Like many cities, Washington DC is a place one’s job title can define his or her success or self-worth. In the digital age, many still carry business cards with our titles. Romantic meet-ups begin with “So, where do you work?”
As a single person, it’s also easy to become bogged down in the stress of living up to the expectation of a successful career in lieu of a significant other and children. This stress was magnified when I found myself unemployed in a city that puts so much value on what you do and not who you are.
Unfortunately, I am not alone. The unemployment rate is dropping, but millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more have given up or have been forced to work part-time. I’ve gone through a couple cycles of unemployment in my 18 years of post-college work. Here are some ways to be vigilant in keeping a positive attitude while looking for a job.
1. Free Time Is Your Commodity, So Use It Wisely
I try not to let myself sleep past 7 a.m. on weekdays because if the rest of the world is operating by 9 a.m. I want to be, too. I spend an hour or two browsing my preferred job sites each day, which leaves plenty of time to be productive away from the computer. It is fantastic to be able to run errands during the work day rather than on weekends. It’s also a great way to help family and friends.
While unemployed, I often felt guilty when friends offered to pay for dinner or drinks. Paying them back with my time helps me feel less like a mooch. For example, a friend once ordered T-shirts for a veterans’ appreciation group she runs in her spare time. The shirt store was only open from 9 to 5 on weekdays and closed on weekends, making it impossible for her to pick them up without taking off work. I was able to pick them up and drop them off at her house during the day.
Your friends will appreciate the gesture, and you’ll feel good about doing a good deed. You can also volunteer for a favorite cause. Giving your time to help others allows you to feel valuable in a world that is always judging people by their work.
2. Learn a New Skill
When you’re out of the job market for any period of time, it’s natural to think that you’re losing valuable hands-on experience. Despite not going into an office every day, you can still stay updated on your field by reading trade publications and websites, keeping in touch with friends and colleagues in the industry, and attending training events on your own. There are also a ton of classes and lectures you can watch for free on YouTube or with an annual membership like Lynda.com.
3. Be Your Best Self
Being your best self is about doing the things you just don’t have time to do when juggling full-time employment and other responsibilities. For me, being my best self means making time for exercise every day. When I work a 9 to 5 job, I am frequently too tired to work out when I get home from work and am not disciplined enough to do it before work. I’ve learned my “sweet spot” for working out is around 11 a.m.
For you, “being your best self” might mean spending more time making healthful meals, setting aside time for meditation or Bible study, focusing on a creative project, spending more time with family, or getting your home organized. During unemployment you can sometimes feel like you don’t have control of your life. Focusing on the aspects you can change for the better will improve your mood and life.
4. Limit Your Time on Social Media
Let’s be honest: this is something you should do for your mental health anyway. It’s already too easy to compare your unemployment struggles against friends and family. The curated version of their lives people present on social media just exacerbates negative feelings and unrealistic comparisons. To see if social media is harming your attitude and productivity, try a digital detox.
5. Create an Inspiring and Relaxing Workspace
A lot of job searching is done online, so it’s important to create a space that inspires creativity and productivity. Set up an area to work away from distractions like the television or kitchen (you’ve heard of the Freshman 15, but beware of the Temporary Unemployment 10—or 20).
Use a desk chair that’s comfy, but supportive. Keep your desk free from clutter. Put a few pretty frames of loved ones on your desk. The next time you get a bouquet of flowers, pluck one or two and put them in a bud vase by your computer. Make your workspace a place that encourages positive thoughts and productivity.