When I interrogate responsible adults about their lives, no question gets a stronger reaction than “What would you do if your job disappeared tomorrow?” The most common reactions are screams of joy or terror. Either the person is hoping for a break but unable to take it for themselves, or they’re deeply apprehensive about the financial strain or reputational implications of losing a job. I’ve always been afraid of being fired because I’m afraid of making mistakes, especially ones big enough to be fired over. Many of us stay in jobs to play it safe. But here’s the thing: your job could go away anyway.
Think about all of the factors you can’t control. A major grant might not come through. Your Executive Director could leave and the new leadership might clean house. Maybe someone has been mismanaging the finances for a decade and your company is bankrupt. Maybe you’ll cure the disease you’ve been researching! Your partner could get a dream job 1,500 miles away or you could move to take care of a sick family member. Your job is not a guarantee. You need to take care of yourself so that, should you find yourself out of work, you won’t disintegrate into a pile of dust. Based on my experience so far, here is my advice for my fellow college-educated, childless, working professionals (YMMV) who aspire to someday be funemployed:
Face your fear.
What scares you about being out of work? Why is it scary to you? Is it rational? Can you do something to assuage that rational fear? If it’s irrational, why have you held onto it? Give yourself a little homemade therapy before you hop on the funemployment funtime express.
Lean in a little bit.
If it comes up, take that raise or added responsibility before you go. Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo! with a full baby on board. Get that title/paper. Maybe you’ll be happier once you’re better compensated, or maybe you’ll leave anyway. Many people are doing higher-level work before their title changes anyway. You should accept the recognition that comes your way.
You should be saving something. Anything. In the words of an indispensible article, you need a fuck-off fund. Just go read that article, actually, if you’re not convinced you need to save money.
Get a hobby.
Look out, you’re about to have hours and hours of time to yourself! What the heck are you going to do? Unless your hobbies are screenwriting or TV blogging, I forbid you from watching Netflix or daytime TV the entire time. And I love The Chew! You should plan to go outside sometimes when you’re funemployed. Do something for yourself. You deserve it!
Set up a side gig.
You do not need to monetize every hobby you have, but what if you got paid to do one or two of them? Maybe you write, or walk your friends’ dogs, or play an instrument. You could do any of those things for a few dollars and not be totally financially crippled by funemployment! My fave, Jennifer Dziura, says you can start a business by Tuesday using skills you already have.
Take a class/Get a certification.
For a higher-paying side or future full-time gig, consider getting certified or learning a new skill. Maybe you have a favorite fitness class at your gym or have been meaning to learn to code? A class will occupy some time and give you some routine and purpose. That is helpful in keeping track of what day it is, at the very least.
Schedule time to hang out with friends.
Funemployment isn’t lonely for me because I have the internet, the public library, and an affinity for being alone. But also I have made it a point to see people, whether at career book club, their homes, a free event, or wherever I want to spend my time. I’m trying not to become a weird shut-in and as a result am seeing more of my friends than I did for months while employed.
Know your spending habits.
The two biggest challenges of my funemployment have been financial worries and not wanting to waste all this glorious free time. Hence all the emphasis on money. Beyond having saved, and beyond earning a little bit, the final component of keeping your money life straight is to know your spending habits. If your income drops, you’ll probably need to cut some expenses. What can you trim now, and what can you slash then? What will your rent, insurance, cell phone, and groceries cost you per month? How long will your savings last at that rate?
If it happens, don’t let it ruin your life.
Maybe your funemployment is less voluntary than mine. Maybe you haven’t earned enough to save for a rainy day. Maybe you had an emergency and everything sucks and Katie is full of shit and self-help garbage. I know. I know. Just remember that losing your job is not a reflection on your worth as a person, no matter what bad work product your shitty boss conflated with a personality defect. People who care will reach out, and there are resources available to you. Use them if you need to. Take care of yourself.