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Jul 2003 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Unemployment: The Rules
By LeaAnne DeRigne

I lost my public policy job six weeks ago. Let's just say the project I worked on was restructured and I was forced out. It's an uglier story than that, but not worth going into here. What is important is that I loved my job and had really great colleagues. I actually looked forward to work on Monday morning. It was an unusual situation, I know.

Me in my new "home office" Roughly a week into my unemployment I began to develop a list of rules to get through the day — rules for finding new employment and, more importantly, rules for avoiding depression. The average period of unemployment lasts 22 weeks so the rules seemed necessary in order to transcend this unimaginably long period of time.

My identity was very wrapped up in my job, as is true for many young professionals. My husband and I were living the dinky life — double income no kids yet. My need to purchase the latest pair of Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals superseded my need to scour Pea in the Pod for the latest in maternity fashions. We had plenty of expendable income, time to travel and we still went out on the weekends until the wee hours of the morning — only the cat was waiting for us at home. We had a very complicated fiscal agreement regarding household expenses, as well as an egalitarian split of domestic duties. So how was I going to deal with this abrupt change in my/our lifestyle? Was I a housewife now, only seven months into our marriage? Could I still splurge on my quarterly purchase of a pair of Manolo Blahniks? And most importantly, how was I going to get my career back on track in a city known for its dearth of public policy jobs? My mission was clear — I had to create unemployment legislation.

Rules of Unemployment:

  1. Do not sleep past 8 a.m. It's important for you to trick your body into believing it's still employed. It's acceptable to sleep later than when you were working, but sleeping past eight makes you feel like a college freshman — not a temporarily unemployed career person.

  2. The ever illusive and much coveted Manolo Blahniks that have been removed from my budget altogetherGet in the shower immediately. Put on your makeup, put in your contact lenses and get dressed. Staying in your pajamas may seem like an indulgence at first, but by 10:30 a.m. you feel more like a mental patient. No slippers, either. Put on your cute shoes even if you immediately kick them off under your desk at home. The root of this rule stems from my number one rule of life — change your shoes, change your life. It worked 10 years ago when I went from wearing Birkenstocks to Isaac Mizrahis.

  3. Accomplish something "work-related" in the morning. Checking personal email from friends and family members does not count. Send off a résumé. Write a cover letter. Make a networking phone call. Just do something that may move you closer to employment.

  4. Get out for lunch with ex-colleagues, fellow unemployed friends, anyone — just get out of the house. You need to My cat and office mate Circehear your own voice and not in a conversation with the cat. You quickly begin to forget you have a personality, so get out and lunch with people. It's good for the spirit and keeps you from obsessing about your state of unemployment. You are reminded that there are other people who are struggling with unemployment, or perhaps they hate their jobs and are secretly jealous of you. A secret perk of unemployment is that people feel compelled to pick up the tab. Ask any unemployed person you know: I guarantee they have had more free lunches than physicians dining on the tab of pharmaceutical companies.

  5. Don't turn the TV on between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. There is nothing on. It's all depressing. The only exception is DVDs of movies or shows that you have already seen. It helps to hear voices in the background — they drown out the ones in your head. But never, under any circumstance, pick up your old daytime soaps. Even though you haven't watched Days of Our Lives since the early '90s, you can bank on the fact that Bo and Hope are still having marital problems. Finally, if you do give into an episode of elimiDATE while eating lunch at home, take some pride in the fact that you probably aren't as trashy as the people on the show. Then turn it off immediately and get back to work.

  6. Work out at the gym after four in the afternoon or before nine in the morning. You don't want a workout to be the only thing you accomplish before noon. You may end up looking great, but getting back to work rarely depends on the size of your ass — unless you are a supermodel or an actor.

  7. Avoid Target before 5 p.m. It is full of stay-at-home moms with nothing better to do. This will depress you. You have better things to do than purchase vacuum cleaner replacement bags at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning.

  8. Go out with friends on weeknights. One of the best perks of unemployment is being able to smoke and drink on a weeknight without worrying about getting up at 6 a.m. Indulge in good times with friends while unemployed. Nursing a hangover can actually give you something to do the next day. This is also the time to do favors for your friends, like helping them drop off their car at the mechanic's, listening to them talk at length about their failed relationships, helping your sister plan her wedding — whatever — just do it. When you were working it was nearly impossible to be the friend everyone could count on for menial favors. You were working so they probably didn't even ask. This ensures that if you end up on the street hungry and homeless by your 20th week of unemployment, your friends will be more likely to take you in.

  9. Front-load the week's activities. It's ok to accomplish less on Thursdays and Fridays if you have gotten a bunch of "job-hunting" activities off your to-do list in the beginning of the week. Even the employed people barely work on Thursdays and Fridays. Revert to your college schedule — the weekend starts on Thursday!

  10. Finally, the most important rule: if you have a live-in significant other, do not volunteer to pick up more of the household chores. Cleaning the house or doing his laundry will not replace your paycheck and shouldn't become your career. Stay focused on looking for work. Screw the dust bunnies!

LeaAnne DeRigne is a 30-year-old unemployed public policy analyst who specializes in economic and workforce development policy. She moved to the City of St. Louis in 1997 to pursue a PhD at Washington University, where she also met her husband, Rob, who is an engineer with Boeing. They own a two-family flat in Tower Grove South. LeaAnne is pursuing employment in the public policy field.

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