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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Monday, February 26

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JP / July 29, 2010 9:45 AM

Funny you should ask... I was laid off last May and my unemployment lasted just a few days shy of a full year. On the advice of someone (I can't remember who anymore) I stopped paying attention to unemployment statistics, as I had no control over them, and they'd only bring me down. I cretified for unemployment benefits, and began sending resumes out. I was alarmed at people's reactions to my new unemployed state - or maybe it was my perception of their reactions; I was really disgusted when someone would come up to me, lean their head to one side in mock-therapist style empathy, and say "how are you doing?" It was never a perky "how are you doing?" but always a really pitiful one, and I was determined not to let unemployment turn me into one of those people - the ones who spend their days watching bad daytime television and eating potato chips straight from the bag.

I didn't know how long I'd be out of work, and I didn't want to waste my newfound free time - after all, this was kind of an unusual opportunity. I was lucky enough to have gotten a severance package when I lost my job, and between that and the unemployment benefits I was doing okay as long as I didn't spend a lot of money. I cut back on the luxuries - getting my hair done at a fancy salon, buying groceries at Whole Foods, and put some bigger projects on hold.

I started going through a mental list of things I'd always wanted to do but didn't have time for, and as the weeks turned to months, I got quite a number of them done. A brief summary of what I did that year includes: volunteering for 4 local organizations; traveling to Portugal with Habitat for Humanity; traveling to Senegal with my West African Dance teacher and a group of students; participating in my first mini-triathlon; and becoming a staff writer right here at GB.

I got a job 3 months ago; it's not a great job, it doesn't pay well and it's pretty boring (I spend a fair amount of time reading GB at work, I guess it could be worse...) I'm really glad I took advantage of the free time I had while I was unemployed, if I were sitting here now one year after being laid off and had nothing to show for it but a lost year, I'd be really depressed.

Lyletta / July 29, 2010 9:46 AM

I've been unemployed for almost a year and have researched the many free or low cost resources available in the Chicagoland area. For example since my temporary insurance doesn't cover dental, I discovered that the UIC dental program has a lower cost student clinic that provides great dental care at a fraction of the price.

There are other programs that people can take advantage of while they're in-between jobs to help save money. Yet beware, it may take patience and persistence before you achieve your goal.

staci / July 29, 2010 11:13 AM

I was unemployed for about 6 mos a few years ago. In addition to job hunting as much as possible, I spent a lot of time working out, enjoying being able to grocery shop during the day when the stores are less busy and exploring Chicago on the cheap. I got to wander around by myself and it was so fun. I didn't have much money at all and it was stressful going on interview after interview, but having extra down time was lovely and I made sure to take advantage of it.

paul / July 29, 2010 1:02 PM

While I understand the seriousness of becoming unemployed while trying to support a family or not having the ability to make money in some alternative way, outside of having a 9 to 5 employer, I highly recommend people experience a 'sabbatical' from full-time work at least once in their adult life.

The opportunity to learn skills to 'fend for yourself' is priceless. Learn to eat well on $100 a month, while others spend that much a week on coffee and lunch in the corporate cafeteria. Force yourself to learn a skill that will allow you to make cash outside of a full-time position. Have some time to yourself to realize how ludicrous it is to spend 40-60 hours a week at a job where most of the time is spent pretending to work.

After I became unemployed may years ago, I decided to never again, live the full time employed life. Sometimes it's a struggle, and once in awhile I have to drink the cheap beer, but it's a really nice outside today. And I can go enjoy it.

annie / July 29, 2010 1:16 PM

nope. I've never been out of work for one second since I was 14 years old. I'm 34 now and while I consider myself blessed to have always had a steady pay check/income, I would welcome the break, b/c I am at my wits end with the job I have now, everyone is leaving and I'm getting all of their work, less hours to do it in and no increase in pay.

eee / July 29, 2010 3:56 PM

While I've been laid off twice, I'm lucky to have only been truly unemployed once. I signed up with a temp agency and did side work through them, and I spent the rest of my time split between doing housework, building a garden, and mastering the new PlayStation.

PMan / July 30, 2010 12:06 AM

Underemployed and temporarily unemployed several times. I've always made it by, but often not by much. The first time my rent was only $200 month, so that helped. I'm glad to have been able to do it, but hoping it doesn't happen again.

Meems / July 30, 2010 8:48 AM

I was laid off in late November 08, so I took the time to enjoy the holidays and half-assed looked for a job knowing there none in my field. Spent the month of January sending out resumes until Ellen came on and then it was wine time. I managed to "create" a job for myself with a bar that was opening but that sucked. Then I got a temp job. The whole time I was battling to get more unemployment benefits because part of it was supposed to come from California. Finally got a nice chunk of change from them and a new job!

RJ / July 30, 2010 10:21 AM

I was unemployed for almost a full year. Well, not completely unemployed. I did a little freelance work here and there, but nothing steady. The problem is that I have 10 years of experience in an industry that is dying (the newspaper industry). Newspapers are laying off, not hiring. And the competition for any jobs that share the same or similar skill set is intense.

Etihad Eidos / July 30, 2010 10:48 AM

I'm 36 and I've been collecting a steady paycheck since I was 16. I've never earned a lot of money - but compared to the odds of many others on this planet, I consider myself lucky.

RJ / July 30, 2010 10:58 AM

Just wanted to add that like some others who have commented, being unemployed for so long was a positive experience in some ways.

For one thing, I am much more careful about how I spend my money now. I can't believe how wasteful I was before without even realizing it.

I also eat a lot better. I used to eat out almost every day for lunch (crappy fast food, usually) and 2-3 nights a week for dinner. It's no wonder I never learned to cook.

Now I rarely eat out and I cook everything from scratch. I even soak my own beans now because I realized how much cheaper it is than buying beans in a can. And you know what? When you soak your own beans they taste a lot better! Who knew?

I also think that I can empathize with people going through hard times a little more.

anne / July 30, 2010 12:37 PM

I've had several chunks of time where I haven't been able to find a job, often right after a move which makes it hard when you're in a new place and need to get your bearings. I always found projects to do at home (piecing together a quilt by hand, reorganizing living space) that could keep my mind occupied, but you can't just live alone like a hermit all the time. I tried to swallow my pride and not be ashamed to tell friends I needed to skip out on things like dinners or drink nights where I would be blowing cash - I made suggestions for things like potlucks which I could host, or picnics instead of big restaurant outings.

Finding free things around the city (or whereever you are -- when I was in Montana I went hiking a lot and started running again) is easier and easier. Did you know you can sort Gapersblock Slowdown calendar entries by category? Here, for example, are events tagged as "FREE" Or check out listings for events at places you already know are free, like at the library or free nights at museums. It's a great time to start thinking in different directions.

JM / July 30, 2010 12:49 PM

Graduated college and have been employed with the same company for the last 5 years. During that time, we've had four layoffs. With each one, I've secretly hoped I would get laid off so that I could do some exploring and be forced to reevaluate what I want to do for a living.

Saya / July 30, 2010 7:03 PM

Completely agree with Paul's comment - "After I became unemployed many years ago, I decided to never again, live the full time employed life. "

I became unemployed six years ago and spent the following week figuring out what I wanted to do for a living. I knew two things,

1) I wanted to LOVE what I did, and
2) I didn't want a boss.

I created a list of things I wished I could get paid for, no matter how silly it sounded - -
and today, every item on that list is somehow incorporated into my job [I'm a self-employed digital editor and event host].

The reasons why unemployment turned out to be the best thing that's happened in my professional life -

BG / August 2, 2010 12:35 PM

I was laid off twice last year. If not for the grace of good friends, Barack Obama and the benevolent forces of the universe, I'd be out on my ass.

Saya / August 2, 2010 4:49 PM

Completely agree with Paul's comment - "After I became unemployed many years ago, I decided to never again, live the full time employed life. "

I became unemployed six years ago and spent the following week figuring out what I wanted to do for a living. I knew two things,

1) I wanted to LOVE what I did, and
2) I didn't want a boss.

I created a list of things I wished I could get paid for, no matter how silly it sounded - -
and today, every item on that list is somehow incorporated into my job [I'm a self-employed digital editor and event host].

Saya / August 2, 2010 10:54 PM

Oh and, I blogged recently about the pros and cons of having a "real job" -- 9 to 5 loses out big time.

I'd say take the opportunity of unemployment to create a job you love AND that pays the bills -- easier said than done of course, but I'm a huge proponent of "at least try it."

mike / August 2, 2010 10:55 PM

I moved here in 1998, no big crisis at the time. I had $500 in my bank account and a $5,000 Visa balance. I did some freelancing for a non-profit for a few dollars but I was basically unemployed for four months. I went everywhere on my bike and was amazed by the amount of people I'd see on the lakefront at 11:00 a.m. on a Wednesday. I discovered as much of Chicago in those four months as I've done in years since. Twelve years later and 38 years old, I have a job that pays well and is semi-rewarding. I paid off the old credit card debt years ago and have a lot of money in the bank now. I'm not complaining, but part of me sort of wishes I'd get shitcanned. I feel like I'm going to be chasing the stupid dollar the rest of my life, and I remember living with very little. Birth/School/Work/Death. Who wants that?

Soapbox: It baffles me that a capitalist country is so dead-set on crappy tied-to-your-job heath care. It's so anti-risk. People stay in their mundane, unrewarding jobs because health care isn't portable. Wouldn't we take more risks, be more innovative and competitive, if we had the freedom to move around and take leaps professionally, creatively? (Shakes head in exasperation).

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