In September 2016, I left my corporate copywriting job after five years of stress and never-ending deadlines to figure out what I wanted to do in my life. The next two years were the most challenging of my life, but I also learned a great deal about myself throughout that unpredictable journey. Here are five ways you can grow through unemployment:
Spend more time with the people who matter.
Your relationships are far more important than any job title you’ll ever hold. During my unemployment, I began to spend more time with my aunt and my 94-year old grandmother. Daily lunches brought us even closer and gave us some unforgettable memories (my grandmother sadly passed away last year).
Unemployment also strengthened my relationship with my girlfriend (now my wife).We were both jobless at one point, and thus spent every waking moment together for three months. This of course is not recommended in the long-term, but for that period of time, it showed us that we could very well co-exist and not drive each other crazy. Today, we both look back on that period with surprising fondness. Yes, unemployment can reveal the depth of compassion in a relationship.
Learn to deal with your issues.
When you’re stuck in a 9-5 rut, you tend to overlook the lingering issues that have been gradually chipping away at you from the inside. A stressful job can often act as a bandaid; it masks your traumas and numbs your fears. After my mother passed away, I threw myself into my work; I needed the distraction and that helped time move forward a tad less painfully. However, work also kept me far too busy to face my issues head-on. After quitting my job, I began weekly therapy sessions which helped unpack so much baggage. Had I not quit at the height of my stress, the issues I was neglecting would have persisted to eat away at me for God knows how long.
Discover new hobbies.
This one’s a no-brainer. Because your day doesn’t follow a rigid structure anymore, you get to try things that you never really had time for. I took up Muay Thai and discovered the combat sport to be a perfect stress-release for all my pent-up frustrations. I also began to take the first steps in learning how to cook myself. I still haven’t made it a habit, but it feels great to know that I could feed myself if I wanted to. New habits might seem like trivial things but they’re vital for your personal development (and for passing the time).
You might miss corporate life… or realize you never liked it.
The cliche is true: you don’t know what you’re missing until you lose it. During my freelance years, I discovered that I’m someone who needs some sort of imposed structure. Shockingly, I realized that I actually missed the 9-5 life; the discipline of waking up early every day and having to be somewhere gave me purpose. It became too mentally taxing as a freelancer to drag myself to a coffeeshop every morning at 9 am.
I also realized that I missed the social dynamics that my corporate life afforded me. We feed off our interactions with others, and spending so much time alone as a freelancer taught me to be grateful for the coworkers I used to see on a daily basis. Yes even the ones I never got along with.
You might hit rock bottom… and get back on your feet.
I’d experienced stress during my corporate years but I’d never truly experienced anxiety before. Around nine months into unemployment (there was the occasional freelance job), I started getting anxious. My heart would start beating fast for no apparent reason and I would have trouble falling asleep. It got so bad that I would often dread going to bed at night for fear that I would never be able to doze off. Although I’d suffered through the loss of two parents at an early age, I’d never really experienced this feeling before. Therapy helped of course, but this brand new state was extremely hard to get used to. I eventually started to realize that anxiety was trying to nudge me towards finding what I really wanted to do in life. It was trying to help me find clarity. This was followed by a whole lot of soul-searching: I worked as a personal trainer for a year (and ultimately decided it wasn’t for me), and I shifted my efforts towards my website and tried to launch it as a business (still a work in progress).
Today, I work in a startup (check out Urban here), and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve learned more in my 8 months at a startup than I did during five years of corporate life. In fact, it’s the best of both worlds: it gives me daily structure, but enough freedom to express my creativity. It also helps that I’m surrounded by the most genuine, talented people I’ve ever worked with.
The sad reality is that we all tend to link our jobs to our personal worth. But who are you without your job? What is your true purpose? If you are currently unemployed, you can certainly use this opportunity for a huge amount of self-growth. All you have to do is be open to it.