Not a lot of original posts lately it seems! Ah well. A blog I wrote for Tune In Not Out!
HOW TO BE UNEMPLOYED
I studied for about eighteen consecutive years before I decided that I would take some time off. Study had been all I’d ever known, and for the most part, I was pretty good at it. But in my fourth year of my degree, I realised that (for various reasons) I was no longer passionate about studying, and I didn’t know whether I wanted to continue with the course I was taking. So I took some time off to think about it, and things were great: I went travelling, I played video games for eight hours a day, I spent heaps of time with my girlfriend and I enjoyed the pleasures of not having to do anything in particular all day. It was like an extended holiday!
But that was the problem; holidays are meant to give you a temporary break from study/work. They’re that short reprieve meant to recharge you so that you’re ready to head back into life and give it another crack. (I fancy that’s the idea behind the five-day working week and the two-day weekend.) In the same way that you can’t understand cold without understanding hot, you need work to appreciate rest. Oswald Chambers said it well, as illustrated in the following comic.
For most of us, holidays are not meant to be the norm. All that rest and relaxation was great at first, but after a couple of months, I started getting bored. Not just idly bored, but seriously, desperately bored. I found that I didn’t enjoy video games as much (an unthinkable occurrence for me), that I felt restless even when I was with my girlfriend, even when I was training in martial arts for hours every day, and that nothing really got me excited anymore. The boredom and dispassion soon became the focal point of my life, and I became quite obsessed about how desperate I was to do something meaningful with my time. I had no idea what that meaningful activity was, and most of my feeble attempts at discovering it were no more than distractions from how frustrated I was really feeling.
Long story short, it’s still a process I’m working out as I go a long. But I’ve learned a crucial lesson, which I am compelled to pass on to anyone who is experiencing unemployment: find something that matters, and do it. You need to do things that are meaningful to you every day, in every moment. What you find meaningful is up to you, and is something you can actively choose: if you find watching every episode of a TV series is a great way to spend your time, then do it. But if you’re only doing it to pass a few hours, I suggest you find something better to do.
As I said before, I have always operated on the assumption that there is nothing I enjoy more than playing video games, but even chocolate can lose its flavor if it’s all you eat for weeks on end. Let go of all your assumptions of the things you think you enjoy, and really ask yourself what you want to do, right at this moment, no matter how ridiculous it is. And go do it! Take a walk for no reason. Read your favourite book for the umpteenth time. Learn Spanish off the internet. Just free yourself to really enjoy your time, not just survive from day to day. Mindfulness (which I’ve spoken about before) is an excellent way to draw richness and appreciation from life’s many experiences. Furthermore, being able to bring your mind back to the “right here, right now” is an important skill in not getting caught up in the unhelpful cycles of anxious or depressive thoughts.
But as well as enjoying daily life, moment by moment, I encourage you to use the time to grow and nurture yourself to be the best person you can be. Something I’ve done for this is spending time every day doing a “morning ritual”. I practice t’ai chi, meditate for a while, write affirmations, drink tea and/or read books on spiritual development, philosophy or self-improvement. I spend time trying to get to know life, myself and the human condition a little better. It’s been time well spent, and I fancy that I’ve observed that over the past year or so I’ve matured and expanded my understanding of existence in a profound way.
Something else I’ve just started is volunteering. This is an activity I’d highly recommend to everyone, because as I’ve said before, giving to others feels amazing, especially if you’ve got nothing better to do with your time. I wasn’t too sure where to volunteer at first, but I was eating lunch at my favourite (vegan) café, and it suddenly struck me that they were mostly staffed with volunteers. So I walked up to the counter, asked if they needed a hand, and organised a time to come in next week to give it a shot. If volunteering is something you’re interested in, try and find an area of life you’re passionate about. Maybe your school needs a hand, or perhaps your local council is organising a day of tree-planting or picking up rubbish. If you have no idea how to find start, hit up google for volunteering opportunities, go through your phone book and call a jobseeking agency, or speak to your school/uni’s career counsellor.
The important thing to do is not resign yourself to doing nothing all day, every day. Get up in the morning, get dressed, and face each day with the attitude that anything could happen. And if you’re ever tired of being in that perpetual state of holiday, getting a job is a great way to improve your life and mental health. But more on that another time…