one girl’s guide to surviving unemployment

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the coping mechanisms category.

put down the donut and get off the couch

For the first three weeks of my unemployment, I was a complete and total couch potato.  It was when I put on my interview suit — and pooked out of the top of my pants — that I knew that my lethargy and comfort eating was starting to catch up with me.  So I got off the couch, got on the bike and didn’t look back.

Look, this isn’t an exercise blog.  And I’m the *last* person to preach about health and fitness.  My point is that unemployment isn’t an excuse to let yourself go.  From a purely economic perspective, now is not the time to invest in a new wardrobe for those important interviews.  

The good news here is that you also don’t need to invest in a fancy gym to stay fit.  Here are some cheap — or free! — strategies that are working to keep my energy up and my size stable.

  1. Go for a walk.  Set aside 30 minutes a day and get outside.  Go around the block a dozen times if that’s what works for you.  If you’re feeling more adventurous, check out some great walking resources online.  Many cities and regions offer local walking maps online.  Better yet?  Find an unemployed friend, family member or neighbor to go with you.  Start a walking group at your church, temple or school.  Post a flyer at your library.  Keeping a date with someone else will help you to stay on track.
  2. The same goes for riding a bike, if you have one.  If not, ask friends and family if you can borrow theirs.  Keep your eyes out for one at a garage sale.  Similar to walking maps, there are awesome trail maps and local routes online that show bike-friendly paths.
  3. Too cold, hot, polleny, unsafe, whatever to go outside?  Pick up a fitness DVD at your local library or garage sale and borrow some from friends.  If you’ve always wanted to try yoga, kickboxing, salsa aerobics?  This is a low investment way to keep you entertained and challenged.
  4. Free gym in your apartment or condo building?  Use it.  Do your friends have a free gym in their building (either at home or work)?  Ask to tag along.  Two benefits here – you’re getting some exercise AND hanging out with your friends for free.
  5. Check your local TV listings.  There are still some darn good fitness programs on television.  If you have cable, there are a ton of options.  If not,  your public TV station usually runs one or two exercise shows a day.
  6. Blast some loud, fun music of your choice and boogie around your house.  No one is watching, so don’t worry about the moves. Just have fun!
  7. Do you or your kids have a jump rope?  Jumping rope is a great, cheap, heart-pounding workout.  Combine it with some crunches and arm work (lift cans, dead weigh lifts with a chair, push ups, tricep dips on your couch . . . you get it).
  8. Grab an exercise book at the library.  Some good ones?  Bottom’s Up by  Joyce Vedral,  Making the Cut by Jillian Michaels   or  The Real Age Workout by Dr. Roizen.  There are many, many more out there.      
  9. If you’re in good enough financial circumstances to get a gym membership, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth and go.  Check out your local Y or JCC; they’re often cheaper alternatives to traditional gyms.  In addition, many Ys, JCCs and gym chains run off-peak memberships at a discount.  Sure, you can’t go at 6:00 in the evening.  But as you likely have some time on your hands, this shouldn’t be an issue.
  10. Into tennis, soccer or outdoor sports?  Go to your local park and play.  Whether it’s a pick-up game, playing with a friend or simply doing drills by yourself, it’s a good — and free — chance to get moving.

Also, it goes without saying, but eat good food and drink plenty of water.  

Your interview suits will thank you!


staying hungry, staying foolish and finding what you love

I was going through old boxes this week and found one that I had never unpacked from a previous job.  In it was a copy of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech.  

An excerpt:

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Say what you want about Apple, Pixar, the cult of Mac, whatever.  It’s amazing advice — from someone, who like you and me — has been there.  (Jobs’ entire commencement speech: “You’ve got to find what you love.”)

Similarly, I’ve been doing some thinking about the Susan Boyle phenomenon. A cheesy meme?  Sure.  But it applies to the search for doing what you love.  You can (and should) go out there and give it your all.  Remain focused and don’t let anyone — other than yourself — define you.  

You will surprise yourself with what you’re capable of doing.

Today’s touchy-feely brought to you by the letters U and H . . .

helping your unemployed friends

Many friends and family members have asked what they can do to help me get through this period in my life.  Here are answers to that question.

  1. Keep in contact with words of encouragement.  I love getting e-mails, texts, Facebook wall posts or calls from friends, telling me that they’re thinking of me.  It doesn’t have to be every day, or even every week.  A little love now and again helps.
  2. Let me know if you run across any leads.  I appreciate leads very, very much, and even if I’m not qualified or right for the role, I can likely pass it along to one of the seven other friends that are in my boat.
  3. Link me in. If I’m not already in your LinkedIn network, let’s make that happen. Introduce me to key contacts in my industry, even if their company doesn’t have any open jobs.
  4. Proofread my resume and cover letter, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, practice interviews with me.  I could use all the direct feedback I can get.  
  5. Hang out with me and invite me to do stuff with you.  Keep it on the cheap or free side. Going to parties, bbqs, happy hours and the like is good for me.  I can meet new friends, do a bit of networking and remain socially active.
  6. If you invite me out for food and/or drinks, you don’t have to pay.  Just make sure to pick a place that’s nominal. 
  7. Don’t tell me that “everything happens for a reason,” that there is a “silver lining” on this cloud or that I’m “better off.”  I know they give people something kind to say when they don’t have better words. Instead, ask me how I’m feeling and be an open listener. Understand that what’s going through my head is a complex maze of emotions.  One day I may agree that yep, it’s been one of the more insightful and peaceful times in my life, and the next I may be angry and upset.  
  8. Little gifts and favors are AMAZING.  I’ve had friends and family lend me a computer, offer me a ride to run errands, cook for me, send me home with leftovers, get me a gift card to the grocery store, bring me that great book that they just finished, loan me DVDs, offer me guest passes to their gym and much more.  These favors have saved me money and time, and I am so, so thankful.
  9. If I’m getting annoying on the “poor me, I’m unemployed” tip, please tell me.  Be gentle, but let me know if it’s becoming too much of a pity party to hang out with me.
  10. Learn to say “you’re welcome.” 

I hope this helps give a bit of insight.  

Any other tips or thoughts from people on either side of the table?

and now for this commercial interruption

Not a commercial, really, but something that I wanted to share.

My computer died yesterday.  Not a total loss, but something that requires repair, and therefore, money. Thank god for friends.  Two of my nearest and dearest have lent me a laptop while I economize to get mine fixed.

The point of this is to don’t be shy or proud to ask for what you need right now.  Chances are, people are willing to help.

10 things to ask hr

You’ve conquered the mean reds, filed for unemployment and dealt with health insurance.

This clearer headed time is a good opportunity to revisit your exit paperwork and loop back in with your former company’s HR person.  (Any decent company will give you a few days to mull this over.)

Before I get started on the questions, I’ll just ask that you have a little sympathy for the HR person.  There’s a 99% probability that they had nothing to do with the decision to can you.  So, think compassionately and approach thusly when you drop them a note or give them a call.  While you don’t have a job, it still sucks to have to fire people and deliver bad news, which HR peeps are doing more and more of these days. 

Onto the questions that you need answered:

1. While you’ve given me a lump sum severance, how long does it “officially” last?  (This will be important to understand as far as budgeting.)

2. Will my severance come in the form of a check or via direct deposit?  If it’s a check, is it coming via registered mail / FedEx / UPS, or will I need to pick it up?

3. Am I being paid for unused vacation time?

4. What happens to my stock options / 401K / other profit-sharing benefits?

5. How long am I covered under the company’s health insurance plan?  How long is my Flexible Spending Account active?

6. Can you send me a copy of any non-compete or other pre-employment agreements?

7. What address and phone number do you have on file for me? (important for tax and other purposes)

8. Can I come by to pick up any personal items left in my office / cubical / workstation / locker ?  Or – when should I expect to receive my personal items by mail? 

9. Can I have a copy of my personnel file?

10. How do I submit for expense reimbursement (if you have any outstanding expenses)?

Lastly, as pissed off as you might be, don’t burn your bridges on the way out, either with HR or your former boss.

The last thing that I said to my former boss was to follow up with the client, as they were expecting something done by the end of the day.  I’m not trying to imply here that I’m a saint — I had more than my share of less than stellar moments in the work place — but to hopefully show that a little class will make you feel better. 

This counts for the HR person as well.  They don’t need to be the brunt of your anger.  Remember your manners and don’t let the anger boil back up. 

Now it’s time to get crafty with that severance!

now that you’ve gotten that out of your system: filing for unemployment

Listened to all of your AC/DC albums and cried until all the tissues in your house were gone?  Good.  The second thing you need to do is to file for unemployment benefits.  Take cake of this as soon as you possibly can, as it will take time for your former employer to fill out paperwork and for your state unemployment board to review the claim.

Look, don’t be shy or embarrassed or bothered about applying for unemployment.  YOU paid into this fund when you were employed. It’s your money.

Filing for unemployment assumes a few basic things:

1. You weren’t fired for “cause,”
2. You were employed full-time,
3. You are physically able to work,
4. and you are not working under a temporary visa. 

I’m not a lawyer, so you will definitely want to check your applicable unemployment office for more details on eligibility.

As to applicable offices, according to the Department of Labor, when you file for unemployment it’s generally in the state in which you worked.  For example, let’s say that you lived in Pennsylvania, but worked in Delaware.  Chances are, you’re going to need to go through the Delaware office.

The good news is that most states now have online systems for applying for unemployment benefits, as well for as the weekly/biweekly check-in.  Don’t have regular Web access?  Borrow a friend’s computer or go to the public library. Worse comes to worse, you can also check-in via phone.

Even better than not having to trek out to the unemployment office to take care of all the paperwork?  Most regions now offer direct deposit of your unemployment funds.  No trip to the bank!

Don’t worry too much if it takes a few weeks to receive your first payment.  Given the state of today’s economy, many state unemployment offices are back-logged.  In some cases, you may actually receive retroactive payment – meaning one check for all the weeks that you were back-due.

Now, unemployment may not cover all of your expenses – I don’t know a single person for whom it does.  That’s OK, as you’re going to get creative when it comes to expenses. 

More on that later.

first things first

So, you got laid off.  Where do you even begin?

Cry, scream, get angry, get drunk, listen to loud music, eat a tray full of brownies, run until you physically collapse.  I’m completely serious – take a day to do whatever you need to do to shake the negativity.  You need to get this out of your system before you can begin to take action.

Yes, it sucks.  It’s unfair, uncalled for, and you can’t believe that the company for whom you worked would do that to you – especially after you were loyal to them — and in today’s economic downturn. 

Well, it happened, and there is nothing that you can do to change it. 

Spend a day or two – at most – to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions. You’re going to need energy to get (and keep) you motivated, and it’s best not to waste too much time on the negative stuff.