How to deal with unemployment in the face of holiday cheer


The end of December is one of the hardest times of the year to be unemployed. The peer pressure for good cheer is outrageous, the financial pressure of gifts is huge even for those with a steady paycheck, and the constant catchup with friends and family means everyone will ask, “how are you doing?”

Here are ways to feel better in these situations if you are having a tough time right now.

1. Remember that most people have empathy.
The biggest shift in the workplace is that unemployment always looms, for everyone. It used to be that people who had “good careers” did not have to worry about being unemployed. These people had a ticket to retirement if they just stayed in one place and put in their hours. In those days, being unemployed was the equivalent of being a failure. Those days are over. Today everyone worries about being unemployed. Most people have been laid off more than once. Almost no one is so arrogant to think they are better than you because you can't find a job right now. And if you do meet someone who snubs their nose: They are delusional and out of touch, and should probably be more worried than everyone else about their own employment.

2. Not everyone has good cheer.
The good cheer thing: It's a consumerism thing. I mean, it's one thing to have warm, fuzzy family stuff. But the hoop-la and happiness seems extreme. And I can't be too far off on this because the post on this blog with the third most comments ever is along those lines: Five Things People Say about Christmas that Drive Me Nuts. So if you can remind yourself that the holiday good cheer thing is not a mandate, and certainly not ubiquitous, then you won't feel so isolated when you do not feel the good cheer yourself.

3. Talking about something difficult with family is good for you.
Really. It will make you feel closer to your family if you can tell them what's really going on with you. Your family doesn't need to hear the sugar-coated version. They love you not matter what. Or, if they don't, then it's a good time to face that, right? The other thing is that handling tough career conversations with your family actually improves your career overall.

4. Your job hunt can go into high gear right now.
December and January are the most common times for people to get hired. I know it seems like no one is working in December. But actually, the companies that run on annual budgets (which is most companies) have a use-it-or-lose-it policy. So if people have extra money for hiring in December, they have to make the hire. And in January, there is fresh money and people go on hiring sprees. (That's why we just published the Brazen Careerist Top 50 Companies for Gen Y to work at. Now is the time to check out large companies like those.)

5. Remember that you are the locus of control.
Your happiness cannot be dependent on economic indicators. Really. The difference between being someone who is generally happy and someone who is generally unhappy is whether or not you perceive that you can control your life. Happiness is about outlook. So start doing things that you can control instead of depending on a job to save you.

You can build skills to add to your resume whether or not someone pays you to do that. (You can build work skills with your significant other!) You can build your own network without having a job. And you can create structure in your life — a harbinger of a successful person — whether or not a job is dictating that. The best way to become a person who feels like they control their life is to talk about your life like you can create the life you want. So, do that, right now, and you might even feel cheery.

43 replies
  1. malingerer
    malingerer says:

    being underemployed is a bummer, but it’s all relative.. I have a roof over my head, food in my tummy (and my family’s), and money in the bank.. I am blessed compared to the majority of the planet’s population..

    • econopete
      econopete says:

      I second that. I have a lot of friends and family who keep an eye out for work, and understand that my financial contributions for Christmas will be minimal this year. Also, I’ve found I can give back to them in myriad other ways.

      And as for Penelope’s second point: We’re having a family Christmas party for at least 25. We need to rearrange our house to host it. Other than that, I avoid the TV advertisements and say, bah humbug!

      “Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year.” – Victor Borge

  2. Tim Lincoln
    Tim Lincoln says:

    You must be prescient. Shortly after I subscribe to your RSS feed, you post this gem. I have been unemployed for a few months now and lately have been teetering on the edge of giving up on employment and starting my own business…if I can just figure out how to generate revenue with my ideas.

    I was not aware of the fourth point you made (well, perhaps I was subconsciously), so perhaps it is time to attack the job search with renewed vigor while continuing to work on point number five. It will be a race to see whether I take a plunge into my own business first, or find another job. Perhaps both. In either case, the future looks a little bit brighter today. Thanks for the boost in optimism!

  3. Clare
    Clare says:

    I really like the fifth point. Taking control of your work situation by improving your skills, making your own luck, going it alone – all these make you less reliant on the whims of an employer, and more resilient when the economy implodes.

  4. Anca C
    Anca C says:

    Dear Penelope, your writing style is so much unlike anybody else’s, this is why I keep following you daily, waiting to see which meaningful insight is up next- each and every post is so clear to me, so applicable to my life, that I just read and go “How come I haven’t figured this one out until now?”.I particularly appreciate this one about unemployment, since it is haunting everyone, not just people on your continent, or in your country, and therefore anybody can relate, it’s something that can happen, and no one is to blame, especially in this unsteady climate.

  5. veeb
    veeb says:

    Fantastic post, Penelope. Great job posting on being cheery and talking about tough things with family – it looks like you’re going through a lot right now and can apply some of that to your relationship situation. Your blog community supports you!! :)

  6. dale
    dale says:

    Great post. I spent last Christmas unemployed and it was actually one of the best holidays in a long time. No pressure to consume and with less business obligations, less parties to attend. Add in the fact that we spent 2 weeks here in the NW snowed in so travel was limited, made it exceptional.

  7. brenda
    brenda says:

    Loved this post. I found a lot of comfort in your words, especially as I move on to new work and personal ventures. Thanks.

  8. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:


    Thank you for this. My husband is not unemployed, but he works in a soul-sucking declining industry and has been looking for a new job since June. I sent him this. It’s good to know people hire this time of year.

  9. JPeep
    JPeep says:

    Great post, as usual, Penelope.

    The thing I’d add is that not everyone in your family or circle of friends needs to hear every detail of how your life is going. For people you are genuinely close to, I think Penelope is right that sharing your situation and your hopes and plans in detail will bring you closer and make you feel loved and supported, and you shouldn’t be ashamed to lay it out there. But we’re not equally close to everyone in our families, and we don’t always get love and support from our families. Sometimes we get judgment, and I Told You So’s, and needless worry, and endless advice about what we should be doing and what the person would do in our place, etc, and having to go through the whole story is like continually reopening a wound. My family loves and supports me, but they don’t handle failure or vulnerability well, and their tendency is to keep poking for reasons why the bad thing happened- “Why did you get laid off? Why did he break up with you? Why didn’t you get the job?” as if it was totally within my control or as if I have ready answers to all those things. It can leave me feeling pretty raw.

    One way to handle it is to develop a good sentence or two that you can tell relatives when they ask how you’re doing. You should still be direct and truthful – no need to sugar-coat things – but it helps if you can just state the facts and not have to keep telling the story. Also, people want to help, so if you can give them a way to help, they’ll jump in if they possibly can.

    “How are you doing?”
    “I’m having a hard time finding work, but I’m trying to stay focused and hopeful. I’m asking everyone I know for leads and advice, so if you know of anything that might help, I’d be very grateful if you’d pass it on.”
    “I don’t know if I have anything, but if I think of something I will.”
    “Thank you, I’m so glad to have your support. How are things with you?”

    You could say a variation of that to pretty much everyone you meet, right? But you’re structuring the conversation in a way that gives the other person room to offer help if they can and that doesn’t leave anyone feeling awkward.

    Also, if relatives offer to help out, take them up on it if you possibly can. People want to feel useful. I feel like people have an easier time asking for things for their kids than for themselves, so maybe your nice relatives could treat your kids to the movies one day so you can get some work done.

  10. Green
    Green says:

    I am completely mortified by how long I’ve been out of work, and two hours ago just completely bombed an interview at a great law firm. Then I got home too late to go with my friend to Target, which is all I’ve wanted to do for over half a year, but never do because it costs almost $10 to take the train to get there. So thanks for writing this – I really need the encouragement today.

    • malingerer
      malingerer says:

      I don’t know who you are, but something good will come about. Out adversity a phoenix always rises, though it often isn’t the bird we thought it would be.. I will wish you well in our thoughts this afternoon :)

  11. Sansa
    Sansa says:

    Good timing on this post.

    I’m not unemployed but my management job has been cut to half time. Course I still have the same responsibilities and, like a wuss, basically put in nearly the same effort. So they love me but I’m getting bitter. How do you find a new job when you are overqualified for every opening you see? Is it better to take the lower-level job for the sake of benefits/full-time hours/near to the kids?

    I worked too long to get this high and now the economy/my company is falling apart around me. Oh well. At least it will be a white Christmas.

  12. Isao
    Isao says:

    Like others who commented on this post, I am also at a crossroad regarding my career and your words – happiness depends on “whether or not you perceive that you can control your life” made my day. Yes, that is it. Thank you.

  13. Medisoft
    Medisoft says:

    Christmas can be a very difficult time for those out of work. It’s hard to take care of a family without a paycheck, and many people look as their job as “who they are”. I hope everyone finds employment soon!

  14. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    The celebrations around Dec. 21 predate Christianity by a few millenia. So the Christmas cheer thing has just been tacked on fairly recently.

    It may be easier to think of the season as a turning, from deeper darkness toward increasing light. That makes it relevant to hard times.

    The silliness of the season is just part of the way people deal with the cold and gloom. We can’t be too hard on people for trying to fight the darkness.

  15. Paul Sabaj
    Paul Sabaj says:

    While looking fir the job sucks and all it does bring up the point of networking and getting out to meet those who might have a lead. I have worked it both ways in that while I’m looking my friends have proven to be the source of many great leads. I have also in return looked for the same for their family and friends along the way. The thing to remember is to always give back and it does come back to you.I helped three of my fiends kids find work and they returned the favor with some leads of their own for me. By the way don’t forget the Fed’s site USAJOBS.GOV and check for some of the jobs there. They also often have part time. God Bless and good luck to all

    • Sharon Smith
      Sharon Smith says:

      I love that saying, it is so very true… I spent months pondering over what I did wrong with my previous company countless times. The people that are still there are so miserable.

  16. Tim Lincoln
    Tim Lincoln says:

    I just recalled a quote I found last week and (shame on me!) had forgotten until just now.

    “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened.” – Alexander Graham Bell

  17. Laurie Berenson, CPRW
    Laurie Berenson, CPRW says:

    Great post, Penelope! Your 4th point about December and January being strong hiring months is absolutely correct and should serve as renewed motivation when a job seeker begins to lose steam.

    It’s very easy to let yourself “take a break” from job search activity at this time of year, but when your competition takes a breather, the smart move is keep up your networking, informational interviewing, and targeted search efforts.

  18. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    I didn’t know the second part of that Bell quotation. Thanks, Tim.
    Good post, Penelope. The advice can be applied to so many more things than a job hunt. Happy Holidays.

  19. LJTabak
    LJTabak says:

    Having been on both sides of the table (hiring and desperate) I have to say that job seekers should know that the people who are hiring are not preternaturally disposed to look down on job seekers. After working 50 weeks a year for 5 years a so, a break between jobs actually has some (largely romantic) appeal. But I have to second Penelope’s 5th: there is a big difference between hiring someone who shows their desperation or tries to hide their employment gap, and someone who says, “It’s been stressful, but I’ve really taken advantage of the extra time and have been working on [getting into shape, writing a book, learning French…etc].” Yeah, that’s the kind of person we’d like to add to our staff..

  20. Genevieve
    Genevieve says:

    I work in retail and our holiday store has no heat. The temperature hovers around 55 degrees. Today a woman said, “It’s awfully chilly in here” and I said, “Yes ma’am it is. Our heat doesn’t work.” Do you know what she said? “I’m so sorry you have to work in this cold but at least you have a job.” Her comment sure put things back into perspective.

    Penelope, this post made me feel a little bit better. Thank you. I graduated with a Master’s degree in Ecology in May and I’ve been working in retail since September. I especially appreciate your posts oriented towards recent graduates. Keep it up!

  21. faisal habib
    faisal habib says:

    this article was really a good one, in this time of dispair, . the fact of being unemployed is really irritating. but hope gets me through my days n knights………

  22. No Faith In Our Government
    No Faith In Our Government says:

    Part of the problem is that the American government has allowed to basically be their dictator and control society. These corporations and their “management team” exploit employees to beyond expectations. They came up with the exempt status back in the day because people would be paid for 40 hours of work and the people actually worked 8 hours a day. In today’s world, companies want to hire people put them on salary and expect them to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week and only get paid for 40 hours. Now you tell me if that isn’t exploitation.

    With the economy tanking each day and I don’t give a rats ass what these crooks in Washington, D.C. are saying, this is a endless Jobless Recovery. Even profitable companies are taking advantage of the economic conditions and laying off people. Doesn’t anyone question why are they able to get away with it? NO! Most of you people want to live the American Dream instead of revolting against how this government operates. Stop voting for these crooks each time their seat is up and let’s get people who are FOR THE PEOPLE NOT OF THE PEOPLE! WAKE UP

  23. Cash for Surveys
    Cash for Surveys says:

    Everyone takes the sadness of unemployment in different ways, but the most brave of us think outside the box and do not wilt under the pressure. Joining your site and networking with professionals is something that unemployed people can get on with. However, there are a lot of computer illetarate people who simply dont know where to turn – we really should encourage them to start using the Internet.

  24. Harrison Stuart
    Harrison Stuart says:

    I wonder how these people spent their holiday. Imagine, how can they be excited with the up coming new year while there are negative thoughts at the back of their mind that they can’t start their year right.

    Real happiness isn’t dependent on material things you have in life. You can still be happy without these things. But, of course, you still need to find ways on how you can support your daily living.

  25. gen h20
    gen h20 says:

    I was doing casual work in a factory when they closed for a two week break over Christmas. I wasn’t exactly unemployed but there was no money coming in for two weeks, but the bills kept coming in. My wife in her wisdom said why not take your family history Internet research skills and try to find a way to make money on the Internet. Three months later I resigned my casual job and started working from home. Nine years later I’m still going strong. Sometimes an adverse situation can be turned to an advantage. If you’ve got any free time, look for self employment opportunities. My only caveat – you need to be self motivated to succeed.

  26. mira khan
    mira khan says:

    I am really like the 4 point. I think this point is so important for earn more money and taking a good opportunity from a company. When you start your job in December then you can continue your job the next year. So, this point is most important for me.
    Overall all point is helpful.

    I am waiting your next posting like this one.


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