Monday, June 28, 2010

Life lessons for the gainfully unemployed

One year ago, I became unemployed.

Now I like to call myself "gainfully unemployed". Sometimes I call it "self-employed", "freelance", or "doing what I love".

Other times I call it "drowning", "hanging on for dear life", or just "broke".

As I celebrate this dubious anniversary (which, not coincidentally coincides with my one-year anniversary of becoming a blogger), I thought I'd share with you some nuggets of wisdom that I've learned during this difficult, enlightening, and roller-coaster ride of a year.

1) If you're going to fall, at least hit the ground running.
I lost my job on a Monday, and by Friday I had my website and blog up and running, business cards ordered, and my name and resume on every job site I could get my hands on. Oh, yeah, I spent a couple of hours here and there crying and feeling sorry for myself, but I assure you I felt MUCH better doing something proactive rather than throwing myself a pity party.

2) Network, network, network.
This may not be quite a good comparison, but my mom recently told me about a friend of hers whose wife had just died. She asked how he was coping and his response was, "I am saying 'yes' to everything, whether I want to go out or not." That applies to networking. I never felt comfortable meeting new people or walking into a room of strangers, but I did it anyway. And you know? It's not all that difficult. I joined the Chamber of Commerce and went to the Business After Hours, attended Speed Networking, spoke at a Women's Group and took every opportunity I could to bring up my business and hand over my card. Turns out I don't suck at it. Bonus.

3) Manage your time, don't let your time manage you.
It's easy to say you work at home then not get any work done. It's easy to get distracted by household chores, online websites, yardwork... anything that takes you away from doing what you should be doing. Designate a specific time to do all these things, decide when work time will be, then get on with it. Make lists of what you need or want to accomplish during the week. Be flexible for that last minute meeting or new client who calls.

4) Budget your money, or lack thereof.
Being "gainfully unemployed" means you have money coming in, just not on a regular basis. Create a budget and try to stick to it. After a year, I'm certainly not in a position to buy a flat-screen TV or new car with my freelance funds. There's always that month between paychecks or that dry spell that you have to prepare for. A healthy savings/emergency account helps, too.

5) Don't try to do it all or you'll do yourself in.
This is advice I need to listen to myself. As a self-employed single parent, I am running from the moment I gulp down my first cup of coffee until my head hits the pillow. I don't watch TV anymore, nor do I read. To me, that's time I should be working, or playing with my kids, or doing something with my poor, neglected house. But I did manage to go on vacation with my kids, and I do try to get out every couple of weeks and decompress. I can tell when I've been neglecting myself - my work suffers, I suffer, and my kids probably suffer as well. I enlist the help of family and friends when necessary to give me a break and recoup my sanity.

6) Shut up and listen.
This is probably the most important thing I have learned over the past year. Listen. Wherever you go. You know how it's easy to get caught up in your own thoughts, whether you're in line at the grocery store or sitting at a bar with friends. Listen. To everything. You will be amazed at what you will learn and how you'll grow from it. Listening has given me valuable advice. Listening has gotten me jobs. Listening has provided me with ideas for job searches, blogs, or new ways of doing things. I can't fully explain it, just trust me. Listen.

It's been a tough year, but honestly, I know God doesn't give me anything I can't handle, and somehow, He's been right so far. I've risen above and gotten through it better than I ever thought I would. As I enter my second year of "gainful unemployment", I can only pray that He continues to be right.

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