Unemployment for the Unencumbered

After three years working a fulfilling and exciting job with an organization I loved, I was politely told that there was not enough money in their budget to justify my position there anymore. I was upset but ultimately understood where they were coming from and at least could somewhat get their need to cut costs and really focus on their most important roles and programs. To be honest, I was aware of my dispensability and was grateful for the time I did have there as I learned a lot and loved my coworkers. This layoff left me a shit ton of time to think about what I wanted to do next and to apply to jobs that fit my skills and experience. As an adult, I had never had an extended period of time off from work besides like three weeks I spent in South Africa for my brother’s wedding. While I was nervous about the prospect of not having anywhere to go in the morning, I was mainly concerned about how new and different it felt to not go to work while not being on vacay. My ideas of unemployment were judgmental and weird and I just figured that if you were mentally and physically capable of it, you had to go to work everyday. Lol, groundbreaking.

It’s worth mentioning that I had money saved, an RRSP that I couldn’t figure out how to transfer to my bank, parents who would bail me out of any and all financial binds if needed and I pay very little in rent. The reason my unemployment was stress free and fun all the time was because I had time to apply for jobs and interview, no children to support and am very privileged. I realize that a large majority of people were probably not experiencing being let go from their favourite jobs in the same way that I did.

I spent the first week having one chore or large goal I tried to achieve before the end of every day. Most days this chore was to grocery shop and make myself dinner but I also managed to read a couple of books and renew my health card which had been on my list for a while. Instead of putting it off longer, I had a late breakfast, bought a coffee and waited in line for maybe half an hour on a Tuesday afternoon and then had the remaining evening to do whatever I wanted. My bedtime changed to whenever I finished watching Breaking Bad with my roommate. I got up between the ideal hours of 10 and 11 am every day and felt the ease and comfort of laying in bed until I was so hungry I needed to force myself to make eggs and bacon and toast and half an avocado. The breakfasts alone make being unemployed kinda worth it. What other time besides then would I have managed to finish a carton of eggs a week?

Whenever my parents needed someone to fix something at their house or be somewhere in their stead, I was tasked with doing that. Normally I’d bring a book and buy a coffee and make a solid half day out of it because I genuinely had nothing better to do. Other times, my sister’s boyfriend would tag me in to babysit their 9 month old by taking her to the park so he could get chores done around the house. This gave me more time to bond with my niece and get to see what it was like for parents to take their kids to the park in the middle of the day. We mostly just chilled on a blanket and watched kids do their day camp activities. Occasionally, she would stray from the blanket to go look at a dog but people were generally pretty nice to us and it was all footloose and fancy free. Everyone at the park in the middle of a weekday in the summer is happy to be there and we were the poster children.

Most days I spent at home, applying for jobs and actually reading the job descriptions instead of hastily firing off 5-6 applications in a row to job postings with the same job title. Whenever an HR person asked me to make room in my schedule for a phone screen or in-person interview, I was able to take any slot they had. I wasn’t pretending to go for lunch and instead chilling in the back lobby of my office building because it was quiet, cupping my phone so close to my face in case someone from my work walked by and overheard me talking about salary expectations. I wasn’t working full days staring at a computer screen and coming home only to stare at a different, smaller computer screen to complete my various work applications. I was thoughtful and methodical about the kind of work I was applying for.

I spent a normal amount of time inside and went on more walks than I can compute. Everyday I walked somewhere because it was free, usually nice out and again, I had literally nowhere to be. And if I did, I’d walk there. I didn’t have a metropass (a necessity for me since I work downtown.) I made my own lunch and dinner every day. And they’d be good. I’d spend time finding a recipe, then finding all the cheapest places to go to buy specific ingredients from that recipe then I’d spend a couple of hours shopping and cooking and by the end of the day, I’d have enough food to feed myself for at least a couple more days.

I know this sounds dramatic, but I also became a better friend. With my spare time, I contacted a list of people I had lost touch with who I wanted to make an effort to see once that summer before we got too busy to keep staying in touch. Because I wasn’t doing anything interesting besides, like, enjoying my life, I had nothing exciting to talk about during catch ups with these friends. I asked thoughtful questions about their lives and never once felt compelled to talk about how much I had slept that week. I was also able to visit my friends on their lunch breaks at work. I never really needed to go downtown because the only reason I ever went was for work or going out after work so I was once again in a position to head down there. I met my friends for a bit, didn’t keep them too long from their works and then either hopped on the subway or walked an hour back home.

I became creative with how to spend my money (so I, like, didn’t) and basically thought up every free thing I could do in the city. Most of these are repetitive and can feel like more trouble than they’re worth but being temporarily sort of broke encourages creativity. You have the time to think up interesting shit to do and then you have the time to actually do it.

I flossed every night and had a nighttime routine. I did everything I promised myself I’d do every day if only I had more time. I don’t think that my thoughts on this are particularly insightful or smart but our collective obsession with work and finding our life’s purpose through work baffles me. I understand that it’s what we do for most of our waking hours. And the rest of our life does tend to centre around preparing for and winding down from the work we do.

Instead of adopting Finland and other Scandinavian European countries’ work customs about working less but more efficiently because you’re sleeping more or have more of a work/life balance, I want to just not work ever. This is a very stupid thing that I’ve said to my bosses in the past when they’ve asked me what I’m interested in doing long term for the places I’ve worked. There is a moment of surprise and eventually a short lecture about how I have to contribute to the world in some way and can’t just unsubscribe from life. But in between these two reactions, occasionally I’ll see a flash of recognition in their faces. They know what I mean. They also love to not work and would appreciate the time to rewatch all 5 seasons of Breaking Bad with their roommates. But no one can ever admit that.