10 Ways to Outmatch Under- and Un-Employment

Outsmart the discomfort and hop on an upward spiral

Most of us will find ourselves at some point unemployed, or more likely, more often, underemployed. Underemployed could mean we’re not making enough money, but it could also mean we’re not busy or engaged enough for our own tastes. Or that our work is unsuitable, unfulfilling, underwhelming, under-utilizing our skills and talents.

While un- and under-employment may not be ideal states, there are ways to survive, optimize, even savor elements of unexpected downtime and offset, outmatch, the discomforts. Consider these:

1. Clarity Use this time to get clear on what you want for your future, and not just in terms of a job, work, income, or a business. Everything else too. Define the aspects of your ideal future so that you can — be strong here — yay or nay offers that come your way that are or aren’t consistent with what you actually want. Greater clearness and specificity both steer your efforts and pull you forward in compatible directions.

2. Exploration and Options Expansion Take some of your surplus hours to explore, internally and externally. Ask yourself the open-ended questions necessary to extract needed insights and possible future directions. Investigate out in the world through classes, activities, research, catching up with your network, and asking lots of questions. What options exist that you aren’t even aware of? Including the option of refusing to choose, or having it all.

3. Routine Institute as little or as much routine as you need to not meld into the couch and have all the hours wafting by aimlessly and unaccounted for. Your routine may or may not include exercise, socializing, sleeping routines, and other good habits. It may or may not include a steady, consistent effort at networking and applying for jobs. Play around with, then settle into a routine that serves you.

4. Income Do you need income pronto? Adapt this 7-step, 30-day plan I wrote for writers and authors for your situation: What If You Had to Make a Full-Time Income from Writing Tomorrow?

5. Defensive Entrepreneurship While you’re looking for a job, also begin establishing the cushion of a defensive entrepreneurship plan, a structure of having a Plan B, C, and D to fall back on in times such as the one you find yourself in. Implement it so you can begin breathing a little easier immediately and so that it’s in place for the next time you need it.

6. Asking The double helix of asking intertwines making it all about others and making it all about you. The first means flexing your curiosity muscles and focusing on others — What’s going on with them? In their world? What do they need? What are the working on? What are they thinking about? Create openings for connections and discovering new opportunities. The second strand means it’s up to you to ask for what you need and want — help, advice, connections, referrals, feedback. Especially if you feel comfortable giving but not receiving, here’s your chance to practice balancing out the scales. Be bold and honest in your requests and let others assist in the ways that they can, and are happy to.

If you need more asking inspiration, read singer, songwriter, performance artist, activist Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.*

7. Contribution Help your grandparents, help your neighbors. Volunteer for a cause or organization you care about, including your friends’ bands, small businesses, artistic undertakings. Not only will you be a useful human, but you’ll feel better — for doing good, for focusing on something outside of yourself, and for the identity reminder, I’m a useful human. It’s also another way to clarify, explore, expand options, engage, and connect with others and new opportunities.

8. Engagement Stay as or more involved with the world than with screens. Do projects, with and without family and friends. Engage with people, ideas, current events. Like contribution, engagement gets you out of bad headspace, into the flow of life, and possibly in touch with new work interests and opportunities.

9. Appreciation It never hurts to look around and take stock of how much you have, what all is working for you, but cultivating deliberate appreciation of tangible and intangible goods in anxious times is especially valuable. It encourages an upward spiral of mood and well-being rather than a downward descent that can be all too easy.

10. Relaxation and Play Finally, make sure you’re enjoying the freedom. Unstructured days won’t always be your norm. Keep active; catch up on sleep and with friends. Read some books. Put in your time on job hunting, networking, soul searching, and staying involved with the world, then hit play.


To Recap

  • Plan to outmatch the sucky aspects of un- and under-employment.

  • Work on clarifying what you want next.

  • Explore options and expand what’s possible for you, including some aspect of refusing to choose.

  • Establish some routine.

  • Bring in some sort of income.

  • Begin building a defensive entrepreneurship plan so that you have a Plan B, C, and D to fall back on in the future.

  • Practice asking — expressing curiosity in others and the world, and asking for help and the things you need and want.

  • Be a useful human.

  • Stay engaged, involved with the world.

  • Express gratitude for what you have and savor the good things.

  • Relax, play, enjoy.

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