How to Lose Your Job Gracefully and Make the Most of Unemployment

Unemployment can be a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full kind of situation: lots of time and not much money. Here's how to focus on the positive and make your furlough fun again

Credit: Dawn M. Armfield

When work gets scarce and dollars dry up, here’s how to have fun anyway

Losing Your Job: The Bad

After a few cycles of economic bust and boom, most of us will experience at least one stretch of un- or underemployment.

Some react to the news that their position is eliminated, their business bankrupt, or they didn’t get the job they wanted with predictably bad grace: hysteria, numbness, or an unnerving seesawing between the two.

Once away from the daily routine of work, they sink into a lethargy punctuated only by episodes of self-pity. If you’re defined by your job and you don’t have one, who are you again?

Losing Your Job: The Good

Other times, the payout at the end of a stint in a crappy cubicle can look like a reprieve from what threatened to be a life sentence. Finding out the doors of your prison, er, workplace are shuttered forever seems like a universe-sanctioned licence to party.

And not getting a job at all? That can spark the inspiration for a whole new way of life. Maybe you’ve always wanted to strike out on your own, start a business or explore another career entirely. The heavens are handing you the chance.

The Two Faces of Unemployment

The truly remarkable thing is that these completely opposite reactions can occur in the exact same person, depending on where you are in your own life.

If you’ve got savings, a freelance cash flow or a partner who’s still pulling in the paycheques, life without regular work can start to seem pretty sweet.

If you’re reduced to unemployment or, worse, cut entirely off from your cash supply while your bills stay stratospheric, anxiety over the mortgage payment can warp whatever joy you feel at your suddenly unfettered days.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Perspective, then, is key. You’re un- or underemployed; that may change, but probably not tomorrow. Why not enjoy this time for what it is — an all-too-rare opportunity to slack off in the midst of your otherwise industrious life.

How to Make the Most of Your Unemployment

  • Remember that, unemployed or not, you’re still among the richest people on the planet. Find something to be thankful for every single day, even if it’s only your good health, strong limbs, or the fact that your friends still answer the phone when you call to whine about being unemployed.
  • Use your newfound free time to embark on idiosyncractic quests, like finding the best cheap pizza slice or 25-cent candy machine in town.
  • Become a connoisseur of low-cost entertainment — you never knew you’d be so eager to drop by the Dollar Grocers 10th-anniversary shindig just for the free cake and coffee, did you?
  • Chat with strangers. What, you don’t have time?
  • Brush up on culture by attending art gallery openings where the wine and cheese happen to be gratis.
  • Savour your newfound free time by going for long, aimless walks, stopping wherever the spirit moves you. Shop all day. Sure, you can’t afford to buy any of it anymore but you know what? Looking is free.
  • Rediscover your local public library.
  • Start or return to a hobby you never had time for before.
  • Barter. Figure out what you can offer — editing services, a weekend at your place while you’re away — and what you want: yoga classes, a personal trainer, rowing lessons.
  • Give your newfound thrift and laziness fancy names. You’re not reduced to the bare bones: you’ve discovered minimalism. Instead of zoning on the couch all day with a book, you’re conducting research on the Regency period. Can’t afford fancy cleaning products or salon visits? You’re greening your beauty and housework routines with olive oil and baking soda.
  • Spend a long day on the computer, going where the spirit moves you.
  • Volunteer — not just for something that’ll look good on your resume, but where you’ll be happy, whether it’s nursing sick kittens, wiping toddlers, cheering older folks, or serving at a soup kitchen. When self-pity looms, do something for someone else; it’s a wonderful tonic.