Lessons from the long-term unemployed

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

I’ve been out of work for 96 weeks. That’s about four times the combined duration that I was previously unemployed in my life, starting when I graduated high school a quarter century ago.

It’s been a hard pill to swallow. It undermines your sense of self-worth. It’s very humbling.

You can’t go through something like this without taking a good, hard look at your life and figuring out a few things.

For those of you who are unemployed now, or expect to be in the near future, you might be interested in what I’ve learned. Maybe you already know these things. If you do then perhaps you can share your insight with the rest of us.

If you don’t know these things, then you should.

#1: Cut your expenses immediately

The most important thing I did right was not kidding myself about job prospects. The day after I got laid off I went back to a roommate situation. It cut my living expenses in half and enabled me to live off of UI.

I remembered reading stories in the newspaper about Dot-Com workers who lost their jobs in 2000 and decided to “take a year off and travel”. They all said the same thing – when they got back the recession should be over.

It wasn’t.

They had burned through their savings and now the job market was much worse.

I learned from their mistakes. I had a great resume, a strong skill set, and my last two employers gave me strong recommendations. In a normal economy employers would be beating down my door. But this isn’t a normal economy. This is a depression.

There are various reasons why someone might be out of work. One of my friends was recently in an accident that left him unable to work. Fortunately, he had done some research into the best disability insurance quotes beforehand, so his insurer was able to cover some of his living costs while he was out of work. Taking out disability insurance is one way to financially prepare for any unforeseen accidents and give yourself peace of mind.

Which brings me to my next lesson.

#2: It’s not your fault

It’s a depression. Getting laid off because the company is downsizing (or going bankrupt) is beyond your control. Not being able to get a job in a depression is like not getting a pinch hit off of Tim Lincecum. Even the best of the best usually strike out.

Does that make it any easier? Of course not.

But it is incredibly important not to get down on yourself. When an employer has infinite, qualified choices of who to hire, the guy who comes off depressed and desperate won’t be the one. The rules for the dating scene applies equally to the job scene.

So how do you keep from looking depressed?

#3: Get in shape

This might be controversial, but from my experience spending more than a couple hours a day job hunting is probably a waste of time.

Get away from the computer, get on some comfortable clothes, and go into the park. Get some exercise. Work up a good sweat.

I say this not just because an employer is more likely to hire healthy people. I say it because exercise helps your state of mind, and that is really the most important thing during stressful times. There is absolutely nothing more valuable than a feeling of positive self-worth.

A sharp mind won’t just help in an interview, it also helps you think outside the box.

#4: Do some volunteer work

Spending a few hours a week helping others makes you feel better about yourself, but that isn’t the only benefit.

If you do the volunteer work in your career field then it gives you something to put on your resume, so you don’t have to explain the huge time gap in your next job interview. It also keeps your skills sharp.

#5: Take some classes

This is a no-brainer. Whether it involves improving your skills, preparing for a brand new career, or just taking something fun, if you’ve got the time then take classes.

#6: Think Different

I once worked as a temp for MCI. My supervisor liked to threaten everyone’s job whenever something went wrong, even if the problem had nothing to do with you.

It stressed me out. So one day I told him, “I’m tired of you threatening my job. If you are going to fire me then fire me.” So the next day he fired me.

Just a few weeks later I landed a much better job and I started a much more rewarding and higher paying career. I never forgot that lesson and I never looked back.

To borrow a phrase that makes me cringe a little: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

That was 15 years ago.

18 months ago, not long after I got laid off, I was going to the 3rd round of interviews at two great jobs in the same week. I felt certain that one of them would come through. After all, this was the 3rd round of interviews, right?

Wrong. Both of the jobs prospects fell through.

I then didn’t get a single call back for five solid months. It was a very long, discouraging five months. If I wasn’t already doing volunteer work and going to night school it would have been even longer.

That’s when it occurred to me that I had to come up with a Plan B.

How you arrive at your own personal Plan B depends entirely on you. Taking a look at sites like LeoList may help, with online job advertisements available on the site.

It could be anything, but it will almost assuredly involve some sort of risk. The thing is, if you don’t land a job then you are going to come to a decision point whether you want to or not. Having a plan, any plan, is better than just reacting in desperation.

For me it was a question of doing something I always wanted to do, but never did because I wasn’t motivated enough.

My personal Plan B is joining the Peace Corps. I’m boarding a plane for the Great Unknown in just a few weeks.

You can’t just decide to join the Peace Corps. I started the PC application process 10 months ago and I’ll board a plane with only 1 week of UI left. Your personal Plan B might take time to set up as well, so don’t put it off until the last minute. The longer you wait the fewer choices you have.

#7: Other lessons

This is where I leave it your comments. Hard times are not a unique condition. Some of you might have learned different lessons that I would love to hear.


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    • gjohnsit on February 12, 2011 at 1:40 am

    I may not repost this to the Big Orange. Unlike DKos, Docudharma seems to be where the adults hang out, and this diary is very personal (and a little embarrassing). But maybe it might helps someone somewhere down the road.

  1. 10 months is a long application process.  Best of luck with that.  Can you offer any details on the assignment?

    I’ve been out of work for a l-o-o-o-ng time too.  Just before the market collapse, I was short-listing at top research universities.  Now, I can barely stand to read the pitiful classifieds.  Having one’s career side-tracked permanently is both galling and humiliating.  I’m still incredulous.  I never considered applying myself to the private sector, e.g., pharma, because I just don’t trust their work.  

    As for plan B…

    Sheesh.  I feel like Tim Geithner.  I don’t have a plan B.

  2. …And do stay in touch.  Your contributions have been great.

    Reading this made me think again of all the highly educated people in Tunisia and Egypt who couldn’t find work either.

    We need to change the system.

  3. I just am hoping I don’t need a plan C. As an artist and a musician team neither me or my husband really planned a career in ‘industry’. After a few years of being poverty stricken artistes, we both took our talent/passion and learned skill’s that could earn us a living . Me through art school graphic design/illustration, my husband an idiot savant math head who majored in philosophy, through getting a job that in the 80’s in market research that harnessed his talent to a big cold computer with punch cards. Every one in the spec writing dept was a musician it seems they have an internal abstract math process wired in.

    We both worked for corporations for a few years as techies and found that we never could make enough money other then bare subsistence as I was told often enough, I was just a replaceable wrist and he was just a ‘clerk’. So we became free lancers or contractors in the 90’s and moved where to a city where it wasn’t so ‘competitive’ or yuppified. We built a business by boot strapping it. My skills are in marketing/advertising and he is the product. My husband always says math is like the garbage nobody wants to mess with it. Our small business is used by companies as an outsource vendor for market research firms or consultants or even municipalities that do studies. We try to stay away from political work as they don’t pay their freakin bills right, this year however we had no choice, hugh!  

    I recommend taking your skills or your passion and finding a way to plug it in outside the corporate structure. Like in the movie Brazil the free lancer who moves behind the corporate facade. When I was in art school I asked a designer teacher how you found a job with out experience and he said ‘you lie’ and if you get fired you have some experience. Since I worked as a creative in marketing depts. I knew the con. It’s like a keyhole a tiny one and you keep throwing your work out until something goes through. Until you find a niche.

    The two books I relied on are Marketing 101 for Artists and my bible, Growing a Business by Paul Hawken of Smith and Hawken. The latter is about bootstrapping and creative marketing and how to grow a business outside the traditional model of capital, it is invaluable. It would help those looking for employment also. Looks like I have to dig them out and find new clients as our business in the last 3 years has been down 40%. I’m looking to a more regional economy, clients that are based in the US or the PNW, and emerging businesses like energy, transportation, non profits etc.. I would like to build a client base large enough to hire some musicians who are wired for math and exploit them. lol.

    So I guess that’s my PlanC, back to the drawing board to start digging out those who need stats done cheap and elegant. Your big box of numbers which the client/analyst  can then offer as in-house. They get ‘a seamless presentation’ for their marketing of mass destruction plans. lol. PlanD is ripping up our street and growing food or doing my art for barter. Somehow stats don’t seem like they will be a good trading commodity.

    As an outlaw/outsider all my life I have become used to not relying on the system for validation or security. Still no one is free from the trickle down of money and I do not fancy as a geezer losing what I have built, I get weary of the hunting process. Sorry to have gone on here but your essay found me, before I logged on, pondering the situation most of us employed or unemployed face. Our lives are hooked in to a broken system and it’s hard to find work in or out of it.

    Your solution is a great one as were you points for staying sane and not falling into despair or fear. Glad to hear your going out in the world to help people and it will open up your world too. Hope you stay in touch and continue to write as you are damn good. For others I recommend being creative and as corny as it sounds thinking outside the too big to fail box.      


  4. Fifteen years ago I moved my practice from Texas to Tennessee.  It had become to competitive in Texas.  I lived in Tennessee for a year while my wife stayed in Texas.  It was tough.  But we both found much better jobs in Tennessee where the competition was far less.

    Moving is a bitch.  But fighting to get crumbs is worse.  Do your research and find places that lack your talent or are not as competitive.

    The Tennessee bar had about half the lawyers per capita as Texas.  So I knew I had a much better chance here.

    But we left our homes to do it and it was quite hard on my two daughters so it was not easy.

  5. FWIW, I heard that there’s research to show that for many people who lived through the Depression, that was the best time of their lives. And the reason was that they bonded with others more deeply.

    OTOH, I also read an article on the web just last week that money does, indeed, make you happier (but not perfectly happy).

    OK, these seem contradictory. The only way I can reconcile them is to presume that the bonding that occurred during the Depression required the severity of a depression to happen. Then again, FDR came on the scene, and he was an inspiring, hopeful figure.  

    Anyway, best wishes with your Peace Corps stint. Hopefully, you will post some blogs on that.


    On a somewhat related subject, does anybody recall the name of a frequent docudharma participant who was going through tough times, and ended up in NYC for a spell?

    • RUKind on February 13, 2011 at 4:56 am

    1. Cut your expenses while you’re still working. Like NOW. You really don’t need that thing. You’ve been programmed to want it by duh TV.

    2. It is your fault. You should have beckstabbed your way further up the ladder.

    3. Get outside. Enjoy life. The air is still free. It is not the end of the world. The truly good news is that the world ends in 2012. If your savings, IRA or 401K are meager, BFD. The world will end soon therefore money becomes less of a problem.

    4. Your new problem will be food and shelter. Learn to garden and build. It’s not that hard. I have a CS degree and I can do it. Although life these days is Back to the Seventies for me. Self-sufficiency wherever possible.

    5. Do some volunteer work. It’s good for the soul and none of us gets out of here alive. Store your riches where they will last.

    6. Learn something new. Take classes if you want but by now – especially if you post here – you know how to teach yourself. Pass on what you learn. Share. Work co-operatively. Trade skills and time. Go dark economically speaking. Cease to be a stat.

    7. Have fun. Learn to laugh at yourself. All of creation is at your fingertips. As Tielhard says, “We are souls. We are not human beings havng spiritual experiences. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. Get over your self.

    8. It’ll get worse before it gets worser and worserer. Relax, Palin will never be president. Do you think this country would elect a total moron to be the leader of the “Free World”? OK, we did it twice – Ronnie and W – but we’re still here, aren’t we?

    9. Learn to surf. It will put Life, the Universe and Everything in perspective.

    Shanti. Salaam. Peace.

  6. and kick Obama in the face at the same time.

    Why does this happen?  Why do good people get shit on and everyone is ok with it?

    I’m gonna keep putting out resumes but I don’t expect much.  Good luck with everything.

  7. It was of course an engineered depression.  So at 55 the permanence of going from one shitty job to another is the reality.

    Note the rise of Temp employment agencies as the new American corporate excuse to get rid of benefit packages.  The newest and most Satanic of the globalist memes will do much to erase years of workers rights won by labor unions.

    • Xanthe on February 13, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    What a pickle we’re in –

    How can any of us keep a straight face when we hear the successfuls on American tv talk about democracy in Egypt.  Where do they get the stones to talk as though their own country isn’t hurtling toward an abyss.  

    As I will probably get a cut in SS – I am in a quandry.  What if the dollar falls – where should I park my pennies?  When will the masters begin the next manipulation of the market – ??  Well, it’s always manipulated but I mean the “big” one.  I know I have to sell the house – it’s really too big and an older house.  But I have a garden – and I have a network of friends here.  I have animals to tend – I can’t move to an apartment yet.

    Have you read Ellen Brown’s article:  The Egyptian Tinderbox:  How Banks and Investors are Starving the Third World?

    At one time food was considered a poor speculative investment, because it was too perishable to be stored until market conditions were right for resale.  But that changed with the development of ETFs (exchange traded funds) and other financial innovations.      

    Goldman Sachs created a commodity index fund and went long – kept buying and buying and buying – the money went into T-bills – that money goes to their traders and they do whatever is lucrative today – and that includes starving billions of people with these end games.

    But you would be better able to explain this, gjohn.

    You will be able to continue blogging from wherever you are plus give us the benefit of your new surroundings and perceptions, no?

  8. We stare at the same starry skies as our distant ancestors.

    And we breathe the same air. I found a stone on the beach about two years ago with marks that had to be made by man. This discovery followed a large storm that threw tens of thousands of rocks up on the beach. Even though I don’t know what it says, I got the message: From one person to another.

    gjohn, from one person to another, best of luck. If I knew what to say, I’d say it. I appreciate your insights and marvelous writing. Your spirit shines, and there is no question that things will eventually fall your way.

    • mplo on February 14, 2011 at 8:31 am

    I have to admit to not having had a steady job for fourteen years.  I worked a paid job for sixteen years in a local Publishing Company’s Customer Service Department, doing data entry and processing orders for textbooks for college, university and individual bookstores, libraries, schools, and individual customers, promotional orders, and ordinary cash or credit card payment individual book orders.  Most of my years there were good ones, but changes came, and a new supervisor was brought in to reflect these changes.

    She accessed the situation, took charge and ultimately decided that none of us had anything to say about any decisions that were made.   She immediately became overzealous, and began cracking down on the most unnecessary things, monitoring every move we all made, ingratiating herself with all of us and breaking down our defenses, getting people to confide in her about whatever was happening, or had happened during their lifetime, only, I later realized, to gather information in order build a case against them, so they could be let go.  

    Because she came from a rough-and-tough blue-collar background, was a bit oversexed and flirtatious (although not the least bit attractive-looking, let alone charming, so I never could figure out what the hell guys saw in her), and had a drinking problem (often, she’d come in from lunch break stinking of alcohol), and she probably came from a family where alcoholism and welfare dependency and illegitimacy were rife, so she wanted respectability, she felt inferior.  The more I learned about her, the less I liked her and wanted to learn how to deal with, be friendly and get along with her.  The atmosphere in the room when she came in was too toxic to deal with, so, due to her bullying and harassment, I eventually filed a grievance, left my sixteen year job, and took time off to be a silversmith, after applying for and being wait-listed for the first-year-piano technology program at North Bennett Street School here in Boston.  

    The following year, I entered the program, where I learned how to be a piano tuner (I must admit, however,  that piano tuning jobs are scare, but I still have afew clients whose pianos I tune every six months to a year, and I’ve had intermittent piano tuning work for a dealer down in Providence, RI, which is about an hour and a half’s drive south of where I live.  

    In June 2009, I submitted some silversmithing work to a local artisan’s co-operative called Sign of the Dove, got my work juried and accepted, bought some assemble/knock-down display cases, and presented and showed my work along with many other artists at the co-op, at the Chestnut Hill Mall, out in suburban Newton, MA.  The first year there, I did surprisingly well regarding sales;  I sold about 8 things and grossed a thousand dollars.  This year, unfortunately, although  I sold afew things, I didn’t do as well, but I was grateful to have sold some stuff, nonetheless.  So, I’ve decided to do some smaller versions of what I do, and maybe add some knitted children’s winter hats to be juried into the show this season.  Smaller boxes are cheaper because they’ll be done more quickly.  I’ve already got a couple of designs going and ready to start.

    Fortunately, I own my own condo-studio loft, which was made possible with the help of my wonderfully loving, supportive and stable family, and I have no mortgage, only my monthly condo fee, which is still decent, and my other small  monthly bills.   I’m in a place and location that I like, which is equally important to me, especially since people who’re hardwired together the way  I am tend to place a huge attachment to places, which I do.  Not that I don’t have a cadre of family and friends that I love and care about, because I do.  However, unlike most people, I place an equal amount of importance on location.

    My car is also paid for, and I’m very lucky in all those ways.  Sometimes, however, I find myself wishing that I’d taken the opportunity to fight my former company’s buy-out of me in court, and, I have not been able to forgive my supervisors’ behaviors.  Both of these women, although their personalities were opposite of each other’s  (“Evelyn’s” personality was nasty, overtly hostile and mean, while “Jane”s” personality was the same, but rather sneaky, and both had drinking problems, although, like most people who are problem drinkers, they kept it a secret, or tried to keep it a secret), and “Evelyn” also had a reputation for sleeping around.  Boy, was I glad to get out of that toxic atmosphere.  

    Fortunately, I had a union to back me up, and I filed a grievance.  Otherwise, I would’ve been totally screwed;  I would’ve gotten no letters of reference, no severence settlement, no anything.  I know what would be traumatizing and what wouldn’t be.  i know that I couldn’t handle moving out of my area, giving up things that I loved, and just being me.  So, in case I sound like a spoiled brat to some people, too bad.  I am who I am, and don’t accept arrogant, insulting bullshit from people, and will continue to speak out, rather than bite my tongue.

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