You’re unemployed. Welcome to the in-between time: the time between what you knew you did for work and what you will be doing next for work. The time of uncertainty, and possibility. Uncomfortable. Awkward. Painful. At times, oddly euphoric.
As someone who has made many career and job changes, I am intimately familiar with work transitions. Even though I have plenty of evidence that it always works itself out, I still find it challenging to tolerate the in-between time. Here are a few tips I hope you find helpful during your transition time.
1. Realize that you’re on an emotional roller coaster and that this is normal.
- Adopt the mantra “this is temporary”. You won’t be unemployed forever. When you and/or your significant other starts to panic and stress, remind yourselves this is temporary.
- You’ll have high energy optimistic days. Take advantage of the optimistic days; be in action around finding the work that is next for you. An action includes visioning, planning, reaching out to people you know on LinkedIn and asking them to coffee or for a video call, researching new careers and companies, exploring further educational opportunities, looking through job listings, and applying to jobs.
- You ‘ll have low energy, depressed, and anxious days. On the days when you feel low and depressed, be kind to yourself. Take a slow walk outside, close to nature. Do nothing for a bit. Take a nap. Read a book. Call a friend. Watch a movie. On the days when you feel anxious, go for a sweaty workout, or a long yoga session, and journal until the cows come home. I’ve found shaking to be a really fast and effective way for me to release anxiety.
- Allow yourself to grieve. Maybe you chose to take a severance package, or you were fired, or you were laid off with no severance, or you quit despite having no job to go to. Endings are just that, endings. As we let go of the negative of a previous work situation, so too must we let go of the good that did exist and the potential of what could have been. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve the loss that you experienced.
2. Make your bed every morning. Seriously. It’s easy. It’s quick. If you start the day feeling accomplished, you increase your chances of following that action with other productive actions. Your stress levels will decrease with greater organization in your surrounding environment. Plus, you get the pleasure of sliding into a tidy bed at the end of the day. “Making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of well-being, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget,” wrote Charles Duhigg in his book, The Power of Habit.
3. Have an answer for the question “What do you do?” Instead of answering that question, choose to answer this one: “What are you looking to do next?” State what you do know you are looking for – and the more specific you can be, the better. This gives you a chance to test drive some of your thoughts about what you might want to do next. It also gives the person you are speaking to the opportunity to offer resources, like people they know that might be of benefit to you. Politicians often don’t answer the questions they are asked, they give the answers to questions they wish they had been asked. If they can do it, so can you! Here are a few starter sentences to get you going:
- “I’m actually looking for a role as ____.”
- “I’m in between careers right now and I’m exploring a few options, including xx and xx.”
- “I’m in between work right now, and I’m not sure what’s next for me. I do know that I like and am good at ____ and _____.”
4. Find the right level of idle. “When an engine is running at idle speed it generates enough power to smoothly operate equipment such as the water pump, alternator, and power steering but not enough power to move the vehicle itself.” Remember that you are in the in-between. It’s kind of like your car is on, and the engine is idling, but the car isn’t moving like it will be when you land that next gig. So, when you are idle, be conscious of the health of your idle. Do enough career related tasks that you maintain a modicum of momentum, and avoid spending so much time in career mode that you squeeze out critical time for play, daydreaming, and envisioning what you want next for yourself. The latter activities (play, daydreaming, visioning) will help you to manage stress levels and will buoy you with inspiration.
5. Gather your growth tribe and lean on them! Think about your friends. Which of your friends haven’t judged you when you have shared your troubles in the past? These are the friends to lean on now. Identify 2-4 of these friends and ask them if they are willing to be a rock for you as you go through this challenging time. Then, call and connect with them frequently. Doesn’t have to be a long conversation; just long enough where the two of you can check in and share what’s on your mind and in your heart. During challenging times, each day or two, I’ll mentally go down my tribe list and call them one by one until I get someone on the phone. Sometimes just leaving a long-winded voicemail about what is on my mind is enough. The love and support that comes back is immensely comforting. Plus, hearing about their lives and holding space for their challenges is a nice break from thinking about my own issues.
6. Spend time thinking about what YOU want. Now is the time for exploration. It’s a time to play with possibilities. Map them out. Write them down. Explore each until you know it’s not the right direction for you. Then cross that one off the list and begin exploring another possibility.
7. Prioritize your health. Do something every day that supports your physical, mental, emotional, and financial health. Being unemployed is challenging, and you will need to rely on your strength during this period of time. Take actions that ensure you can access and maintain your optimism and keep your stress levels in check. Good health is what will allow you to pull out of the darkness more quickly when it does come. Some ideas include meditation, exercise, dance, and talking with friends.
Kelly Dwyer uses her ample experience with career and job transitions to help others go from career confusion to career clarity. She is the CEO at Bright Livelihoods and offers one-to-one and group coaching for people who are ready to figure out what’s next for them in the world of work.