It was just after lunch on a sunny afternoon during the last week of June 2019. It was going to be another meeting with the president of my previous firm about the direction of marketing and business development. They were not pleased with my approach, even though the results were there. The relationship had also been tenuous for a while, and it was time to make a change.
It only took about 10 minutes into the meeting for me to suggest it was time the firm and I part ways. Suddenly, I was on the highway home. I phoned my wife to tell her I was unemployed. After the call, I remember chuckling as I paraphrased to myself a modified version of Shakespeare’s famous saying about greatness: “Some of us achieve unemployment, while others have unemployment thrust upon them.” It would be nearly a year before I found full-time employment again.
Unemployment is no laughing matter, not at my house anyway. In less than 60 days after leaving, I had two kids going away to college, one staying at home going to college, and one starting eighth grade in a private school. Our only other income was my wife’s $8,000 per year, part-time job at my daughter’s private school to help pay the tuition.
We made it through Christmas thanks to money my wife had squirrelled away. I didn’t know that, in March 2020, all four kids would be back in my house finishing school online because of a pandemic. Nor did I anticipate having my identity stolen and my bank account drained a month later by some hacker. What does not kill you only makes you stronger, right?
It has been a rough year, not just for me but also for many colleagues. I wanted to share five things learned through these hard experiences. I hope they help you or someone you know beat the unemployment blues.
Take Care of Yourself
You cannot take care of anyone or anything else if you do not take care of yourself. My biggest battle was fighting against depression, discouragement, and anxiety—in my wife and me. We had to avoid anything that would contribute to these negative emotions. Eating right, exercising consistently, and getting enough sleep were essential to staying strong enough to get through this thing together.
We learned that it’s only natural to experience negative emotions during stressful times, but you cannot allow yourself to live in them long. We also learned that the stress and discouragement of unemployment can express itself suddenly and harshly. We owed it to each other and to our family to keep one another strong.
Take Care of Your Family
Caring for others is therapeutic. It helps take your eyes off your own problems. When the pandemic forced our kids back home, my wife and I focused on helping and accommodating them. It was a welcomed distraction and took our eyes off my unemployment. We made a point to connect with extended family. We did a plethora of home improvements. Best of all, we found new ways to connect with one another and the kids.
We decided to be open with our children and our extended family about my employment and our financial situation. We didn’t share all of the gory details, just the facts. If we were struggling, we let them know we were having a rough day. We found that trying to hide what we were dealing with or pretending there was nothing wrong only made things worse. When we shared what was going on, we found that our kids, close friends, and extended family were supportive and willing to help us share the emotional burden.
I learned the value of keeping a daily routine. Getting up at the same time every day and setting up a routine place to work helped me remain focused. I tried to work every weekday, even though I was unemployed and took the weekends off. I treated job-hunting like a job. I updated my résumé and online profiles, liked LinkedIn, and had them reviewed by SMPS colleagues. While I watched the job boards for opportunities, I resolved to market myself proactively reaching out to colleagues for ideas.
As time went on, it became clear that the road to employment wasn’t going to be short. I began looking for contract work and was able to land some short-term projects. All of us have skills and most of us know someone in our network who would give us contract work or recommend us to someone in their network. I was able to earn a few thousand dollars while looking for a full-time position.
Network, Network, Network
One of the most important things I did throughout this time was network. I remained active in trade organizations, went to conferences and events, and let everyone know I was looking for work. I also stayed engaged on social media and remained active in SMPS.
Within my network, I wasn’t shy about asking for help. I shared the type of position I was seeking, my skill set, experience, desired pay level, and right type of firm for me. I shared where I’d already looked for work and jobs that I wouldn’t consider. It wasn’t long before I had a small army of SMPS friends and other colleagues helping me find a position. During this time, I resisted the temptation to pursue a job I wouldn’t enjoy or at a company I wouldn’t like—just to have a job.
Get the Green Out of Every Dollar
On a practical note, I knew that at my age and pay level, it could take a while to find the right fit. Managing money during this time was essential. We found affordable family health insurance. I asked for and received deferrals on my SMPS and other membership renewals and offered to assist at events in lieu of attendance fees.
We only borrowed what was needed and prioritized where we borrowed money to make sure we paid the least amount of interest. My wife and I resolved not to dip into our retirement except as a very last resort. We resisted the trap of making it through on credit cards because of the excessive interest. We even found that there is help from church and other organizations out there for families who are struggling financially.
In the end, an SMPS colleague recommended me for a position that I would never have found or considered on my own. And now, we’re enjoying a successful conclusion to a yearlong struggle. Unemployment can be hard and every situation is different. Know that you are never alone. There are family, friends, colleagues, and organizations willing and able to help. Stay positive and be proactive. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. And find those around you who will support you—because they’re out there and they care.
Article was written by Mike Wagner, CPSM. Mike is vice president of business development for Hill International and serves as an at-large director on the SMPS board of directors. He can be reached at MikeWagner@hillintl.com.
This article first appeared on smps.org, the website of the Society for Marketing Professional Services.