The Worst thing You Can do When You’re Unemployed is Spend all Your Time Looking for a Job

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The spring of 2009 was one of the most difficult times to graduate from any kind of school. We were in the midst of a global economic recession. Employers were receiving upwards of 1000 resumes from overqualified candidates for one 1 job. That’s the story of people who chose to react to a crisis with fear, panic, and anxiety.

A young designer named Jamie Varon took a different approach. She started a web site called Twitter Should Hire Me. Instead of sending out 1000’s of resumes, she had dozens of unsolicited job offers, and eventually so much demand for her skills that she was able to start a business. Her’s is a story responding to crises with creativity, resourcefulness, and imagination.

People who sat around waiting for the economy to improve didn’t recognize the most important lesson of all. Most of the jobs that disappeared weren’t coming back. The industrial economy rewarded people for fitting in. But the new economy rewarded people for standing out.

A few months after I graduated from the MBA program at Pepperdine, I heard the most counterintuitive career advice I’ve been given in my life.

“The worst thing you can do when you’re unemployed is to spend all of your time looking for a job.”

The problem with spending all of your time looking for a job when you don’t have one is that you focus all your energy and attention on the most depressing thing about your life. Not only that, but it’s also inefficient and ineffective. And worst of all, being unemployed becomes your identity.

Most of my classmates were doing the opposite. One posted a Facebook status update saying she had applied to every job on the internet. Others lowered their standards. If and when they did get job offers, they were underemployed and making less than what they made prior to our MBA program. They made long term sacrifice for short term gains.

Seth Godin once said the best way to be where you want to be a year from now or 10 years from now is to something today you’ll be glad you did. So rather than spend all of my time looking for a job, I started a blog, spent an hour a day sending resumes, an hour a day writing, and learned how to surf. If we play our cards right we can make start new careers, grow in new ways, turn adversity into advantage and discover the upside of crisis.

Acknowledge Reality. But don’t Let Temporary Circumstances Become Your Permanent Identity

The purpose of this isn’t to see the world through rose-colored glasses. We must acknowledge that people have bills to pay, food to put on the table, etc. At times like this more than any other, self-actualization is a luxury good.

But we also don’t have let a temporary circumstance become our permanent identity.

When one of my old mentors volunteered at a homeless shelter the director told him “we want to get people out of here in 90 days because after that, being homeless goes from being a temporary circumstance to an identity.”

When I was doing nothing but applying for jobs, my identity was an “unemployed MBA graduate.” Starting my blog gave me an identity as a writer. Learning how to surf gave me an identity as a surfer. Even though my job search lasted almost 9 months, it never became my identity.

Given the current pandemic, it’s possible that the job search for anyone who is unemployed could last longer than 90 days. Starting a creative project, exploring a hobby, or learning a new skill lets you adopt a different identity. You’re not just a person who is looking for a job or recently lost one.

Cultivate Resourcefulness

One of the most valuable things you get from resource-constraints is resourcefulness. When we have an abundance of resources, we’re less creative about how we stretch them.

Rather than lamenting what you don’t have, ask yourself “what’s possible with what I do I have?

I couldn’t afford my apartment anymore, so a friend took over my lease. He offered to let me sleep on the floor if he didn’t have to pay the deposit. My parents gave me a 50 dollar a week allowance so I could drive to LA, attend networking events, and go to job interviews.

There was a Hare Krishna temple next to our apartment. After watching Steve Jobs’s Stanford commencement speech, I started having Sunday Dinner at the temple. I couldn’t afford the 10 dollar cover charge at networking events, so I volunteered to work the door. That let me meet everybody and get some free drink tickets.

Last, but not least, I developed a taste for vodka on the rocks. Because I couldn’t afford the drinks, I’d fill a flask with vodka, order water, drink it, and refill my glass with the vodka from my flask.

Make something. Build Something. Give People a Reason to Find you Interesting

In a graduation speech, venture capitalist Chris Sacca said “your GPA only matters to people who have no other reason to find you interesting. Today, the same could be said for a resume.

Resumes are terrible hiring tools for many reasons despite the fact that that they’ve been around forever.

  • First, they don’t provide any tangible evidence of your skills.
  • Second, they give you a very limited opportunity for self-expression.
  • Finally, if a thousand people send in resumes for a job, it will be difficult to stand out.

You have to give people a reason to find you interesting. Build something or make something. Instead of a piece of paper that you have to spin into a compelling story, you’ll have tangible evidence of your skills.

Use the Internet and Technology to Make Things

You can use a pen to write a grocery list or the first chapter of the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The same is true for technology. You use it for creation or consumption.

  • You can use your phone to scroll through Instagram or make your first documentary
  • Instagram can be a tool for digital voyeurism or you can build a photographic portfolio

The internet rewards creators much more than it rewards consumers.

Look at the tools, resources, and technology at your fingertips. Ask yourself “what could I make with this?’ Then get to work and make it.

Find a Hobby that Helps You Disconnect

When I discovered surfing, I realized it was a perfect hobby for the unemployed. It took up a lot of time, didn’t cost money, and made me fully present. Anytime I was in the water, my job search was the least of my concerns. I was happy and content despite having graduated into a global economic recession for the second time in my life.

Finally, I feel it’s important to acknowledge the role of privilege in being able to respond with creativity rather than react with fear. As the son of a college professor, who had the resources to keep a roof over my head, I was damn lucky.

There are people who don’t know whether they’ll be able to pay rent next month or know where their next meal will come from. They don’t have this luxury.

If you do, don’t waste it. Don’t overlook the upside of crisis.

Before you go

Do you have a creative project or idea you’ve always wanted to make happen? Check out our free creative project workbook.

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