Like most Millennials, I haven’t had just one job. In fact, in the years since I first scooped ice cream between my junior and senior years of high school, I’ve had at least a dozen. With this many stints here and there, I’ve gone through several seasons without work—sometimes by choice, sometimes not. One such stretch occurred when I left a miserable job (and an even more miserable boss) without having another lined up. In the weeks that followed, I drifted, trying to fill my time with activities that felt purposeful.
When we love our work, it can serve as a source of self-worth and joy—and even when we don’t, it literally provides us a reason to get up each morning. So when layoffs, a move, or other life circumstances leave us jobless for awhile, it can be difficult to detach our sense of purpose from a paid position. But what if we could look at our personal mission through a different lens, even as jobs come and go? Here are some ways to re-frame your thoughts about purpose.
1. Serve others
Working on a freelance basis, I periodically find myself in a lull. An open stretch of time can make me feel antsy and anxious. When I know I have some quiet days coming, I try to get ahead of the downtime by signing up for a food packing session at Feed My Starving Children, a nonprofit near my home that sends meals to children in poverty. Spending a couple of hours prepping food for kids who would otherwise go hungry never fails to make me feel good about my place in the world—even if I don’t get paid.
Most of us like to make a difference in the lives of others. Whether we do so through a job or another means may be less important than just getting out there and doing something. Volunteering your time and talents to serve your fellow human beings is a classic mood-booster that takes the focus off of yourself for awhile, lightening the mental load of doubt or self-pity that sometimes characterizes a period of joblessness.
2. Invest in relationships
I roll my eyes at the old cliché that, on their deathbed, no one says they wish they had spent more time at the office…but, as with most clichés, there’s some truth to it. Often, it’s our interpersonal connections that actually bring us more fulfillment than our work. Got a bit of extra time on your hands between jobs? Focus on opportunities for connection. Maybe now is the time to get to know an aging grandparent or to reach out to an old friend. (Besides, you never know what doors your networking may open.)
Investing in relationships can also lead to another surprising avenue of purpose as you discover ways to support those in your social circle. Years ago, a friend of mine on leave from her job realized I needed help with my young kids, so she offered to babysit for me until she returned to work—a blessing I’m not sure what I would have done without. To this day, I value the time she so generously gave and believe it brought us closer.
3. Learn new (or sharpen old) skills
When you’re occupied from eight to five, hobbies and special skills tend to fall by the wayside for lack of time and energy. But a window between jobs provides space to hone your unique abilities, whether work-related or otherwise. Maybe you’d like to brush up on the Spanish you learned in high school or take a course in computer programming. Developing special skills could serve the purpose of expanding the parameters of a job search—but mainly, it’ll make you a more well-rounded person. Even if you take up something that has nothing to do with your professional industry, like knitting or woodworking, you may find surprisingly purposeful results, like saving you money on homemade gifts this Christmas.
4. Tend to yourself
A stint at a stressful job (and the process of departing from it) often leaves us with an emotionally frazzled aftermath. It may be that refueling your mind, body, and spirit isn’t just nice, it’s necessary.
Still, it can be difficult to give ourselves permission to relax and recharge during a job search. I know when I’m not bringing in income, I feel pressure to constantly stay on the hunt for new work. But when I focus on my own well-being for awhile with an inexpensive or free activity, like daily prayer, taking a walk in nature, or working out to a Youtube yoga video, I always end up feeling like it’s time well spent. And then, when I get back to work, I’m a better version of myself.
Every season of life serves a purpose, even if it’s not the one we’re looking for. It’s up to us to open our eyes to where we can impact others—and be impacted ourselves—beyond the workplace.