So my long lapse of unemployment has ended. No, I’m not writing news again — just product descriptions for a few well-known online retailers. Not the ideal job, but in this economy, I’d be lucky to have a job at Taco Bell.
So, how do I feel? One part relieved, two parts depressed and another half-part anxious. The latter comes from a feeling I’ll always have after my first lay-off: This could happen again. In fact, my current employer already seems a little shaky; they laid off 8 people just last week.
Anyway, I’ve been working for a few weeks now and I’ve had some time to reflect on my year of unemployment. What have I learned?
1. File for unemployment. You should apply the first day you are officially out of work. Visit Florida’s Agency for Workforce Development website and file a claim. Try to do this online, because calling the agency will make your day much, much worse. Your awarded benefits vary depending on your salary and length of employment.
To calculate the weekly benefit amount, use the quarter in the base period with the highest earnings and divide the earnings by 26. This number is your weekly benefit amount. The minimum weekly benefit amount is $32 and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $275.
2. Make a budget. Do an assessment of income coming and money going out.
This is the most stressful part, but once you figure out how to cut expenses, it will simplify future decisions, such as choice of job and how your time on the dole can last. The first luxury to go? Television. You don’t want TV. You don’t need to relax when you’re unemployed, because any day not stuck in a job you hate is relaxing!
If you can live off unemployment checks — even for just a few months supplemented by savings — do it. Unemployment does not have to be an entirely negative experience. It allows you to recharge, learn from your mistakes and build your skills. Except for perhaps retirement, when will you have the chance to collect a check for doing absolutely nothing?
3. Revamp your resume. Update your resume with your last job. The, craft some e-mails and make some phone calls to everyone you know — friends, family, acquaintances and former co-workers. Let them know what happened and that you’re available for almost any kind of work. You might end up with a job before the end of the week. But even if you don’t land something right away, you’ve planted a seed in their minds and when something comes up, they’ll think of you.
4. Now, enjoy it! I know as a single man with no children this was easier for me. But, even if you have all those commitments and responsibilities, stressing out about your situation will only make it worse. Plus, make everyone around you miserable.
Think of this period of your life as a “lay-cation.” There is a reason why people call this FUNemployment.
5. Take a vacation. Try to do this first before you run out of money. Note: I’m not talking about a cruise to Cozumel (unless you really can afford it). Just a drive out of town or a short plane ride to visit a family member will do. They’ll be glad to host you after the lay-off and you can recharge a little. One of my friends visited numerous states from Hawaii to New York and traveled to four countries during his year of unemployment. Living on the dole is one thing, but traveling on the dole is a real experience!
6. Make a list of potential hobbies. What have you always wanted to learn, build, read, create? It should go on this list. I learned to ride a bike for the first time, created a website and worked on a book. Another friend of mine wrote a screenplay and shot a documentary. What have you always waned to do? Bonus points if getting started is free or close to it.
If you can’t think of something to do for yourself, volunteer!
7. Create Zen. Find a place in town where you feel comfortable and relaxed. This could be your porch, the beach, a favorite coffee shop (Hello, Globe Coffee Lounge!) — any location where you can be alone with your thoughts. Now, take out your list and visualize completing all of your activities. Tell yourself, out loud if needed, that the right job will come in due time and the doors of opportunity are opening all around you.
This place is where you will spend at least a few hours once a week and imagine a world you create and not dictated by an unfeeling corporation or upwardly mobile boss.
This is your Zen.
8. Stay on task. Unemployment should not be a chore, but it shouldn’t be wasted either. Create a schedule including everything you want to do while unemployed. Set goals specified by days, weeks or months. Now, stick to it. The absolute worst thing to do is nothing, because after you’ve spent six months watching TV on the couch and finally realize you need to work again, you don’t want to look back and think you wasted precious free time. You want to look back on unemployment fondly and it’ll make going back to work easier.
9. Keep it legal. Always apply for jobs each week, even if you take a vacation. Don’t get a job and continue to claim unemployment benefits. Report all taxable income.
10. Finally, be proud. Although federal and state funds have extended unemployment benefits, this safety net is mostly paid for by unemployment taxes taken from your employer. It is part of your benefits for working a 40-hour week year after year. Think about all the employers who paid unemployment taxes on your behalf and never had the decency to lay you off.
Don’t let anyone — friends, family, politicians, talk show hosts — make you feel worthless for being unemployed. You were laid off through no fault of your own and you are attempting to turn a devastating experience into a positive one. They are just jealous.
Let me be clear: unemployment benefits are not welfare and studies show unemployed workers contribute a great deal to the economy. This is a right we earned long ago. So, don’t feel ashamed to collect, in essence, your extended severance package.