Stephanie Writes: A Summer of (F)unemployment


I got laid off at the end of May from a job I was at for only a few months, which was unfortunate. Plus, it was a contract position, which meant no unemployment — even more unfortunate. And it was pretty frustrating since it took me about eight months just to find that position. But I took this as an opportunity to try and conquer my long-term career goal: full-time freelance.

Spoiler alert: this has a positive ending!

This was great in the beginning because I had a couple things already lined up for the beginning of June, as well as so many people reaching out to help. But as freelancers know, that work ebbs and flows. And once those projects were done, for the rest of summer, everything went into a lull. So, then I felt like I desperately needed to find another full-time content/marketing/writing/editing/something job since freelancing didn’t seem to be working out. Watching your bank account slowly dwindle can be a bit anxiety-inducing. Despite that, these have been the most stress-free months I’ve ever had.

Day-to-day: My first major goal was to not get sucked into a vampire schedule. In college, whenever I had time off, that meant staying up until 4 am and sleeping until noon. I’ve always naturally been a night owl, but I’ve maintained a pretty good schedule of getting up early and going to bed shortly after midnight. This schedule brought to you by my new best friend: coffee!

Finding a job or more freelance opportunities became my full-time job. I would scour several different job boards daily and apply to at least five things per day. I even made a portfolio website to try and enhance my chances for work. I’ve had a lot of phone and in-person interviews, met with several recruiters, and networked as best I could in my group of acquaintances as well as through LinkedIn. Chicago seems to be an oversaturated market for content and marketing gigs from what I’ve seen with only entry level positions that pay the bare minimum, positions requiring 50 years of experience, or that pesky nepotism thing scooping up the good gigs. (That’s probably how all job hunting seems, I’m sure.) I also now have the issue of having too much experience and education and wanting a salary I feel I deserve (as well as what the market dictates). This is why I say: I’ve tried LITERALLY everything with very little luck. (In Chris Traeger voice.)

Besides my daily job hunting, I watched a lot of Netflix, as you do. I watched all of iZombie, the new MST3K, The Defenders, a ton of movies and murder documentaries I’d been wanting to watch, and lots of YouTube videos. I also rewatched Orphan Black (approximately 11 million times), True Blood (only the first 3 seasons, c’mon), Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and probably a billion other things I’m forgetting.

I also got back into video games. I finally beat The Wolf Among Us — just in time for them to announce a sequel! Yas! I’ve been attempting to play Mass Effect: Andromeda and Fallout 4 but I’m stuck in both of them. Someone come over and beat these battles for me! Pleeeeease!

And, of course, I focused on this blog by spending about 4+ hours for every Twin Peaks & Orphan Black review. So, you guys better read those, jeez! Haha.

Fitness: One of the best things I did for myself this summer was to use a lot of my free time to focus on my fitness and health. I joined a personal training fitness facility called Spindle Fitness. You work with a personal trainer, or programmer, who you discuss your fitness goals with and they tailor a program based on your skills and goals, while slowly upping the intensity over time. It’s all done through an app, so you can go anytime, even when your trainer isn’t there because there will always be someone there to guide you.

I choose to go when my programmer is there because my schedule allows it and because he’s my only friend now. (Ahahaha, just kidding… sort of.) But I do see him more than anyone else I know and he makes it fun when we’re talking Game of Thrones theories and video games in between deadlift sets. I’ve also noticed quite a lot of progress over the last three months of going about 3 to 4 times per week. And he’s always sharing the progress with me, whether it be just in my form or endurance.

For example: My floor presses have increased from 7.5 pounds to 17.5 pounds. My deadlifts have increased from 10kg kettlebell to 20kg kettlebell. I’ve also lost 2 inches off my waist and 1 inch off my bust and hips. I’ve also noticed a lot better endurance with general things like planks, battle ropes, rowing machine, jump rope, etc.

Going there makes me feel like a super duper badass. I love it… and I really never thought I’d say that about working out. I’m very happy with my decision on keeping up with that. And I will continue to do so because it’s actually fun and I like seeing everyone there.

Friends: While I spent a lot of time with just me, myself, and Sookie (just how I like it), I also used my unlimited availability to spend time with friends. Whether that be more time with friends I see all the time or reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in a few months. My lovely friend Ali is a freelance artist, so we were able to just go do some random fun things in the middle of the day, such as go to the Shedd Aquarium, the beach with her sister, or to Starved Rock with Bradford.

Also, I was able to go out of town and not have to worry about taking time off for traveling. So, I went to Indiana for a weekend with friends and Iowa for a weekend with my mom. I also had friends come to town for a weekend filled with Twin Peaks in early June and then, most recently, for the Orphan Black finale. And now, I’m about to go to DragonCon for a week with no worries about taking time off from a job.

Cosplay: The con crunch for DragonCon didn’t get me this year! I was able to work on my costumes at my leisure. But I was not able to do quite as much as I would have liked because of my lack of funds. But I made do with what I had and put together 3 new costumes for DragonCon. I’m so stoked to wear them!

And that leads me to now:

I gave myself until DragonCon to find a job because I am an overly self-sufficient only child who hates asking for money. I’ve had to do a lot of pride swallowing and allowing people to do things for me like buy me drinks or food or a movie ticket. And I super appreciate every friend-sponsored drink, Chinese takeout, or brunch. I actually really enjoy treating my friends or covering the bill so I hate not being able to do that. (Not trying to toot my own horn, that’s just the Leslie Knope in me.)

I decided that maybe I should look for a part-time gig nearby just to make ends meet until I find something. And then that idea gradually grew more and more attractive to me. I found a place I really wanted to work and, after the really awesome interview, I was really excited about working there. I had a couple days of serious inner turmoil as I chatted with friends, wondering if wanting a chill retail job was some sort of failure after all I’ve accomplished in my career and education. But then my two freelance gigs started popping off again with some ongoing work starting in September. That basically made the decision for me. When it rains, it pours, eh?

So, when I get back from DragonCon, I will be working at a cute little French pastry and coffee shop nearby while freelance writing and editing for a couple great Chicago companies. I’m really excited about this direction. Since I started my career, I’ve just had a string of bad luck with full-time office jobs (many of my friends can attest to the insanity I’ve experienced) and if my career goal is full-time freelance, as well as my personal project(s) I hope to get off the ground at some point, then I think this is the way to make it happen.

The problem with having personal projects while working a full-time writing/content/marketing job is that you spend all of your creative energies doing that. As a result, when you get home, you’re mentally exhausted and can’t fathom getting back on the computer to do more work. At least, that’s been my experience in the past. So, having another gig where I’m not staring at a computer screen and, instead, learning about macarons and getting people coffee in a quiet, chill space sounds strangely alluring. I cannot explain it. But maybe you fellow creatives get it.

Anyway, I’ve babbled on enough. I’m excited about DragonCon (my final unemployed hurrah), and I’m excited to see where this new direction will take me!

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1 Comment

  • Reply Tim Fox

    Having been there and done that, I can say you did a lot right during your summer of (f)unemployment. I was out of work and freelancing April 2015-August 2016. Several things in your piece ring true with me. If you are unemployed, you have to keep getting up in the morning like you have a job. Mixing up days and nights is bad, because you don’t want to literally drag yourself to job interviews. Also, apply for something or take some kind of action every day–I’m impressed with your five a day! Finally, you have to keep balance, just like always. You don’t want to be just that depressed out of work person.

    The three most important things I did with my time off were, 1) got in shape, like you. I am in the best shape of my life now thanks to habits I started while unemployed. 2) started a long-term freelancing gig with “I Am EStL: The Magazine.” I still do it, though I comp my time now as my tiny way of giving back after Charlottesville. And 3) built my website, which gave me something I desperately needed–all my samples collected in one place so I could just send links to prospective employers–and desperately wanted–a blog. Though I haven’t contributed to the blog as much since I’ve been working FT, it was great fun and gave me a reason to write–and the piece I fortuitously wrote about a friend and major WU donor about the same time I applied for my job, while it didn’t get me my job, sure didn’t hurt.

    LSS, you did a great job of being unemployed. I also had LOTS of help from immediate and less immediate family and friends, and I remember every day that a lot of people don’t. The process is grueling and soul sucking under the very best circumstances. So I am ever grateful.

    August 28, 2017 at 4:15 PM
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