What To Do While You’re Unemployed

Dear Unemployed Emily,

I know unemployment is scary and depressing, especially because it doesn’t have an end date in sight. And I know it’s actually more embarrassing than scary sometimes, because it feels like if you were actually talented, you wouldn’t be so very very unemployed.

First of all, stop it. Breathe. You know that’s not true, so quit internalizing it. Second of all, I have made you a list. Speaking from the future, when you have a job again (oh that’s right it ACTUALLY does happen), there are a few things I wish I had taken advantage of when I’d had every day to do anything I wanted–as long as it didn’t cost money, of course.


I don’t have any pictures of myself where I look particularly unemployed, so thank God for stock photography. This was the SECOND result when I searched for “unemployed broke bored.” You’re welcome.

1. Make a meal or dish that takes all day. Like fancy bread or baklava. Something with a lot of steps that you might have to do a few times to get right. Of course money is an issue, so do your research and find something that doesn’t take a bunch of expensive ingredients. What did the peasants make? Ratatouille? Make ratatouille.

2. Take your time at the gym. Lucky for you, you paid for a year membership before the layoff, because working out is about to be the only productive thing you do sometimes. Try all the weights. Do extra core stuff. Stay walking on the treadmill for half an hour longer because an awesome episode of True Life is on. What, you have somewhere to be? Get fit. Learn the meaning of the word sinewy. (Ew, maybe not. That word is weird.)

3. Explore new neighborhoods. Take public transit to somewhere you’ve never been and walk around. Bring some music or a new podcast and just walk. Take note of the places in these neighborhoods you want to revisit when you have a job and money to spend there (this will drive you less crazy than just drooling on each shop window).

4. Plan elaborate gifts. Think of those expensive or intricate gifts you can’t afford now, and save it as an idea for later, so you have a reserve of great ideas when you have money again. Then get creative with your gifts for right now. Maybe learn a skill you’ve always wanted to learn, like how to make candles or soap or jam or sculptures or embroidery or cement coasters, and make it for everyone on your list.

5. Create a Bucket List. Fill it with things you need money for, and things you don’t. Things you can do today, and things you probably won’t do for ten years. Try to get to 100. Then start crossing off the things you can afford to do right now.

6. Think of the job you’d do if a paycheck weren’t a part of it, and then do something about it. Teacher? Be a volunteer tutor. Author? Write a book. Artist? Make something! Actor? Do a community play. Yoga instructor? Social worker? Forest ranger? Whatever it is, find ways to hone those skills. At the very least, it’ll be something to fill your time. At best, you may discover things about yourself you never knew, maybe even switch career paths.

7. Go to the library. Read a book a day. I mean, maybe not a book a day because that sounds intense and you’re not a very fast reader. But how amazing does it sound to spend a rainy afternoon inside with a blanket and a book and a cat curled up in your lap/on your neck because your roommate’s cat is weird like that.

8. If it’s nice out, sit outside all day. Possibly with a bottle of cheap wine or beer. Read. Write. Draw.

9. If it’s not nice out, find a comfy coffee shop. Get a cup of tea or drip coffee for a couple bucks and camp out as long as you can stand it. Enjoy the quiet.

10. Clean. You will never have the chance to have such a clean home. Make that dump shine like the top of the Chrysler building.

11. Go grocery shopping for hours in the middle of the day when hardly anyone else is there. Look at every nutrition fact. Compare and contrast the amount of fiber. Enjoy the lack of grocery carts bumping into you. Stare lovingly at the ice cream and cheese and reassure them you will be back when you have money again.

12. Grow something. Use the internet to finally find out how to grow basil. Get a cheap pot and make it happen, cap’n.

13. Volunteer with something that makes you feel good. Find a place that needs people in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. Schools come to mind, but I’m sure there’s lots more. Animal shelters. See?

14. Listen to more podcasts. Find ones that will make you smarter. Find ones that will make you laugh. Find ones that will teach you French.

15. Find awesome new music through Pandora. Do not settle for top 20, there is so much awesome stuff out there waiting. Combine this one with #10.

16. Learn how to take better photos with your phone. Then go out and find cool things to photograph.

17. Try to learn something bookish every day. Pick a subject and then go on Wikipedia to learn more. Henry VIII. Butterflies. Underwater volcanoes. Go to the library and find a book about it, and skip around to the chapters that interest you because no one is making you read it cover to cover. Become your own personal Discovery Channel. Look at pictures of outer space. Look at pictures of tiny things under microscopes. Rediscover all the fun things they teach you about in elementary school.

18. Get political. You know that political thing you actually care about but don’t have time to know every detail and you can never really articulate your point when your uncle brings it up at Thanksgiving? Learn every detail. You don’t have to actually become a political person. But you always wished you knew more about Iraq vs. Iran. What’s up with using corn as fuel? And what’s the deal with Russia? Are we friends with them? Are we enemies? Find out.

19. See your family more. Go home. Stay the night at Mom and Dad’s. Go visit your siblings. Make them some of the fancy new food you’ve learned how to make.

20. Write lengthy emails. Become pen pals with your friends who live far away. Tell them stuff. Tell them everything. Foster these relationships. Why not?

21. Organize your digital photos. Label things. Put them in folders. Print out the ones you really like. One day when your children are looking for photos of you in your 20s, do not make it into an insane project for them.

22. Watch ALL the Netflix! How many times have you felt left out of an awesome inside joke for not watching a TV show? Have you ever seen Freaks & Geeks? Do you watch It’s Always Sunny? Do you watch Mad Men? Have you seen Arrested Development? Do you watch Downton Abbey? Did you watch Lost? Have you seen Dr. Who?” What else do you have to do (besides 1-21 above)?? Get your TV on!

23. Watch ALL the Netflix! (part 2) Movies! So many movies that are part of popular culture that you haven’t seen! Rocky! Funny Girl! Basically every Woody Allen film! Catch yourself up. I mean, you haven’t even seen Planes Trains and Automobiles, for Christ’s sake.

24. Learn about a different religion. Get an intro book about it. Or get the actual religious text if you’re really feeling like a smarty pants.

25. Plan a trip outside the US. But like REALLY plan it, as if you’re going to go soon. Go online. Find reviews. Go to the library and get books about it. Watch the Rick Steves episode about it. Find out the significance of historic buildings. Learn how to catch a cab. Find a good hotel. Write it all down and then, when you have money again (because you will), you’re ready to go!

26. Look for a job. Ugh, fine.