Last December, I left a job. When I started telling co-workers from other departments about my impending departure, two questions usually came up. The first was, “Why??”. The second was, “Where are you going?”.
For me, both questions were hard to answer. For the record (whose, I’m not sure), there were several reasons for leaving, and committing to one for the sake of simplicity in communication always felt unfair (to whom, I’m also unsure).
And well, I guess if I had an answer for the latter, I would think that I would get away more easily with not answering the why. When you leave without the next job in place, you trigger a couple of reactions. People either think you are very, very upset with your current job, or you are well-to-do enough to deal with an unknown period of unemployment. Also, everyone will express envy (I would too).
There is probably little logic in this, but I had always felt that I would be cheating on my existing job/company if I started actively looking for a new job 🧐. A more understandable reason was that I wanted more time to work on my resume and portfolio. I also wanted the chance to properly decompress and reflect on what I had learnt in the past couple of years before deciding on my next steps.
However, a week into unemployment and after sending out a few applications, the panic started setting in. Why is no one calling yet? Why is my email inbox so quiet? Was there a deal-breaker typo in my resume? Never mind that it was one week before Christmas, never mind that even I was going on vacation in a couple of days. The brain thinks what it chooses to think.
After I returned from my holiday, what awaited me was a stretch of unoccupied days. Weekdays without any meetings, without fires to put out. I didn’t get angry at “Open from 9am - 5pm” notices anymore; I could stand in line for stuff. I turned up for dinner appointments early. The stove at home saw renewed activity. I could see the bottom of laundry baskets. I planned an itinerary for my next holiday. I tinkered with my resume. I rewrote sections in my portfolio. I rewatched Grey’s Anatomy for the nth time. I read.
It wasn’t until the third week of employment that I decided it was wiser to take a more structured approach. Rest was important, but I was dying inside from not feeling productive (modern life, eh) and from worrying that I wasn’t doing anything meaningful during this period and that I would stay unemployed for longer than expected. So, I started being more deliberate about how I was spending my time.
Set some goals — big or small
What was one something that I could do for myself, that I would be proud of achieving at the end of this break? Goals are a good way to focus energies and free time. Also, they are very easily understood by other people who may not understand your self-imposed joblessness.
My big goal was driving. One hot Thursday afternoon, I made my way down to the driving school, signed up, and loaded up a thousand bucks in my account. Too expensive to back out. I told all my friends that I was learning to drive. Too many witnesses (and potential teasing) to back out. I told my parents. Too much nagging to back out.
I also started a few smaller goals — to read a book every week, to write here twice every week, and to post something on Medium every week. Of these, I’m shamefully only keeping the first. To my credit, I have tons of unpublished drafts. To my discredit, I have thought and edited them to death (some of them will hopefully eventually make it out here alive).
While I have not been keeping to these smaller goals 100%, making them in the first place ensures that I dedicate time to thinking and writing each week (and that I feel some well-deserved guilt whenever I choose Netflix).
I’d also like to mention again that I’m surpassing the reading goal by quite a bit.
Enjoy do-nothing guilt-free days
Isn’t every day of unemployment a do-nothing day? Sure, but they don’t come guilt-free.
These are days when there is nothing planned, and where I tell my brain not to feel bad about it. No lunches, no dinner appointments, no lessons. When I set my goals, I made sure to leave a day each week as a do-nothing day. I spend my do-nothing days reading, watching Netflix, cleaning the toilet, or just surfing the internet. I check in with friends, play Two Dots, or sort clothes hangers.
Think about work
Unless you’re not planning to go back to work any time soon, work- and job-related thoughts will pop up. I spent a fair bit of time reflecting on the work that I did in the last couple of years. What were some things that I should had done, and what were some stuff that I would do differently the next time around? These were simple and common questions, and I had already given them some thought previously. However, with more distance, time, and learning, I found new answers. These post-mortems helped when I was writing up my portfolio and case studies.
On case studies: they are time-consuming and frankly, pretty darn tedious to write. But writing them organised my thoughts and really, really helped when I needed to talk about my projects in interviews. I knew my projects inside out, but explaining to people who have zero background required a disciplined balance of storytelling, context, and simplification.
Money concerns will always be at the back of your mind. I had made sure that I was comfortable for a couple of months without income. That comfort meant no changes to my lifestyle, two holidays, and enough to learn something. I had thought I would attend some courses initially, but I managed my education with MOOC and books. The $$ went to driving school. Despite being prepared financially, I still worried a fair bit and felt guilty whenever I spent on non-essential items. Probably not a bad thing, really.
• • •
When you leave a job, you will worry. The economy isn’t great, jobs are changing, we’re getting old. Lots of what-ifs will enter your mind, as they did mine.
During periods of no-interviews-lined-up and no-follow-ups, I wondered if my decision to resign without a job was a good one. I reminded myself repeatedly that outcomes do not necessarily reflect the quality of decisions. I could make a perfect decision but a shitty outcome could still happen, and vice versa.
I needed these reminders to focus on what I want, and I found them waiting whenever I hit the pause button on my worries. By purposefully setting goals and setting aside time for reflection, I managed to tame the very counterproductive feeling of unproductivity (writing is hard, but it feels great to hit the publish button) and create worry-free environments (it’s hard to worry about joblessness when you’re trying to cut 3 lanes to the right in a swarm of heavy-vehicle traffic).
In related news: in a week, I go back to full-time work.