column: The brief life and tragic death of one man's summer of funemployment
When you're unemployed you eat a lot of soup with giant spoons.
Then I drank three-too-many Manhattans at my favorite watering hole and sent a bunch of emails to myself on my Blackberry. One sent just after 1 a.m. read, “At 11:43 p.m. I realized I was unemployed.” So began my summer of funemployment.
I don’t mean to trivialize unemployment by tacking the prefix “fun” onto the word, but I don’t believe that all unemployment is bad. On April 21, I found myself unemployed, but, thanks to a cheery outlook and some decent financial planning, I had about three months of normal living before I had to get really worried.
I rent. My car is paid off. I don’t have kids. Other than a healthy appetite and Neflix streaming, my standard of living is pretty modest.
I also have the benefit of being attached to bona fide girlfriend Rachel who just graduated from a second degree nursing program and has decent job prospects of her own. If one of us got a job before September we’d be fine.
Side note: HIRE RACHEL SMITH — SHE’LL MAKE AN AWESOME NURSE AT YOUR HOSPITAL! I PROMISE! End of plug.
May, June, July. Three months of unemployed bliss — my first summer off since I was 14. I was really looking forward to it, but it only took two weeks for the plan to fall completely to pieces.
After drinking a lot of water and eating greasy food on my first day of freedom, I was the picture of productivity. I updated my resume, applied for a pair of jobs at the University of Michigan and wrote more than I had the entire month of April.
By Monday I had all my ducks in a row. I had committed to an equal number of writing projects and social gatherings. Life was sweet.
Things turned in the second week of funemployment. I stopped getting up early. I started going to bed later and later for no real reason. The one real task I had to complete each day seemed overwhelmingly hard, even simple things like “get pants hemmed” took six hours to accomplish. Then the panic set in.
Though I’d been out of work for only two weeks, I worried that no one would ever hire me again. I pictured myself striking out at every job opening and becoming a delivery man at Jimmy John’s (which actually appeals to me, if only they paid better).
I applied for more jobs at the university, but because the wheels at Michigan turn so slowly, I knew I wouldn’t hear for a month, if at all. Rather than enjoying the first month of funemployment, I was dreading the next two free months.
I knew there was a wide world outside Ann Arbor that I could explore, but I wanted to enjoy my summer. I wanted to soak up the sunny days, drink coffee and watch the world pass by. Lie in the grass in the park and read books. Stay up late on school nights and watch bad movies.
Instead I was paralyzed with the sheer number of options I had. I’d wake up at 11 a.m., maybe go to the gym and agonize over the endless possibilities. After nine days without work from January to April 21 (yes, I counted) all the free time was killing me. I made one phone call to my friend Jordan Miller, and, before I knew it, I had a new job.
Side note #2: Without Jordan Miller, I would be several thousand dollars (and counting) poorer, and I would probably never have written for AnnArbor.com or any of the other publications that will have me. Depending on what you think of me and/or Lie to Your Cats About Santa, Jordan is either awesome or the devil. I think she's awesome. End compliment.
On June 2, 40 days after I ended one career, I accepted an offer to begin another. The summer of unemployment was over — I started the following Monday (June 6 — D-Day), giving me three final days of freedom, two of which I spent at the mall buying fancy clothes.
I’m not complaining about having a job. It’s great. I make more than I ever have before and work with incredibly intelligent people at a great company, but I do mourn the summer that never was. I had a few of those sunny days, a few afternoons in coffee shops, and I stayed up late on a lot of school nights, but I didn’t make it to the park.
Don’t make the same mistake as me. If you find yourself unemployed, there are ways to maximize the situation and wring some fun out of a tough situation. Here are some tips to help you have the summer of funemployment I never did:
1. Plan everything
It’s Sunday night, you’re getting ready for bed, and you start thinking about what you need to do the next day. All you can think of is that you should probably get some eggs. Get a piece of paper and a pen and write yourself a detailed schedule. Include everything. I mean everything.
10 a.m.: Wake up.
10:15 a.m.: Eat breakfast
10:30 a.m.: Go to Meijer and buy eggs
11 a.m.: Watch TV
Noon: Check email
1 p.m.: Go to the gym
2:30 p.m.: Eat lunch
3 p.m.: Nap
If that seems excessive, trust me — it’s not. When you’re unemployed you have so many options that it can be paralyzing. I once spent an entire day kicking around the apartment aimlessly because I had to shave. Shave! I killed an entire day of sunlight putting off shaving.
Plan time to relax. Plan time to look for jobs. Plan time to work out. Plan time to sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing but plan, or you’ll end up doing nothing.
2. Don’t listen to your parents
I waited a few days before telling my parents I was unemployed because I knew eventually they’d start worrying about me. It took about a week for my mom’s first “Do you have a job yet?”
I love my parents to death but the last time they applied for a job, you could smoke on airplanes. These days it usually takes a little while longer for applications to be accepted, sorted, vetted and piles of “yes”, “no” and “maybes” to form.
My parents expected me to be in office waiting rooms right away sitting with other candidates, fedora in hand and a pack of smokes in my pocket. Don’t listen to your parents — they’ll just freak you out.
3. A gentleman always wears pants in the city
Not technically a funemployment tip, but it doesn’t hurt to look nice when you hit the town and you don’t have a job. Jeans always trump khaki cargo shorts, especially in the summer.
4. Set a budget and try not to drink too much
Pretty self explanatory, but I can’t stress the first one enough. When you’re unemployed, your schedule is thrown off, and you get bored a lot. Buying things is fun, and takeout always tastes better than homemade. Set a weekly spending limit and stick to it. While you’re at it, try not to drink too much. Not only will it get expensive but it’ll throw your schedule off the next day.
5. Enjoy Yourself
There’s a stigma to unemployment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself a little. Keep sending resumes and applying for jobs, but if things haven’t hit rock bottom, have some fun. Go to the movies during the day. Go to Borders, grab a big armful of magazines and read them on the second floor while looking at people walk down Liberty. Stay up late and watch all six seasons of LOST. Enjoy yourself, because chances are you’ll have a job soon enough and, when you do, you’re back in the machine.
It will be okay. Trust me.
(Richard Retyi writes the bi-weeklyish column Lie to Your Cats About Santa and on Monday will begin his fourth week at a great advertising and marketing firm in Detroit called Big Fuel. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRetyi or read more of his stuff at his blog InBedByEleven.)