Being unemployed like it's my job
August 6, 2014 6:01 AM   Subscribe

I've quit my job because my husband's new promotion requires him to relocate. I was reaching the conclusion that the field I've been in for 17 years isn't for me anymore, anyway, so I'm not actively seeking re-employment yet. Help me be a lady of leisure with a purpose and make the most of my downtime to figure out what comes next!

My loving and supportive spouse is fully behind me doing a little soul-searching to find a field that will excite me and use my talents. We're fortunate enough that we can afford to have me stay home, but this will not be the case indefinitely. I'm worried that I'll get too comfortable not wearing pants and I'll regress to permanent vacation mode. I need to stay the course and do useful things that will help me with my goal.

We will be moving back into our old house in two weeks. I know that I will be preoccupied with unpacking, settling in, and minor house repairs for a while, but my only-vague plans beyond that so far include volunteering at the local food bank, taking an adult education class, and sorting out our garden, which were all things I never had time for when I worked. I'm a homebody by nature, and can spend many hours usefully puttering, but none of this will get me a new profession, let alone a job. I've frequently said to my husband that I could "do the Martha Stewart thing" if I didn't have to work, but I don't know that I'm ready to give up on having a career just yet. I'm nowhere near retirement age, we don't have children, and it just seems wrong somehow to not be working.

I'm feeling a bit rudderless when it comes to figuring out what I want to do next. I'm a librarian who's worked in the book vendor industry for the past 13 years, and before that I worked in public libraries, which I didn't enjoy. The lofty intentions I had about helping people didn't measure up to the drudgery of long hours, low pay, and glorified desk clerking, and in the process I also decided I wasn't really sure if I liked people all that much. I'm trying to imagine what I can do with the skills I have in a non-library setting. I'm really, really good with books and the book industry and the ins and outs of managing publishing data. I haven't figured out what this translates into outside of the book world. I think I need to try things that are non-book related for a while and see if I can't grow more in some other direction. The question is, how? What specifically do I need to do to figure out what other careers might be appropriate?

If you are a librarian who made the leap into a different profession I'd love to hear about it, but I'm really specifically interested in hearing about your experiences with unemployment, leaves of absence, or hiatuses from work - how did you avoid just binging on Netflix and sleeping late? What things did you do to stay employable or move in a new direction?
posted by Otter_Handler to Work & Money (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What city are you moving to? It sounds like you have lived there before, so that would be helpful in planning to re-frame your life there. My advice, from having been a librarian in transition, is to keep up with your professional network (meet for lunch, go to brown bags, etc) if only for the word-of-mouth value; it's impossible to anticipate how opportunities may arise, and you want people to remember you as a positive, energetic person. Also, have a daily routine, which obviously may vary somewhat, but will keep you grounded - e.g. take the dogs for a long walk in a beautiful place, schmooze and brainstorm with folks at the dog park; exercise in some way that's fun and possibly sociable for you; plan time to be researching volunteer and job opportunities; devote extra time to doing Martha Stewart stuff. Go to for your area and see what's out there. Find some private way to get any negativity out of your system. Often, all we can do is to "seed the future" as well as possible, and then be patient and relaxed till some happy surprise arises.
posted by mmiddle at 6:24 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hi! As of our latest move, I am a stay-at-home wife while Mr. Meat works really long and sometimes unpredictable hours.

I stay busy. We adopted a high-energy dog who needs 3-4 walks a day, so that gets me out of the house every day without fail. We have 2 cats who need attention. Mr. Meat is responsible for NONE of the housework - no cooking, no cleaning, no laundry, no errands - those are all mine.

What helps me the most is having a list for each day. For instance, today I need to go grocery shopping, take the yard waste bin back inside (today was pickup day), make iced tea, sweep the kitchen, sweep the front porch, water the plants, vacuum the stairs, finish making the pasta salad I started yesterday, and some other things. Yesterday I had to plan a couponing CVS trip, vote, go to the library, dropoff/pickup Mr. Meat from work, plan our menu and grocery list, and clean out the litter boxes. I can't sleep in, since then the dog would be unhappy. I can't binge watch Netflix because I have other stuff that needs to get done. I do get one episode of Orange is the New Black each day, though, while the kitties snuggle with me.

I do have to plan social things so I don't become a true hermit.

I can't help much with the future planning, though, since our immediate plan does not involve me going back to insurance.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:44 AM on August 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm trying to imagine what I can do with the skills I have in a non-library setting. I'm really, really good with books and the book industry and the ins and outs of managing publishing data. I haven't figured out what this translates into outside of the book world. I think I need to try things that are non-book related for a while and see if I can't grow more in some other direction. The question is, how? What specifically do I need to do to figure out what other careers might be appropriate?

I shifted industries, though I wasn't nearly as established in my first industry/career as you are in yours now. I started out by just nurturing my own interests and reading up on things that I thought were cool. After a while, I realized that I didn't have a strong enough formal background in the subjects to understand them as much as I wanted or to do the kinds of things I wanted to do. So then I started taking community college classes to give me more of a background. Eventually, I applied to grad school in the subject. (This all happened over the course of about 1-2 years). Now I'm in grad school -- and, personally, I'm currently the middle of a pretty shitty health scare and that has been a major setback for me in terms of my education and timeline, so things have gone a little wonky for me now in a way that they probably won't (knock on wood!) for you. But overall, I'm narrowing down my focus further and further, have started doing volunteer work that's related to my more specific areas of interest, and applying for internships. I'm also starting to do very broad background research on possible thesis topics, though I won't have to choose my topic specifically for another six months or so. I'm still not sure *exactly* what jobs I'll be applying for in a year's time or exactly what job I'll be working in five years' time or anything, but as I learn more and get more experience in the industry/field, I find my focus narrowing and my (potential!) expertise emerging pretty naturally. So, based on my experience, what I would recommend you do:

-- Think about what you enjoy and what interests you. Spend time researching those topics and skills just for fun and enrichment. If you start realizing that you need more education to really understand what you're researching or if more formal training/education in the subject would be enriching for you or allow you to participate more in the field, take a couple relevant classes. If the field is very similar to something you've already got somewhat of an expertise in, you might have to take higher quality and likely more expensive and harder-to-get-into classes, but if it's not all that similar, community college classes can be great for getting basic background knowledge and just seeing if you enjoy learning about these things.

-- Volunteer and intern for duties/organizations or in industries that interest you. If you start getting interested in grant-writing, for example (just thought of it because it requires strong research, writing, and analytical skills, which it sounds like you have, but if that's not your bag, that's fine), then you can volunteer to write grants for an organization you believe in. Volunteering or interning won't give you a complete picture of what working in that org/industry/field would be like, but that kind of thing really does help in terms of self-discovery and can be valuable work not just for you but for the organization you're volunteering/interning for. It's also pretty low-commitment, and you can wrap up and forget your involvement with the organization within six months, usually, if things go awry.

In a really general sense, I don't think it's actually going to be all that tough for you to stay involved and spend your time in a structured way even without a job. Keep to a reasonable sleep schedule, exercise schedule, and eating schedule, and you're probably going to be just fine overall. If you have a day like: wake up, exercise, eat breakfast, do chores, volunteer, eat lunch, garden, send some emails to friends or call your mother to say hello, do homework, make dinner, eat, relax with your husband during the evening (maybe even go out to see a movie or play pool or some other low-key fun thing!), and go to bed -- guess what? You had a really, really busy and productive day. Activities that are for your personal enrichment, like exercise or hobbies or education, as well as activities that get you involved with other people and your community, like socializing and spending time taking care of your home/surroundings and volunteering, are all fantastic and worth spending time on and will have real dividends in terms of your and others' quality of life, and don't worry -- if you're an active person with an active mind (which it sounds like you are!), my experience leads me to think that you'll find yourself doing PLENTY of that stuff and filling up your days with productive, fulfilling things pretty easily. And if you just can't stand it or money ends up being tight, then that's OK -- you can always start looking for work again if you want to or need to.
posted by rue72 at 7:05 AM on August 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Welcome to the club!

I've been unemployed for two weeks now. So far, this week has included:

Starting a year-long volunteer project that requires on-the-job learning and lots of remote teamwork; signing up for a training course in my field; helping my mother-in-law weed the garden and braid onions for the winter; painting the bathroom; preparing for this fall's 10K season; drinking on the patio with friends I haven't seen in forever.

This is so much different from my last period of unemployment, which sucked donkey balls. I stayed in bed and cried for four months. Also gained 20 pounds.

It sounds like you have a healthy, positive approach to your free time and a supportive husband. If you have to be unemployed, these are pretty good conditions.

You're already doing a lot of things that will move you toward getting a new job/career faster: you're aware that you want to do something else and you know what your skills are, and you're volunteering.

Would it be possible for you to see a career counselor and have it financed by your unemployment agency? Does your area have a networking group? I belong to a women's networking group where I live, and have found some opportunities and supportive acquaintances there.

A few thoughts about volunteering: this is so important to keeping your résumé fresh when you aren't working. You'll be adding skills through your projects. Depending on how organized your food bank is, you could really make a difference by proposing ideas to make it more efficient. (Worked at my parents' local food bank last Christmas and could not believe the disorganization.)

As far as finding another niche: could you volunteer and temp until you find one? I read something not too long ago saying that people are actually not that good at knowing what they like to do until they start doing it. The wider the range of activities, the greater the chances you'll be able to pare down to the ones that fit your skills and ambitions.

Are you internationally minded? Send your résumé to the UN's field programs and online volunteer services.

I recently did this (backgrounds in teaching and communications, as well as language skills). The online volunteer projects can be completed anywhere and often ask for people who have experience with organizing information and data.

Researching/writing for local organizations that need sources of grant funding? Private investigation? So many possibilities.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 7:19 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd think about what you actual want to do in your day. I was in sales and then a teacher, then back to sales and I realized that what I most wanted to do was sit in a cube and screw around with spreadsheets. So I studied and made that happen. I had to take a cut in pay to do this, sales is pretty great money-wise, but after 5 years, I'm back at my old income level.

So if you want a career where you don't interact with too many people (and not the general public) what kind of skills do you have that would translate to a job in a quiet cube farm? Where are your gaps? Perhaps learning Sharepoint or or Access might be the bridge to a career that suits your personality. You can use this break to take some classes or dip into some tutorials on You Tube to see if it appeals to you.

Perhaps you can work with a career counselor. Who knew I had an aptitude for accounting and numbers? I certainly didn't until I did some interest and aptitude testing with a career counselor.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:26 AM on August 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

N'thing the advice that you need some structure or it can be really easy to still be in your PJs at 2pm reading Metafilter (um, not that I would know anything about this, that's just what I've been told). I would say that on most days you should aim to do at least 2 of the following: exercise, socialise, volunteer, work on a project, work on getting a job (which can include investigating alternative careers).

At the same time, I would encourage you to take advantage of the extra time that unemployment brings. Do the stuff that you wouldn't normally have time for - even if it's bingewatching Netflix! Exercise in a park a little further away. Cook labour intensive meals - this counts as a project!

Journal. It gives you something to do, and an avenue for a bit of introspection that could guide you to other career possibilities. Plus it'll be nice in the future to look back on all the stuff you did and keep you from thinking that you did "nothing" with that time.
posted by pianissimo at 8:05 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing that I don't see listed here that I did when trying to identify a new career and had a limited amount of time off (Ie, I was paid through the summer, but had already completed work for the year) was info interviews.

Even though I am a giant introvert, it helped me to see people and propel excitement towards new possible careers.

So once a week I would either contact people (email, etc., post on a forum) looking for people to query, although this did not happen until I identified a new possible career direction.

Then once or twice a week, I would have lunch with the people who agreed, or a phone call, etc.

I came with prewritten questions such as questions to figure out if it would or would not be a good fit (ie, what is the salary range), other job titles, how they broke into the field, other recommendations to get a similar job in the field, etc. Anywho,I can't emphasize how much it helped to socialize just a little, plus make me excited to look for jobs or learn about the needed skills on my own.

As part of that time off, I definitely made a point to do a few things that I just would not have a chance to do when fulltime employed, such as going to see tons of plays or biking for a month, whatever, because time is just something that you don't normally get (but that might of been my quest,not yours, so feel free to ignore this last suggestion).
posted by Wolfster at 9:37 AM on August 6, 2014

I currently have a lot of free time while I wait for my graduate program to start (I moved to a new city). Everyday I have several things I want to accomplish. Sometimes that's just "go on a 12 mile bike ride and go grocery shopping". But I really try to limit tv/movies to my evening hours. Nor do I spend a lot of time surfing the internet. That stuff is fun but I feel like such a sloth if I don't do activities at least twice a day.

So don't let career exploration turn into 4 hours of tv a day. You need to work your contacts - you never know when a related but different job opportunity will come up.

And look towards hobbies that have some sort of transferrable skill and some community. That's how you turn leisure into a job.
posted by Aranquis at 11:45 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Have you considered looking at positions in large academic libraries or at university presses? Institutional repositories are a growing trend at universities both large and small.
posted by mareli at 7:12 PM on August 6, 2014

Wow, thanks, everyone! I like so many of your suggestions. Writing them all down.
posted by Otter_Handler at 5:20 AM on August 7, 2014

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