Staying Awesome While You're Unemployed

I’ve never been without a job (or three) for very long, but It’s been a little over a year now since I’ve had an employer. While self-employment has its ups and downs, I’ve been doing pretty well. Looking back at the past year, I think it’s because I’m constantly moving at 1000 miles an hour. Since not everyone has the blessing/curse of “being driven by an invisible motor” all the time, I’ve compiled a list of things that have helped me find work over the last year. Hopefully it will be helpful for someone in a similar situation who isn’t having as much luck.

Do/make something. Every day.

I don’t mean you need to do the laundry or take the garbage out more often now that you have more free time. I mean you need to pick something and do it every day. Something productive. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as you keep doing it. Write, paint, code, whatever the hell it is you do… do it every day. If a big project is too intimidating and you find yourself procrastinating, set your goals smaller. Write a short story every day instead of your epic.

Some of the work you produce will be crap. Maybe it turns out you’re not actually that good at whatever it is you do. That’s fine. I bet you anything if you do it every day for a month you’ll get better. Or you’ll realize it’s not for you and move on to something else. Either way, you should have something to show for the time you haven’t been rotting away in a cubicle. Make other people jealous of you rather than pity you.

Keep working.

Just because no one is paying you doesn’t mean you get to quit working. Sucks, right? If you can’t find anyone to pay you to use whatever skills you have, find someone who will let you do it for free. If no one will let you work for them for free, come up with your own project and work on that (see above).

Working for free can suck, but it can also be a great way to get experience you might not already have. No one has any interest in hiring a web designer with no real world experience. But a designer with a few completed projects under their belt is much more interesting. No one has to know you did the work for free (unless they ask for salary history, but that’s a completely different story).

As above, the more you do it, the better you will get. If you don’t know how to do something, learn how. Do things you don’t know how to do. It’s one of the best ways to learn, and since you’re working for free anyway you might as well get something out of it.


Whenever someone says the word “networking” in a social context, I immediately think of slimy dudes who try to be everyone’s friend in hopes of using them for a connection later. You do not have to become a slimy dude to build your network successfully. But you do need to leave the house. Opportunities for paid work are not going to fall on your lap while you’re sitting around honing your Guitar Hero skills. Join club, volunteer, or otherwise go out and get involved with some sort of social activity. It doesn’t even need to be related to your professional skills. If it is, so much the better.

I’ve gotten a lot more value out of a few stronger connections than simply trying to meet as many people as possible. And networking is only valuable if you’re doing something / making work for yourself (see points 1 and 2). If you’re volunteering at the animal shelter, you want to be “that guy who paints and fixes broken pianos” not “that guy who is unemployed.” The fact that no one pays you to do these things is incidental. When your animal loving friend knows a guy who needs his piano fixed, he’ll think of you.

Lather, rinse, repeat

All this seems really obvious. And it is. Yet for some reason we all seem to have at least one friend who sits around all day replying to Craigslist want cialis levitra sales viagra ads and playing World of Warcraft not that there’s anything wrong with that and can’t figure out why she isn’t landing any jobs. Maybe you’re saying to yourself “but I already do all those things.” Do you? Really? Oh, good for you. But in my experience, it’s easy to start slacking once you have no deadlines or deliverables. Hold yourself accountable. Sure the economy sucks and there aren’t a ton of jobs out there. But if you find yourself in a similar situation, take a good hard look at what you’re doing. Maybe you could be doing it better.

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6 thoughts on “Staying Awesome While You're Unemployed

  1. as usual, i pretty much couldn’t agree more with every point you’ve made. the other secret good thing about doing / making something every day, even if you’re not on some payroll, is that then you have a good excuse as to why you can’t run annoying errands / do countless daytime favors for people who are too busy getting compensated for their time.

  2. Dawn A. says:

    Thanks for this post Kelly. I REALLY needed to read it today.

  3. erictherobot says:

    great post Kelly! I hope to see more related posts like this until we’re all doing exactly what we want to be doing.

    I especially related to the part about responding to craigslist ads. Also working for start-ups with no reciprocation, no exchange of any kind, when I should be putting my own skills to work and launching my own idea. If I have the skills and I give them to someone, there should be something in return, not always money, but something that would be a fair barter or exchange.

    I’ve buried myself within start-ups and freelancing for undecided clients that has taught me a valuable lesson… when unemployed, a proper execution of time is crucial. I’ve learned this the hard way, by giving my time away, and now… not able to pay the rent and withdrawn from some start-ups and clients, I am frowning on the fact that it was all a waste of time. I should have been putting my skills and time to use on my own projects.

    Also, if you can’t focus like myself, never freelance… sometimes one cookie is all you need, not the entire cookie jar. I’m turning 35 next month and feel less fortunate than when I was 21. It’s time to, like you said “take a good hard look at what you’re doing. Maybe you could be doing it better.” and rethink how I’m using my time, talent and vision.

    Thanks for the inspiration and the kick in the pants. Please keep these coming, they’re helpful!

  4. Awesome advice! It completely agree that doing/making something everyday is so important.

  5. These are all excellent advice for the self-employed, entrepreneurial person in any field. In my case, I have several areas of endeavor that need to be kept on target, but as long as I can feel that I am being somehow, in some way, effective or productive, that gives the impetus to continue.

  6. Shawn says:

    I haven’t been “employed” in so many years I forget what it’s like.
    Still many people say I’m one of the most productive people they’ve known.
    I still screw off, like right now! But I work from home, so I work all the time.
    Work & hobby are the same, so exactly what is “time off”?
    I never liked relying on employers, surprises like suddenly being laid off while really needing a check etc.
    Working for really incompetent people sucks, but it’s the owners nephew so….
    Being self employed, there really aren’t to many surprises because you never know what’s going to happen.
    But, in the end I’m the one that makes all the decisions about everything.
    I much prefer that to relying on someone else who may or may not be competent to decide.

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