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Some Ideas for the Short-Term Unemployed

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Unemployed man.

Being unemployed1 looks really appealing, doesn't it? When you're a 'Dole Mole'2 you can sleep all day, partake in marathon sessions of daytime television, get in cheaper at the movies, and you have time, precious time, to do all the things you'd do if you weren't working. The only obligation you have would be once a fortnight, when you'd have to drag yourself away from Oprah and down to the dole office to sign on for another two weeks of mindless freedom. Sounds like paradise, the only real drawback being the giving up of two or three of the five major food groups, and existing on pot noodles and porridge.

Of course, this is the reasoning of the employed, and as those who have experienced the dole queue will attest, being unemployed isn't all cheap wine and late nights on the Internet. Indeed, once this state is attained, many find that they have become bland and unproductive. Uttering the catch phrase of the unemployed, ('What day is it?'), and squinting when curtains are drawn to reveal natural light, they shuffle around in their dressing gowns, wondering what happened to make being unemployed so... boring.

This condition can arise for a variety reasons: a lack of structure to the day, financial impediments, limitations within your social circle, and let's not forget the general malaise that can linger if your unemployment is the result of being fired. The good news is that these problems are soon overcome with a bit of gumption and creative thinking, allowing you to live the dream, instead of proclaiming it 'over'.

Becoming Separated From Your Job

Any number of events can transpire to result in the loss of your job. Perhaps it was something you did3 or something you failed to do4. It may have been circumstances beyond your control: your company was bought out, or perhaps your boss bet the business on a losing hand at the poker table, and the new owners cleaned house. Whatever the reason, losing your job is likely to cause you some regret. Unless, of course, you got yourself fired on purpose, either for personal reasons or because you were enticed by the supposedly luxuriant lifestyles of the unemployed.

Even if you weren't of the my-job-is-my-life school of thought, realising that those cosy conversations by the water cooler are no more can cause a pang. Thinking that the wildly foolish stunt that got you fired is how you're being remembered these days can cause at the least a red face, and at the most a painful throbbing in the place your heart used to be. Rest assured that during this period you will not wither and die without your job, and also any embarrassment or regret will fade away as your former co-workers will not be around to playfully remind you.

Perhaps now is the time to adopt a new outlook on life, maybe find a new philosophical or theological discipline. Examine your theories about what happened and get on with the business of being unemployed. Once you have resolved to let go of your old profession, you will be one step on your way towards making the most of your joblessness.

Your Friends Think You're Slack

When you're the 'unemployed one' of your group, you may find yourself suffering some unexpected guff, particularly if your friends possess that infamous 'Victorian work ethic'5.

Perhaps you used to work with them, in which case conversations about so-and-so in accounting may give you a rush of nostalgia; or they may be on some amazingly upward career path and look down on those amongst them who seem unable to hold down a job. In fact, even the most sympathetic of friends may begin to make their annoyance known when they realise at your local pub that the next round is not going to be on you. No matter how affluent they are, friendships are all about give and take in equal measure — supposedly. They may stump you a few rounds in the early days while you're still crying in your beer, but it shouldn't become a habit.

Strained relationships with your friends undoubtedly contribute to the trademark long face and uneven pallor of the unemployed, and can be overcome by employing one of the following:

  • Reason with them, explaining the circumstances that led to your dismissal. It's worth a try.
  • Display some entrepreneurial skills and offer to do odd jobs for them (this is more likely to stop their jokes than lead to an actual income, but if it does, it's an unexpected and possibly tax-free bonus).
  • Call them while they're at work, tell them you've just got out of bed and might go back for a nap after your midday breakfast (it won't achieve much beyond making them envious, but they can hardly make someone they're jealous of an object of ridicule).
  • Use some of your free time to do charitable volunteer work (it's useful and worthwhile, and you'll create an interesting paradox wherein your being unemployed is very useful to society — another boon if you have the kind of friends who are impressed by that sort of thing).
  • Of course, you can cool their guns by threatening to make new friends. After all, there are always interesting folk to be found at the unemployment office.
  • Make new friends — this is a fairly drastic option, and most friends aren't that bad once you get to know them. Studenty-types are a good idea, because they have low standards and similarly vast amounts of time to fill.

You're Short on Cash

Making the most of being unemployed can be difficult once you actually become so, as the visions you had (of joining a pottery class, spending time at the gym, and going night-clubbing without dreading the hangover) were financed by the you that had a regular income. However, living off the dole or your savings need not confine you to more pedestrian pursuits such as watching television and sleeping.

Those with a limited income generally tend to spend their money in one of two ways:

  1. They budget and do not live beyond their means. Such people have many ingenious money-saving tricks, such as buying and cooking food in bulk then freezing their meals, growing their own herbs and vegetables, buying clothing and household items second-hand at 'Op-Shops', using public transport, recycling, customising or repairing that which some would have discarded, and so on. This approach is in many ways preferable to the second, in which:
  2. The allotted monies are almost completely spent within 24 hours of being received, usually on one wild night, the legacy of which is a hangover the next day and being forced to live on pasta until the next payment. This approach has its merits, in that the fortnightly wild night gives the individual an evening to look forward to, although with a little creativity there is no reason why spending two-thirds of the dole cheque is necessary to have a good time.

Obviously budgeting is a sure way to help stretch your funds, but if it's not for you, then perhaps withdraw only a portion of your dole before painting the town, and leave your bankcard at home. Alternatively, you could become a Freegan, keeping more of your cash available for leisure pursuits.

If you're feeling a bit low on your recently reduced income, perhaps a visit to the local currency exchange is in order. Pick a currency such as the rupee or the peso, and change your pounds, euros or dollars etc into a few thousand, or even a million, units of a foreign currency. It's not particularly useful, but when the light-headedness of being a millionaire wears off, you can always cash your coins and notes back in again. OK, you may have to pay a commission to change your currency - but if you choose your time wisely, you could make a cool pound or two on the exchange rate, which will probably buy you a pint of something.

Selling some of that old junk you've got lying around at a car boot sale is one way to get your hands on some real money, while providing you with more room, a nostalgic afternoon and most importantly, a gratifying sense of achievement. In America cash is paid for blood donations6, and if you're really hairy, well, people pay money for that, too7.

It is wise to avoid the temptation of resorting to illegal means of supplementing your income, such as: gold smuggling, marrying a strange foreigner, helping the under-aged to vote, working without informing the taxation office, stealing things...etc. It may seem that now you have the time to stand around sweating in customs, learning the finer points of indoor horticulture or entering other people's houses in an unconventional fashion, but you can hardly relax when entering into such wheelings and dealings. Chances are you'll end up even more strung out and with even less leisure time than you had when you were employed legally. In addition, you'll be doing your part to perpetuate the offensive stereotype that unemployed people are dodgy. If you are still compelled to involve yourself in such pursuits, consider this: you may end up unemployed for a very, very long time.

In any case, enjoying being unemployed is not about increasing your income, or finding money to spend through clever budgeting, but instead not focusing too much on your financial situation, and certainly not letting it become an obstacle to your enjoyment of your jobless state.

Organising Your Leisure Time

So, Coronation Street doesn't start until midday, and you find yourself getting up at a quarter to, just enough time to make a pot of tea and cheese on toast and draw the blinds, before you make camp in the lounge for the afternoon. Because of your delayed start to the day, bedtime is usually sometime around 3-4am, or whenever free-to-air television starts showing the test pattern. Add to this your online friends, with whom you can now chat without considering the varied time zones, and the late night reading you can finally catch up on, and fairly soon you'll have become nocturnal.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when so much can be achieved during this period of unemployment, staying in bed all morning may rob you of some of your best opportunities to pursue useful and productive activities. It may also be the cause of unwanted friction between yourself and your family/housemates, particularly if they work full time.

Getting up early gives you more time, and the chance to adopt several pastimes best enjoyed early in the morning, such as going to the beach, yoga or tai-chi, bush walking, creative writing or painting and gardening. All of these pastimes are free, or at least reasonably inexpensive. Don't be too strict or too soft on yourself when it comes to how you spend the day, simply bear in mind that this is the time you will be looking back on in the near future, during your lunch break, while struggling with your deadlines, dealing with inter-office politics and nursing your Mondayitis. Make it count!

What Now?

So now that you're feeling better about being unemployed, and have, to some degree, got your social, financial and organisational muscles in fine condition, you will be asking yourself: 'What now? What to do with all this time, and how can I get the most out of it?'

Be Creative

There are the usual soul-feeding and brain-stimulating excursions to the library, art gallery and museum, as well as open mic nights and jam sessions at nearby pubs and cafés. Exhibition openings are also a good source of free wine and nibbly things on crackers, and the more high profile the opening, the better quality and tastier the fare. Similarly, when your sweet tooth leaves you longing for the gourmet delights of an earlier era in your life, head to your nearest high-profile shopping centre (Myer, Harrods etc), for a free sample of their wares. It is advisable to pretend that you intend on purchasing some of their fine Beluga caviar, or a bottle of that Margaret River Red, to ensure that they'll continue filling your glass and your plate.

Did you ever want to start a band or learn how to play an instrument? This has the added bonus of enabling you to busk for loose change. Or how about joining a role-playing society — you can play for as long as you like, and wizards, knights and Hogwarts students are never ridiculed for being unemployed, for fear of being hexed or banished. Perhaps it is time to give form to your creative ideas. You could write an article for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, or study 'Neoclassical Assumptions in Contemporary Prescriptive Grammar'8 or something equally obscure. Practise the art of making pickles. Attempt a rangoli.

Revive the dying art of conversation with someone you habitually SMS. Visit your estranged family (they may even feed you while you're there). Get lost on purpose and try to find your way home. Pretend you don't speak the primary language of your country. Buy second-hand board games that are missing pieces and combine Trivial Pursuit, Strip Poker, Monopoly and Hungry Hippos into an intricate and revealing pastime that requires only the addition of drunken friends.

Hormones permitting, grow a beard. Stop skipping the opinion page of your daily newspaper and send your own letter to the Editor. Re-organise your living space according to the principles of feng shui, or by getting out your role-playing die. Wear a disguise when you go out. Write limericks about things you like. Send fan mail to a random name in the phone book. Apply for jobs you have absolutely no qualifications for9, keep your letters and their responses and publish your own magazine. Organise a treasure hunt. Get your flatmates involved by using their keys or wallet as the 'treasure'. Teach yourself HTML. Conduct groundbreaking social experiments on your neighbours. Go a day without using the letter 's'. The list goes on.

Be a Good Samaritan

Think about your community — non-profit organisations are often chronically under-staffed. In addition to the very worthwhile work you can do with your local Salvation Army and Meals on Wheels, or even the international Amnesty Organisation and Red Cross, consider some creative forms of social work. This might include correcting spelling and grammatical mistakes in toilet graffiti, showing the computer illiterate how to download MP3s, feeding other people's parking meters and anything else that gives you that warm fuzzy feeling.

As rewarding as volunteering may be, in the right circumstances it can lead to other opportunities that may be more financially rewarding, as well. Volunteering with an organisation that is in line with your practical experience can put you in a good location to network. At the very least, volunteer work undertaken looks good on your CV.

The Joy of Sects

Now may also be the time to consider spiritual matters, as your new-found liberation from the 9 to 5 is bound to make you philosophical. If there's nothing out there to suit your tastes, consider starting your own religious organisation, after all, you have plenty of time, and the tax-exempt status is an added incentive. For those who may have strayed from their faith, now may be the time to get some overtime in down at the church/mosque/synagogue/temple.

Friends Who Are Studying

Make friends with some students, you'll find the similarities in your lifestyles an instant talking point, and later on exchange recipes for lentil soup and other inexpensive culinary delights. Many universities have a bar on campus where beer is sold wonderfully cheap, and by the pitcher. If you're a little older than your student friends then chances are your liver has been 'broken in'10, allowing you to drink them all under the table. This is useful for two reasons; it'll only take a couple of rounds before they're leading the pub in a rousing rendition of 'The Internationale' saving you money, and secondly, everyone will think that you're a 'bloody legend'11.

Meanwhile, a sideline in writing essays for the more disorganised among them is another option for occasional income, while giving your grey matter a tune-up. The ensuing political conversations with your new-found student buddies may even tweak the revolutionary self you thought you'd left behind in university. You could even find yourself signing on with a political party, or travelling to new and exciting locations as you wage war on capitalism.

See the World

Moving right along to the other end of the spectrum, you could consider joining the army, giving you 'life experience', and more money to spend on your fortnightly wild night out.

Seeing your local sights is another way to satisfy your yen to travel, and best of all, if you get tired or bored you can go home again. Take a tour with someone significantly older or younger than yourself — your neighbourhood will have never looked so interesting.

In the End

In a nutshell, being unemployed is a wonderful opportunity for transition and personal development, a chance to escape a rut you may have 'worked' yourself into, to meet new people, to give your brain its own Renaissance and to celebrate the diversity of life. Winston Churchill once said: 'Necessity is the mother of invention'. Allow the creative flair for living that can often be stimulated by reduced income to inspire you and free you of your money worries and a closeted lifestyle.

And if all that fails, you can always look for a new job.

1In order to avoid a debate perhaps best left for another Entry it is assumed that a period of unemployment is undertaken as a form of regrouping between jobs, or before entering the workforce after having studied for several years. Having said this however, how long 'regrouping' takes depends on the individual.2Australian slang for one receiving unemployment benefits, to distinguish them from full-time students who also rely on fortnightly government payments. Unfortunately, many of Australian students' cute nicknames are unprintable.3Office prank gone awry...4Like putting the cover sheets on the TPS reports.5See Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness or similar.6Although it is the author's belief that all eligible people should donate blood, regardless of financial incentive.7In fact, if you're really, really, unusually hairy, or anatomically bizarre in some other way, you may consider exhibiting yourself for fiduciary gain, although at this point the author admits to borrowing a bit too heavily from Douglas Adams.8Or read Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace — be sure to set aside a couple of months.9'While I have no practical experience in a role such as this (Minister for Fisheries) I have seen Finding Nemo twice and eat most kinds of seafood (except for oysters and mussels).'10There are, of course, those that would argue that someone who has already 'broken in' their liver would not be able to keep up with rowdy young 'uns, but those people don't know many Australians.11A term of adulation.

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