Once someone's been unemployed for a while, employment is a mixed blessing. Of course, the jobless are anxious about finances and worried about the growing hole in their resume. But the long, flexible hours of unemployment suck you in and make you think that maybe, just maybe, you do not have the time or the constitution for a full-time job. This situation makes transitioning out of unemployment more difficult than people realize.

After a layoff, my friend Jenny got used to unemployment pretty quickly. She'd job-hunt for a few hours (which is, in fact, a lot to do every day without driving yourself insane). And then she'd have about twelve hours left in the day.

She started using that time to do loathsome tasks that one cannot possibly get done when one has a job: Chase down insurance claims, wait all day for a plumber, hand-write letters to aunts with no email.

Then she started making plans to see friends in the middle of the day. Then, in addition to the band she plays with at night, she joined an all-girl band that practices in the afternoon.

When Jenny finally landed an offer she said to me, “I can't take a job. I don't have time.”

I understood the feeling because I've had it myself. People fill whatever time is open. After all, the alternative to filling time is to stare at the wall, and unless you're clinically depressed, wall starring will not satisfy you.

So, while Jenny was grateful to have a job she was also nervous: Just as being laid off is a huge change in lifestyle, so is going back to work. “If nothing else,” she pointed out, “There will be no one to stay home to wait for the plumber next time the toilet overflows.”

Here are some things that make the transition easier:

Practice waking up. During unemployment, your body clock reverted to its most comfortable pattern, which probably included a late morning and frequent naps. Take a week to get used to working hours so you don't oversleep in the morning or pass out at your desk in the afternoon.

Embrace the commute. After a few days of a new commute, this is the line of thinking that usually happens: “I commute forty minutes each way, five days a week. That's 346 hours a year – 14 full days. Equal to a trip to Hawaii. Hey! I could go to Hawaii if I didn't have a commute!” But you can't do anything with that extra time if you are starving because you don't get yourself to work.

Look, if you really were not meant to commute then when you were job hunting online you'd have answered one of those “Make money working from home” spams. So turn up the radio, or open a good book, and find ways to love your commute.

Stop philosophizing. A common pitfall for those transitioning is to obsessively evaluate the virtue of the workplace. Yes, there are more virtuous things to do than your job. There is stopping war in the Middle East and sex trafficking in the Far East. Did you do any of those things when you were unemployed? Probably not. If you're so worried about saving the world now, you can give part of your new paycheck to charity each month.

Reevaluate your friends. People with jobs cannot party with six different friends every night of the week. You will have to get rid of the ancillary, party-all-the-timers. Keep the friends who understand about budgeting time.

Take solace in the memory of feeling crushed when you got laid off. You had that feeling for a reason. You liked going to work every day. You liked being part of something bigger than you and being valued by your community. Trust that when you go back to work, you will love work again, and that somehow, the toilet will get fixed, even if you can't stay home all day.

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1 reply
  1. Kay Lorraine
    Kay Lorraine says:

    This is an excellent post, and I say this because I can relate to it. I have been out of a job for nearly a month now. And I am torn. Part of me misses going into the nice air-conditioned office with the big desk and the ability to print out on the color laser printer all the funny cartoons that my friends send me. Also, without my power job (and it WAS a power job) no one calls to quote me in the newspaper. Frankly, hardly anyone calls me at all lately.

    On the other hand, I kinda like being home all day. I have caught up on my ironing. I’ve re-read several of my favorite books. I went swimming one morning, and I live just blocks from the ocean and haven’t been swimming in years!

    On the third hand, not being able to spend money without feeling guilty is becoming a drag. Tough choice.

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