How to Be Unemployed

I knew leaving my position at an established company to join a startup was a risky move. Unfortunately this proved itself irreversibly true a mere few months in, when a vacancy in funding meant there was no longer a spot for me. I was let go. Initially I wasn’t too broken up about it; the newfound freedom felt like heaven. But soon enough, reality set in. And then panic. New York City is one of the most expensive cities in the world. How will I pay for my life? For anything? I was paralyzed with fear.

As I set out on what seemed like a daunting stretch between then and a new job, I hoped to find a middle ground between the two. Perhaps even engage in a little Funemployment (capital F!), which everyone’s fave dictionary describes as “a happy time in one’s life when one is not employed and is not wanting to be employed.”

This was…easier said than done. But after three months in occupational limbo, I think I’ve finally got my hands around it. If you’re considering taking the plunge (or were forced to), here are my six time-tested tips as to how to put the “F” in front of unemployment.

Get that side money.

Unless you’re sitting on a nest of golden eggs, money is likely going to be an immediate concern. I discovered a surprising number of ways to make some extra money. I plied my services on TaskRabbit (I can put together IKEA furniture and so can you), I signed up for Poshmark to sell off stuff I didn’t need and I registered for focus groups, which still exist and pay handsomely for your time. You can find them here!

But my best paying side hustle was definitely AirBnB. It was my savior. All I did was figure out the market for a place like mine by checking out similar spots in my hood, then I took some nice photos and got it up on the site. (Tip! The title and photos go a long way. AirBnb takes professional photos of your place for free if you want.) I booked multiple guests to maximize my income and hired a cleaning service to tidy and change the sheets between stays (I charged guests a cleaning fee). In one month alone I made 150% my rent. So easy. No joke.

Budget to no end.

Along with husting for funds, learning to budget was crucial. Not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from provided a real fiscal kick in the butt. You don’t need to be an accounting whiz to set some savings aside with a user-friendly wealth management site like Betterment or Mint. I budgeted for food, entertainment and rent. This seemed daunting at first, but once faced wasn’t too scary. I put my credit card payments on minimum for a while, too.

Unexpected perk! My period of unemployement — sorry, funemployment — provided ample opportunity to explore my extreme couponing side. (Remember that show?!) I downloaded an app called the Krazy Coupon Lady and became a frequent visitor of a site called — both addicting in the best way possible. One unexpected area I saved money? Workouts! All sorts of studios offer donation based ‘community’ classes and some are fully donation-based. I played tourist in my own city, taking advantage of free museum nights and countless events I hadn’t had time to enjoy when I was full-time.

Stick to a schedule!

During my early panic phase, I started to wake up later and later, and the days started to get darker and darker, both literally and figuratively. One of the hardest parts about being unemployed is the loss of routine. As my job hunt dragged on, I quickly discovered that I need structure in my life.

You’ll have to find your own groove with this one, but I found it best to set up a weekly schedule on Sunday and divide my days into intervals. For example: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I set aside five hours for job hunting, reaching out and replying to emails and networking meetings. I tried to schedule interviews on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then slotted passion projects and volunteering into my remaining days.

Also important: set your alarm for the same time every day!

Pursue a passion project.

When you’re not working a full-time job, the world is suddenly your oyster. Volunteer at an animal shelter, start training for that half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run, join a book club. Find your thing and actually do it. I’m going for my driver’s license (I’m a city kid, don’t judge). These type of experiences broaden your horizon and open up new life pathways. And it might sound corny, but be a ‘yes’ person. Put yourself out there and chat with as many people as possible. This can lead to opportunities that you now have the time and room in your life to explore.

See about taking a trip.

This might seem counterintuitive, but travel is something many of us don’t have the freedom to do when employed. And there are ways to do it on a budget. Take a cheap train (or an off-season, mid-week flight) to visit a new place or an out-of-town friend. One upside to job hunting is you can do it anywhere. Stretches of unemployment also present a time to use racked-up credit card points, if you have them. This may not work for everyone, but I was lucky enough to have not used any points after years of credit card usage and was able to do some travel for free. If you are new to points, visit The Points Guy — he knows his shit. If you don’t have any, consider getting a credit card and start accumulating them up now.

Remember you’re not your job.

You, I, we, are not our jobs, though sometimes our identities can be wrapped up in them. You are a person with hopes, dreams, fears, talents. Equally, there is no shame in wanting a certain lifestyle, but at the end of the day, you are also more than your latest purchase. Now is the time to explore the parts of you that aren’t tied to your occupation or your things. We so often jump directly from school to full-time work, and lack the resources to explore the unknown. Sometimes the unknown is just what we need to develop and grow.

I’ve been exploring said unknown for three months now, and I can safely say that I’ve shaken off the paralysis that was holding me back at first. Through the above I’ve learned to embrace this time off between gigs. I now have my driver’s license, a new bond with my two-year-old niece (ample babysitting time) and a set of abs I can see thanks to daily yoga. I am excited about the present as much as the future.

Photos by Archive Photos/Stringer and Gerry Cranham/Stringer via Getty Images; collage by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • MMR

    great post!! where did you register for focus groups?? just missing the link up top.

  • Andrea Raymer

    I must learn this focus group stuff!

    That last section though is spot on. the routine and everything is important but the most difficult part of unemployment is the loss of your identity. The first question anyone in the city asks when they meet you is “what do you do?” It sucks having to say “nothing”.

    • Ris Oze

      yep, this question really gets you thinking. and the more secure you are in yourself (and this growth happens exponentially during unemployment) the more you can turn this inherently judgmental (tho we all do it) question into an intelligent conversation and turn it around on them. 🙂

  • If there is such thing as the Unemployed convincingly living their Employability, then you are it. Sassy!

    • Ris Oze

      alcessa, that was the best compliment I’ve heard in a while.

      • You are very convincing in what you do and have me rooting 4U, quite sincerely at that.

  • l.e.

    I thought about using Poshmark at one point but wasn’t sure if it actually would get quick enough results or if people really used it?!

    • Anni

      How old are you roughly? What kind of clothes do you wear? I don’t use Poshmark but I do use Depop which is basically the same thing and when you scroll through what is popular you get a pretty good idea of what is selling well. Depop skews younger so you’re looking at a lot of what someone in their teens – early 20s would wear right now, a lot of grunge inspired pieces (thrasher tees, artistically destroyed stuff), a lot of 90s revival / 2000s revival pieces a la Kylie Jenner with a Von Duct cap, a lot of the perfect vintage levis / tommy hilfiger denim pieces…but on the flipside, I have picked up from discerning older sellers a pair of Dries Van Noten wool pants, the classic hermes sweater, a jill sanders pencil skirt and so on. I would say the cheaper trendy pieces ($20 – $50) sell even better than higher end designer because a lot younger people might know Chanel, but they’re not necessary going to know Marques Almeida.

      It is hard to sell things right off (especially because you will probably not have any “followers” – people who get instant alerts when you post things) but being relatively attractive / unique looking and taking good photos will get you a long way. I think trendy pieces and mid range aspiration stores (Brandy Melville / Anthropologie / Urban Outfitters) do the best and something from J Crew won’t necessarily sell as well BUT if you can take a good photo, you can sell anything.

      • Ris Oze

        great feedback – i’m going to look into this stuff too ! funemployment is a work in progress 🙂 I have also taken stuff to the buffalo exchanges and beacons closet here in NYC – which may not be huge amounts of cash but it’s fun to exchange for ‘new’ stuff from their stores. $20 cashmere sweater which I’m living in this winter

    • liv

      I used Poshmark actively back in 2013/2014 and I found that you can have great success if you push your items. I don’t use the app much these days, although I did sell an Alexander Wang bralette on the fly in December 2016 after not being active almost the entire year. To give you an idea, to date I’ve sold $914 worth of items total on Poshmark, which accounts for 54 listings. Some things I’ve sold were designer items, such as a limited edition Louis Vuitton agenda and the Wang bralette, but many items are just American Apparel/H&M type items as well. You’d be surprised what people want to buy. I even had someone buy the box that my YSL Arty ring came in – yes, literally the white box with the black pouch inside it – no ring (The box was listed for $20!) And that was actually common. Many people may buy a designer item on these resell platforms and then hunt to find the store boxes and dustbags that the items would have come in had they purchased them brand new. Shoppers will actively look to purchase just those items. Same for items like designer shoes, etc. I’ve found that it can be a great success if you are an active participant in the community, which is easier to do if you have more free time on your hands such as when you are unemployed. One month I sold $700 worth of items using Poshmark, eBay and resell stores such as Buffalo Exchange.

  • Kattigans

    I was unemployed/funemployed for over 3 months (this was my choice because I was so unhappy at my job and also needed break). It was such a learning experiencing! I wish I’d had this list early on before my journey began because I had to learn some of these the hard way, like setting a routine. Once I got a routine down, mine was going on a walk every morning and also exercising regularly, I felt so much better! My friend recently became unemployed by choice and is one week in. She said she hasn’t felt this overwhelmed in a while. Some wisdom I shared with her was to get ready to cry/feel confused about 50-60% of the time haha. Not true at all but also kinda true..the experience definitely makes you appreciate going to work every day!

    • Felicity Anderson

      SO True! x

    • Ris Oze

      hey kattigans – so glad you can relate 🙂 the struggle is real but worth it!!

  • Louise
    • Ris Oze

      hahahah the onion for the win –

  • N.A

    Thank you.

    • Ris Oze

      you are very welcome

  • Such good timing! I recently quit my job so these tips come in very handy!

    • Ris Oze

      amazing ! you got this 😉

  • Felicity Anderson

    I went through a similar episode 3 years ago. At the time I experienced most of what you have highlighted and it was scary af but looking back, it changed my outlook on everything and I don’t regret it for a second. Sometimes you gotta get off the hamster wheel to get proper perspective and the space to breathe. Even if it’s terrifying. xx

    • Ris Oze

      thanks felicity. hindsight is 20/20. feel free to add anything that worked for you!

      • Felicity Anderson

        I actually just looked back on the blog I wrote on it 3 years ago, main tips are don’t stay in all day in an old dressing gown watching Real Housewives. Pretty solid advice actually. It’s here if you fancy a read x

        • Ris Oze

          hahah crap I have an embarrassing addiction to the real housewives and always feel ashamed watching it during the day. and i’m going to invest in a kimono asap.

          • Felicity Anderson

            Yes! Do it girl 🙂 I’ve not watched Housewives in a while so she might not be on it anymore but Camille Grammer gives me chills (bad chills.)

          • Ris Oze

            oh she makes guest appearances

  • me

    sis, a big high-five to you for taking a chance on a new job opportunity (that unfortunately didnt work out in the end). that’s hugely brave.

    i also need to establish a daily routine/rhythm, so your insights are immensely helpful – and hopeful.

    thanks for sharing this excellent post…. best of luck in your job hunt !

    • Ris Oze

      thank you thank you thank you !

  • Rose

    As someone who’s at risk for being laid off, this was a great post to read and get my head in the right place. Sounds like you’re doing all the right things and if anything getting laid off may have been a great thing to happen to you in retrospect, as you are able to explore your interests and find the best career fit for you!

    • Ris Oze

      thanks rose! yep – it’s kind of a fire under your butt in a good way. also, if you’re laid off due to lack of work you can file for unemployment and the gov will help you out for a while if you meet the criteria (just a tip – helps with the pressure)

  • Erin

    This is really insightful, and helpful, thank you. I stopped working last July, after working full time my entire college years, and a decade after. (at various health care facilities due to my need for health insurance). I have a BFA in photography, despite working so much during the week on top of class and producing art constantly, I managed to get a 3.5 GPA, also an emerging photographers grant from school. I always wanted a great job, never really thought I’d get married or have kids, but THE JOB! Oh how I wanted a respectable job possibly teaching or blogging, something related to my photography. When I quit my latest job, I literally walked out, so not cool, I know, but something just broke inside me, I had to get OUT! So I’ve been battling the same struggles since, realizing my #1 savior is sticking to a routine…I managed to volunteer my time at the film school I went to, and have since started teaching there…I was also published in an international fine art photography magazine. I’m still amazed I pulled any of this off, after years of feeling out of touch in my field, and defeated in general. Just goes to show you should never give up on yourself, or stop seeking out a job that you have passion for. I still have anxiety, but it’s pretty much diffused the moment someone asks me what I do and I can say “I teach photography at two local art schools”. FUCK YES!!

    • Ris Oze

      Erin, I LOVE this! So inspirational – thank you for sharing your story girl! and what a dope gig – hours and hours in an office or environment you are unhappy in can wreak havoc on your life I don’t care how much money you are making…

  • May

    Suuuuper helpful post. Thanks for this.

    • Ris Oze

      thanks may!

  • Casey C

    Funny, smart, and with real-world tips! Love it.

    • Ris Oze

      thanks casey!

  • Voiceofreason

    It is illegal to travel while collecting Unemployment, shame on you! Quit milking the system.

    • Ris Oze

      Hello voice of reason! I actually traveled prior to receiving unemployment, and claimed it upon my return as I am job searching, but thank you for pointing this out.

  • Randi

    great article. enlightening and a fun read. thanks for sharing!

  • Mollye

    Love this article!

  • pamb

    Just thought I’d put it out there that working side gigs while collecting unemployment is… illegal.

    My husband recently lost his job and filed paperwork to collect unemployment. He thought he’d Uber a few days a week and found out that that’s a no no. The author doesn’t mention filing for unemployment, so I thought I’d mention it.

    • informed

      It’s not illegal so long as you declare it as a day worked (and don’t make above $430 on a given week). They’ll reduce your weekly income accordingly.

  • Rebecca

    This was great to read. I’m currently unemployed and hating it, but trying to make the most out of all this time while I have it. The hardest part for me is sticking to a schedule – I’ve been sleeping way too late. I’m also much more stressed than I was when I was working a million hours! Go figure.

    • Ris Oze

      thanks rebecca~! yes, you need to make your own schedule and stick to it. I also noticed that consistency is key so for example every tues. thurs. you have yoga at noon. etc.