Monday mornings. If you want, you could spend hours looking through countless memes describing just how horrific Monday mornings can be. Weekends never last long enough, and somehow you always find things to fill up the time you thought you’d have to recharge. But one Monday morning in August of 2015, I sat at home wanting nothing more than to be at work.
I was unemployed. And I was devastated.
That first day of being unemployed is surreal. I vividly remember sitting on the couch staring out the window thinking about each of my friends and where they would probably be at that moment. Will was probably getting coffee in the break room. Matt was likely on a conference call with a potential client. Steve was probably sleeping, but that made sense because he worked nights at the hospital.
But there I was, sitting on the couch. Full of anger and fear and disgust and shame. Totally and completely lost.
My story is maybe a little different than most, only because I might have the WORST timing. To keep this short, I had a job, but found a new one. I gave my notice to the old job and told the new job I was excited to start there in two weeks. I trained my replacement on my way out and everything was looking great. But, as I worked the penultimate day at the old job – the Thursday before I was supposed to start the new job – the new company called me and told me the job offer was no longer on the table.
I was stunned. I immediately met with the Human Resources manager at the old company that same day and basically begged them to let me have my job back. But, if you’ll remember, I had already trained my replacement and it wouldn’t be fair to him for me to change my plans now.
I distinctly remember feeling like I’d been kicked in the stomach for an entire week. The unjust rejection angered me to no end, and the fear of suddenly not having a paycheck scared the hell out of me. Had I been five years younger, this would have been a recipe for disaster. I used to struggle mightily with anxiety and depression, and this event could have (would have) been a catalyst causing me to spiral out of control.
Instead, my wife saved me. I was so afraid of what she was thinking and how I’d failed her. But from the very start, she told me that we’d get through it and everything would work out for the best. In the moment I barely believed her, but what really mattered was that we were in it together and she wasn’t going to allow this to change the way she felt about me. I can’t tell you how much relief that brought me. I was mentally weak, but her strength is what helped me keep it together.
Allison and I came up with a plan. First, we looked at our finances and determined what we needed to do. We’d been putting money into an “emergency fund” for years for situations like this one. We figured out where we could trim extra costs in our budget, how far the emergency fund would get us, and what to do about insurance. We took a deep dive into Save-A-Dollar mode. We tightened our spending to the point that if our friends invited us out to dinner or drinks, we’d go and either share something or just eat before we went. Prior to this mess, we were pretty darn good about living within our means, saving a rather significant portion of our income. We determined we could live without a second paycheck for about six months. Not everyone is able to, but I’d highly recommend building an emergency fund if you have the means.
Of course, my goal was to get a job ASAP, but that six-month cushion allowed me to wait for the right opportunity to arise. I wouldn’t have to accept the first job that came up simply because I needed work.
The second part of the plan was mapping out my new normal day. For me (read: for everyone), it wasn’t healthy to job search for 40 hours every week. The first week? Sure, maybe I could get away with it, only because there were so many jobs posted on Monster, LinkedIn, Indeed, CareerBuilder, etc., and I needed to get caught up on what was out there. After that, I limited myself to working on job searching activities (i.e. searching, writing cover letters, filling out online profiles, applying, more searching) to four hours per day, Monday through Friday. That was 20 hours per week. After that, I needed to find constructive ways to fill out the other 20 hours.
One of the very best things we did while I was unemployed was to make the most of the situation. At least once each week, Allison and I would go find something free to do in the area. We went to a handful of museums in downtown Raleigh, we went on hikes, we found an old quarry turned swimming hole in Durham. This was huge for my mental health. Getting out of the house was the key to staying positive throughout this process.
In conjunction with that, I decided I wanted to build something. My ability to provide for my wife was temporarily on hold, so I needed another way to be productive and useful. My wife had been wanting to buy a bookshelf for one of our rooms upstairs, so I decided I’d build one instead. I found that any time I got frustrated about being unemployed or about getting a rejection email from a company I really wanted to work for, there was something therapeutic about drilling holes and sanding 1″x4″ planks all afternoon. We could have bought a new bookshelf for cheaper than the one I made, but the distraction and sense of accomplishment I got from building that bookshelf (pictured above) made it worth the extra cost.
I also poured a lot of time and effort into networking. Some of this was easy, other parts were really difficult. I do this crazy workout thing called F3 (if you’ve never heard of it, check it out here), along with a few hundred other guys in my town. I’d guess there are a few thousand men in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area that do these workouts on a regular basis, so just simply being active within that group gave me a ton of connections to work. I met with friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends to talk about my skills and talents and where I wanted to take my career. As it turns out, the job I ultimately ended up taking wasn’t the result of any of the connections I made, but again, just getting out of the house to meet with different people gave me little jolts of hope and positivity. I cannot express strongly enough how important it is to celebrate even the littlest wins in a situation like this.
Another crazy thing we did…
We went to Italy about a month after I lost my job. Irresponsible? Not really – we’d been planning that trip for almost a year and had already paid for most of it, and almost all of it was non-refundable. We also factored that into our six-month estimate I talked about earlier, and I am so thankful we went. It was an awesome break from the monotony of job searching, but it was also just a great way to connect with my wife and to make awesome new memories together. And it came at the perfect time. That first month of full time job searching had taken a toll on my mental health. I hadn’t spiraled into depression by any means, but I was starting to go just a little crazy. The perfect cure for that was two weeks walking around Italy with lots of wine and gelato. By some minor miracle, I actually lost a few pounds on that trip.
When we returned home, I was refreshed and ready to get back to the grind. Another month later, something really crazy happened.
Allison took a test. She was pregnant. I was going to be a daddy.
Nothing speeds up a job search quite like learning your family of two is about to become a family of three. Allison works for a smaller company, so health insurance through her work was relatively expensive. Adding a baby to the mix made the insurance costs astronomical. I needed a new job ASAP.
The six months we’d allowed ourselves was no longer a viable option. To this point in my job search, I’d had a handful of phone screens and a few in-person interviews, but none of the opportunities were all that feasible. But now, after finding out that we had about eight months before we were going to have a baby, the scope of the type of job I was willing to take broadened quite a bit. About six weeks later, I took a job with a financial services company. It was 40 hours per week. It paid a paycheck. It had insurance. And that’s everything positive I can come up with about that job at the moment.
This is a tangential part of my story, but as it turns out, it might be the most important lesson I learned from being unemployed for four months and subsequently in a dead-end job for another 16 months after that. During that almost two-year span, I rediscovered my love for writing.
At first I used it as a coping method. I was angry at what had happened, so I wrote about it to help process the emotion. After awhile, I started writing when I was all job-searched out and didn’t feel like sanding planks in the garage. At some point, I remembered a vow I’d made to myself when I was much younger.
When I was 23 years old, I told myself and all my Facebook friends that I was going to write a book by the time I turned thirty. Six years later, sitting on my couch, I thought to myself, “Well, what the hell else is there to do?” With about ten months before my thirtieth birthday, I started writing a novel, just like I said I’d do.
I missed my deadline by two weeks, but I thought that was pretty darn good considering the Muggo had been born a few short months earlier (the kid, not the site).
If you read Gabe’s post from a couple weeks ago, he pointed out some very practical points to consider if/when you become unemployed. I’d encourage you to go read his post because I can’t possibly agree more with his advice. I did a lot of the same things he did and it made the process of unemployment much more bearable.
But I guess my parting thought on this topic is this: make the most of it. How often are you going to be free on a random Thursday morning to go mountain biking, or hiking, or taking your kid to the park, or serving somewhere in your community? If you’re unemployed, you will have plenty of opportunities to use your time constructively.
Unemployment was a major drag. I hated it. But on some level, I can also look back fondly on that time because of what came out of it. I wrote a book, for heaven’s sake! But more specifically, I had the time to take a break, time to learn what really mattered to me, and time to rediscover a passion I didn’t think I could truly pursue. I was forced to figure out who I was, what I was made of, and what mattered to me.
I can say with confidence that the things I learned during that time were some of the most important lessons of my life. Staying positive and focused not only helped me land another job, it allowed me to learn a lot about myself and rediscover some of my old passions.
TheMuggo.com likely doesn’t happen if not for that time. I struggled to believe my wife when she told me everything would work out for the best. Turns out, she was right. ♦