deal for the price.  It has already done wonders for me.

2. Reading

Books are amazing! They give us an opportunity to benefit from others at their most thoughtful, creative, coherent, organized, wise, imaginative, and inspired. A good book represents an author’s concentrated focus and attention over a period of time on a story or subject matter s/he has wrestled with considerably for the sake of entertaining and/or enlightening the rest of us. The care and discipline (not to mention in many cases extensive research and/or lived experience) involved in seeing through the writing of a book wins my respect and admiration as much as any hominid enterprise.

Here are some of my favorites of the books I’ve read this year while unemployed, all of which I highly recommend:

•  Callings by Gregg Levoy
•  Coaching the Artist Within by Eric Maisel
•  Diary of a Dead Guy by Ty Hager
•  The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
•  In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred by Sam Keen
•  Still Foolin’ ‘Em by Billy Crystal
•  10% Happier by Dan Harris
•  The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz with Jean Gomes and Catherine McCarthy (retitled Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live for the paperback version…however lame that choice, the book is still great!)

If you are on a tight budget, but live in a place with a decent public library, reading is free, by the way.

3. Creative Play

You could do this for the activity of your choice, but for me it specifically meant regularly sitting down with my guitar in “exploration” mode for a designated period of time (ideally, an hour a day). Just hanging out, and messing around playfully to see if any ideas emerged that I liked. Success was defined simply as showing up and putting in the time, regardless of the results. The idea was to see what would happen if I trusted in the process in this way, and was loyal to it. I made sure to keep a notebook handy to record any ideas I felt had potential (I “took notes”, in other words!). When in doubt about whether an idea had any merit, I wrote it down.

Why was doing this such an incredibly big deal for me?

I had let far too many years go by without making any real attempt to write songs again, and this was perhaps the single greatest regret of my life. I had certainly thought of doing an “experiment” like this many times before. Yet…it took all of this time (roughly 18 years, with only a couple of flukish exceptions) for me to actually let myself do it. My best explanation is that – irrational as I knew this to be – I had clearly linked the writing of songs to some of the most extreme emotional pain of my life. So much so that the prospect of doing it again was utterly unacceptable to me, even though on a conscious level it seemed ridiculous, and even caused me great pain, to not write songs. Pretty messed up, huh?

I think the hardest part of songwriting, for me, is just allowing myself to do it. Making “creative exploration time” a priority, in other words, and being sure to fit it into my day. Avoidance runs deep. Very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very deep!

In my experience, getting started at a task you are avoiding is by far the hardest part of doing it. Once you allow yourself to do it…once you actually clear the time in your schedule for it, sit yourself down (or drive yourself to the pool, or lace up the running shoes and head out the door, etc.) and tell yourself that for the next “x” number of minutes you are devoting yourself to this activity, and then proceed…the hardest part is typically over (or will be soon after). Once you get going, momentum tends to kick in.  And you may even find that you are (gasp!) enjoying the task you so dreaded with all of your being.

We are funny creatures, aren’t we?  (Freakin’ hilarious, if you ask me…)

Were there times when I would sit with the guitar for a full hour or so and nothing at all inspired came about as a result of my showing up? Absolutely. Guess what, though?  Usually, there was still some satisfaction just from having put in the time. From the knowledge that I had done right by myself in this way. And, actually, I was kind of amazed at the sheer number of ideas I accumulated in my notebook, even if many of them weren’t so great. Turns out that’s actually part of the process of getting to the great ones. Who knew?!?! (Oh, yeah…I did!) But it still requires diligence, willingness, letting go of outcomes, and a great deal of patience. No getting around that.

I am truly grateful for this period of being unemployed, for it has – among other things – afforded me the time and space to experiment with songwriting again. The time and space alone were not going to ensure I would do this, mind you, but they proved to be essential for it to happen. For whatever reason(s), the timing was finally right.

My advice: use the time and space that unemployment grants you for things other than worrying or feeling bad about yourself. Use it to your advantage. Indulge in some creative interest, old or new. Do it while you can! And detach from any kind of result. Give yourself permission to suck. No one has to know. You’re completely off the hook. Enjoy the peace of mind that comes from each hour you’ve spent giving it a shot.  You have nothing to lose, and what better gift can you give yourself, really?

4. Exercise

This was, admittedly, easier for me discipline-wise than it might be for some because I had already habitualized it. It’s always important to take care of yourself and keep your spirits up, but perhaps especially so when your income and financial health have been drastically compromised. Endorphins are real, and regular exercise is an upward-spiral activity: you feel better and more optimistic when you do it, and this makes you healthier and more vital – which, in turn, makes you feel better and more optimistic.

I prefer to get all of my exercise outdoors, so I don’t even have the cost of a gym membership to contend with, making it a perfect “unemployed” activity! I did shell out some money, however, for three races (the Chesebro Half Marathon in March, the Arroyo Creek Half Marathon in August, and the Malibu Triathlon in September), as I have found that having a race on the calendar motivates me to exercise more (or, at least, more ambitiously) than I likely would otherwise. I also did a fair amount of hiking and stair-climbing which, outside of the cost of gas to get to and from my destinations, was free.

***A tip for finding the motivation to exercise when you don’t feel like doing it: remember how good you felt after working out in the past. Almost without fail, I feel better after a workout than I do before. The more instances you have of this in your memory banks to draw upon, the more this technique works. I’m telling you, it’s true. Use that to get yourself to the start of your workout, whatever and wherever it may be. You’ll be glad you did.

You’re welcome.  🙂

5. Journaling

I’ve already written extensively about the benefits of journaling here.  Suffice it to say that it’s a great way to:

•  Take your psychic pulse on a regular basis.
•  Document your observations.
•  Brainstorm ideas.
•  Make lists of things you want to accomplish…and increase the likelihood that you’ll actually do (at least some of) them, having captured them on paper for your eyes to see instead of having them just be groundless thoughts floating around in your head.
•  Track your daily activities.
•  Note your progress.
•  Be your own coach/cheerleader.

The sheer act of journaling means you’re taking yourself (your thoughts, your feelings, and your life) seriously and, therefore, is a gesture of self-respect.

6. Writing/Blogging

This is the 19th blog post I have published since quitting my job (including two new songs/videos), and I can tell you that many of these would doubtfully have seen the light of day had I been working full-time, if only because of the amount of uninterrupted blocks of time and space it took to see them through. So, if you have enjoyed one or more of them, you have my being unemployed all this time to thank!

7. Decluttering

Okay, so this was the thing on my list I did the least of by far. However, there are myriad benefits to organizing and paring down your stuff (I’ve blogged about them before here), not the least of which, for the unemployed, include:

•  Making some extra cash by selling off unwanted items.
•  Having a more pleasant living space (that you’re likely spending a lot more time in).
•  Getting clearer about how little you actually need, and about what things are most important to you.
•  Making room for new things in your life, materially and otherwise.

The “Seven Habits”…in Combination!

I have found that when I do any or all of the above activities, I feel better about myself and how I’ve spent my time.

Now, here’s the coolest part about these seven activities: they are synergistic. They positively reinforce one another, and the gains multiply when they are done in combination.

Some examples from my own experience:

1.  Immediately after doing the “Lovingkindness” meditation from Jack Kornfield’s Guided Meditation program for the first time, I was inspired to write this song, due to both the heart space the meditation left me in and the fact that I had also already begun intentionally spending time with my guitar on a regular basis (habits 1 and 3 above).

2.  I often have inspired ideas pop into (or out of?) my brain while exercising, and one of these was the idea for a series of blog posts on this subject (habits 4 and 6 above).

3.  I laughed out loud so frequently while reading 10% Happier that Samantha (my wife) commented that I was already 10% happier just from reading it! The book is all about the author’s personal exploration of meditation – despite his initially being a pretty hard-core skeptic – and how much he has come to benefit from it. This, of course, helped reinforce my own commitment to meditation practice (habits 1 and 2 above).

4.  I had an epiphany of sorts at the end of a stair-climbing workout one morning, that I captured on paper shortly afterwards in my journal. The thought was that if I have a purpose in life maybe it is simply (and very broadly) to “create and share”…and that if I do these things repeatedly, steadfastly…everything else (i.e., work, income, etc.) will sort itself out. Maybe I would attract “correct” opportunities – vibrationally matching ones, if you will – just by being consistent and true to my purpose in this way. And, even if this turns out not to be the case, I’ll still have made arguably the best use of myself that I can while I’m around. This encouraged me to brainstorm ways in which I could create and share – including blogging more – and led to my seeing through a 30-day challenge to myself of spending time with the guitar every day (habits 3, 4, 5 & 6 above).

Installing multiple habits at once, even if they are mutually encouraging ones, is not easy, per se. But I attempted to do this because of the glorious amounts of free time unemployment afforded me, and out of a desire to put said time to the best use I could. I wanted to (once I was employed again, not to mention before), be able to feel good about how I had made use of this precious free time rather than lament having wasted it.

Did I execute my plan perfectly? Not by a long shot. I would be consistent with some habits for a time, while others would fall by the wayside. It’s impressive to note how difficult it proved to be to fit all (or many) of these things into a given day, even without a job to go to. One thing it taught me (or reminded me of, pointedly) was the importance of having priorities…if things are not prioritized, they are much less likely to ever get done.

The nice thing is you can be imperfect about adopting habits and still reap genuine benefits from them. Obviously, consistency is the goal, and ensures more gains. But I found that to whatever extent I was able to practice these “seven habits” it was for the better!

The Spreadsheet

The tool that most helped me be consistent (again, to varying degrees) was a simple spreadsheet.

In the top row, I listed each activity I wanted to make a daily (or near daily) habit of. The first column was reserved for the date, and then in each field across I would type in a summary of the action taken for that activity on that particular day. (Hint: make this as easy as possible for yourself to complete at the end of each day by keeping it simple.) For example, under Journaling, the box got an “X” if I did it that day, and was left blank if I did not. For Guitar, it was the number of minutes (approx.) I spent with my guitar and notebook. For Exercise, it was just an abbreviated description of the workout.

There are (at least) three very helpful things about The Spreadsheet:

#1: You get a clear visual picture of your progress at a glance, and see where you are succeeding…and where you are not.

#2: By looking at it each morning, it can help you focus and set (or reset) your intentions for the day ahead, reminding yourself of what you want to be sure to fit in. Distractions will abound, and you’ll need all of the help/reminders you can get!

#3: It is very satisfying to complete the entries at the end of each day (especially if you’ve actually done some of the things on there!). This gives you a sense of accomplishment and momentum, helps sustain motivation, and reinforces success.

And “success” by the way, should be defined simply as showing up. Because the whole point is establishing/reinforcing a desired habit. If you spent some time doing the thing you wanted to do on a given day, regardless of the quantifiable results, you’ve succeeded. Give yourself credit!

Final Thoughts

You may notice that the “seven habits” I’ve suggested are primarily introverted activities. It is important to find a balance for yourself, while unemployed, that includes connection with others (of the positive, supportive kind, of course), too. In fact, you could argue that this is essential seeing as how finding employment (or clients, customers, etc.) is often the result of actually interacting with other people! It’s possible to do some of the activities I’ve mentioned above with others, but you could also consider:

•  Joining a low-or-no-cost meet-up group or club to find other people with a shared interest.
•  Volunteering (highly recommended both for the social interaction component and the self-esteem boost).
•  Using your freed-up schedule to see more of your friends and/or family.

It’s all about balance, and what works best for you.

I encourage you to consider what activities will reap you huge payoffs over time if you habitualize them. And then take steps to do just that.

Here’s wishing YOU the best of luck in finding, keeping, or finding even better, work…and in balancing said work with taking really good care of yourself, whatever your employment status happens to be.

As for me, it’s time to relax before that next job interview…

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2 Responses to Seven Habits for Highly Unemployed People

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