How to Make the Most of a Season of Unemployment

Armed with newfound post-grad confidence and a J.Crew blazer, I entered my first grown-up job at a law firm as a paralegal. Work consisted of endless paperwork, late-night shifts, and mild microaggressions. I desperately wanted to enjoy my work; I tried to follow a solid routine of drinking chamomile tea to ease my nerves and often listened to Drake to console my corporate blues. I asked plenty of questions and researched ways to improve. Still, I found myself having nightmares about my job.

After returning home late from an intense day of work, I asked God for guidance and then gazed up at the 4 a.m. sky filled with stars. How is this even possible in light-polluted New York City? I wondered. I was immediately provided with stillness and solace. I took this as a sign of hope and discerned there and then that I had to quit my job.

Initially after quitting this position, I completely embodied the role of a “trash-millennial,” from binge-watching Netflix series to binge drinking. I compulsively applied to a hundred jobs a day until I hit a low point when I accidentally attached a selfie in lieu of a resume. This regimen was not producing any positive results and was hurting my self-worth. I knew I had to reorient my approach toward unemployment.

Refocus and reorganize

I love lists. The organization is helpful for when I need to word vomit with a sense of structure: “List of Supporters in My Life,” “List of Reasons Why Quitting Is Good,” “List of Side Gigs,” etc. I researched opportunities and was able to consolidate my thoughts, and by doing so, declutter my mind. These lists provided me with a visual representation of my resources and reminded me that I am competent and capable of moving forward.

Have you quit a job before?

Use your time wisely

Piggybacking off of this wave of organization, I needed to budget my time. I set goals for myself and set up rewards for small progress. This can look like applying to X amount of jobs would let me do something with friends every week, and reading X amount of books would let me reward myself with my favorite television series.

I chose to alternate sleeping in some days with waking up early other days. I exercised and ate wholesome breakfasts. I tried to take walks or have a picnic in the park for lunch. I saw friends, went on dates with myself, and even traveled briefly. I reclaimed my time by prioritizing my physical and mental health.

I also checked things off my “Life Skills to Learn List” such as learning how to pray, how to cook Biryani, and how to drive a car. I meal prepped and took on temp jobs, from data entry positions to babysitting. Although I didn’t have a stable income as I lived off savings, I created a budget for myself. I appreciated jobs without commitment because they allowed me to breathe and come to terms with change. I used to believe that my first job out of college would have to be perennial, but in actuality, exploration is viable and healthy.  

Rejoice in the independence

I found myself getting back in touch with who I am. I like dried flowers, beaches, chamomile tea, Frank Ocean, and sunrises. Exiting a damaging work environment recharged me. Instead of recklessly shopping, creating art became a life-giving practice for me. I looked everywhere for inspiration. Motivated by childhood nostalgia, I visited my public library and reread “The Hungry Caterpillar,” “The Giving Tree,” “Goodnight Moon,” and more. I began writing again. I was moving toward finding a piece of home in practicing my writing and challenging my insecurities with writing. Thus, I was learning about myself and stimulating my mind.

I am now happier at a new position working at a creative agency. Although I feel lost at times and am still refining my goals, I’m also choosing to heal and grow from the turbulence. At times of career uncertainty, I’ve discovered that taking time to recalibrate is a helpful method of self-actualization.

Originally published on November 5, 2018.

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