“I’m going to make the most of my season of unemployment!” Words I said, which definitely have not aged well. Mid-Feb, I made the decision to leave my job and take some time off, before I hopped back into job-hunting. I was looking forward to taking a “Eat, Pray, Love”-of sorts break. But by the time my month-long notice period was up, Singapore was already pretty much steeped in Covid-19 precautions; social distancing, no more big gatherings, keep your hands clean etc. Well, I can still work around that! Within 2 weeks, everything came to a halt. What was supposed to be the epiphanic lets-go-out-and-explore-myself time, is now moot. How can I bring myself to find my identity, meaning and purpose during this Circuit Breaker?
The Struggle Is Real
Week One started out great — I was still ‘peak me’. It’s just a month! I’m going to exercise every day! I’m going to drink 2 litres of water a day! I don’t need to worry about not having a job! But over time as reality set in, I soon realised — this wasn’t sustainable. News from all over the world was telling us that well, thing’s aren’t just not rosy, it’s going to be downright bleak for the entire year. People were losing their jobs. The freelance jobs I had been counting on to tide me through were being cancelled. Money had stopped coming in and despite me cutting down on my expenditure, money was still going out. Because I had no idea when I would even get hired, I had to scramble and get a start on sending out those applications.
It’s been a couple of weeks since then, trawling through LinkedIn, crafting the perfect opening email, sending it out… and waiting. Oh, the waiting. How do you stay positive and motivated when you receive no replies after sending out application after application? I think that’s what my unemployed friends and I struggle with the most.
Most companies aren’t hiring during this COVID-19 period, because 1) the economy is not great for just about everyone; 2) there isn’t much work to justify hiring for; 3) honestly NOT being laid off is a huge achievement already. Closer to home, my dad’s part time job has been paused. While my mum, who teaches art workshops, is unable to continue teaching as well. My friend, who quit her job a couple of weeks before I did, was actually considering accepting a job when they apologised and said that they had just gone into a hiring freeze.
One Step At A Time
I guess at some point, you will find that you tend to start putting in less and less effort into your opening letter. Or as my friend Chloe puts it: “It’s that feeling when you suck at bowling, so halfway through you just anyhow roll the ball because even when you try you still longkang”. When everything in the world already feels so discouraging, having to job hunt is the cherry on top of this depressing cupcake.
I tend to liken finding a job to dating. Just like how you start off optimistic after getting out of a relationship (“the right guy is out there waiting for me!”), the longer time you spend single, you start having less than cheery thoughts (“I am going to DIE ALONE”).
Using the same analogy, I once read that the moment of “in between” is where we make choices. Do I just want to wait to meet the perfect guy, or do I want to spend this time moulding myself into the perfect person so that when I finally meet Mr. Perfect Guy, I’m confident and ready for it?
Similarly, instead of moping around and feeling like we’ve been given the short end of the stick, we can prepare to be improved versions of ourselves in the same period of time. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are more online courses than ever, and a big number of them are free too! My friend took up a free Google Adwords course and got certified in a few days, which is definitely something you’ll want to casually drop in your next job interview. Picking up a new skill or hobby not only gives us something to look forward to, but who knows, it might even become a new income stream. While not the same as a full time job, some form of income is a welcome respite.
(P.S. If you’re looking for any free or paid online resources to kick start your self learning, you can check out the following: Coursera (which can be paid for with Skillsfuture credits!), Harvard, and Udemy).
Take That, Uncertainty!
Somewhat like in the 7 stages of grief, I have found myself at the final stage — acceptance. Whether I like it or not, this is the new normal, albeit with no end in sight. As much as it sounds like it is, acceptance is not bitter. It feels like a wash of peace, letting go of all my pent up emotions.
Some things that have helped me to focus is pacing. I have a weekly planner where I scribble little notes and tasks every Monday. It could be career-related tasks like “Send Out 5 job Applications” or it could be something fun like “Research How To Make A Scrunchie”. Ticking my checklist off helps me stay on task (lest I start binging through another season of Kim’s Convenience on Netflix). I get dressed in the morning — or at least get out of my pyjamas and into fresh clothes — so I feel a little more put together. I also talk to friends going through a similar situation, just to stay accountable but also cheer each other on.
So Maybe, It’s The Journey
Have I found my life’s meaning in unemployment? Cheesy as it may sound, perhaps it’s not about the destination, but the journey. While I’m grateful for any small projects I’m offered along the way, I’m enjoying the decrease in responsibilities, and I’m also working on my personal creative works I was previously too busy to start. The grass is always greener, right? When you’re working, you envy those who don’t have to. When you’re not, you wish you had a job.
I still do find myself downward spiralling sometimes. Worrying why no one has replied to my applications, and wondering when I’ll get a full time job. But when that happens, I will remind myself that I might never get to experience this period again — blocks and blocks of time for me to make the most out of. Even though going out is not an option, I’m still unbelievably blessed to have a home, to be with loved ones, and that this too, shall pass. Learning to adapt to these strange times is going to take a while.
So if you’re going through this Life-Breaker, be patient and gentle with yourself. Flowers all blossom at different times, and so will we.